The LGBTQ community has widely increased support and equality for its members in the past few years, but many individuals, especially adolescents, are still in need of help emotionally, economically, and medically. In the mental health profession, practitioners strive to create a respectful, inclusive, and affirmative environment so LGBTQ individuals will be more likely to seek out the treatment they need.
Even though LGBTQ knowledge is more widespread today, the wording and language can still be confusing, and no one wants to be offensive. So let’s define some terms. Here are a few that will be useful to define as part of this post. Note that there are many sexual and gender identities and expressions, and this list is not comprehensive. A more detailed list of resources can be found at the end of the article. It is also important to remember that terms are meant for understanding and learning, rather than labeling. Each person is unique and deserves to be treated with respect and individuality. One size does not fit all!
- LGBTQ - Stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer. It is an umbrella term for non-heterosexual and gender-variant individuals, and does not include all sexualities
- Lesbian - a woman who is sexually attracted to other women
- Gay - a man who is sexually attracted to other men
- Bisexual - an individual who is sexually attracted to both men and women
- Transgender - an individual who has been assigned a gender and sex at birth but identifies differently
- Queer - an umbrella term for anyone who identifies as outside of the social norms of gender and sexuality
- Sex vs. Gender vs. Sexual Attraction - One’s sex is determined by biology and anatomy (i.e. Male or Female or other). Gender expression is the outward portrayal of who one feels they are on the inside and is largely influenced by culture and social norms (male, female or other). Gender identity and expression can be different for the same individual. Sexual orientation refers to whom an individual is sexually attracted (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc.).
- LGBTQ Ally - A heterosexual individual who supports equality and rights for the LGBTQ community.
- Coming Out - A term used to describe an individual disclosing to others about their sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. It comes from the phrase “coming out of the closet”.
The following are statistics from lgbthealtheducation.org illustrating the severity of problems this community faces:
- LGBT youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide, and are more likely to be homeless (it is estimated that between 20% and 40% of all homeless youth are LGBT). LGBT youth are also at higher risk for becoming infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
- LGBT youth are at higher risk of being bullied.
- Gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are at higher risk of HIV and STDs, especially among communities of color.
- LGBT people are much more likely to smoke than others; they also have higher rates of alcohol use, other drug use, depression, and anxiety.
- LGBT people are less likely to get preventive services for cancer.
- LGBT people have higher rates of behavioral health issues.
- Transgender individuals experience a high prevalence of HIV and STDs victimization, and suicide.
- Elderly LGBT individuals face additional barriers to health care because of isolation, diminished family supports, and reduced availability of social services. Some report discrimination from their peers when living in communal elderly housing.
These are just some of the issues LGBTQ individuals are tackling. It is essential that we spread accurate knowledge, practice respect for all individuals, and create an inclusive environment for everyone. You can make a difference, even if it’s just with someone you love. Not everyone is an activist, and that’s just fine.
Having a friend or family member come out to you can be surprising, upsetting, or even relieving, and knowing what to say and do is an important part of supporting them. Here are some tips for when a loved one trusts you enough to tell you their story:
- Keep open and welcoming body language. Even if your gut reaction is discomfort, be aware to straighten your posture, uncrossing your arms and legs, and maintain eye contact. Be aware of your facial expressions as well.
- Be nonjudgmental. Remember that your beliefs do nothing to change your loved one’s identity and judging them negatively will only hurt them. Ask questions respectfully, as it is natural to be curious after hearing this information, and keep in mind they may be sensitive to any inquiries.
- If you’re already an Ally, don’t assume that the rest of the world is also. Acting like it’s not a big deal may offend your loved one, as they have undoubtedly experienced or fear experiencing discrimination, physical violence, or judgment. Ask them how others have responded to their coming out story, and offer support or say “I’m sorry you had to go through that” if reactions have been negative.
- Remember that this person is still the same friend/son/sister/coworker they have always been. Just because they have come out, does not mean they have suddenly changed or are different than you knew them before. Also do not assume that they are attracted to you, unless they specifically say so.
- Use the term your loved one has described themselves as. This shows respect as well as validates that you were listening and care.
- If you have already responded negatively when your loved one came out to you, remember there is always the opportunity to apologize and try again.
- Do your research! There is a multitude of information out there waiting for you to dig in. Reading this article was a very smart first step.
Further reading and resources: