In celebration of LGBT Pride Month, Springer Publishing Company is recognizing the need for support networks and role models for LGBTQ youth in today's society. The following article is adapted from Counseling Boys and Young Men by Suzanne Degges-White.
Although gay people, as a group, are more open than ever before—with almost 60% of U.S. residents reporting that they have a friend, coworker, or relative who is gay, gay and questioning youth still receive mixed messages from society on whether or not it is acceptable to be gay. For example, in a recent poll, almost 60% of U.S. residents expressed the belief that homosexuality should be supported by society, but 46% opposed same-sex marriage. LGBTQ youth are coming out at earlier ages, but the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) reported that of 7,261 gay and questioning middle and high school students surveyed, 85% reported experiencing verbal harassment based on their sexual orientation, 40% reported physical harassment, and 19% reported physical assault. It is not surprising, then, that gay and questioning youth report more symptoms of depression and higher rates of suicidal ideation.
Researchers have found that school personnel are three times less likely to challenge homoprejudiced comments than racist comments. Sporadic intervention by school personnel to homoprejudiced language may send the message that this type of discrimination and bias are not only tolerated, but also accepted. By demonstrating that antigay verbal harassment is unacceptable, school counselors and other helping professionals can send a strong message to the student body and create an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance for all students. Additionally, nonheterosexual students who have supportive school personnel also have higher grade point averages and are more likely to pursue postsecondary education than nonheterosexual students who do not have the support of school staff.
Currently, gay and questioning teens rarely, if ever, see their history or stories reflected in the literary selections or textbooks used in their classes. This failure to acknowledge the existence and contribution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people can be destructive to the students’ development. The lack of visibility and the inability for students to “see” themselves in the curriculum sends an alienating message of denial and despair. School counselors and other helping professionals can combat these messages by building a professional library of LGBTQ titles to break through this barrier of silence and to create a more hospitable environment. Although a large number of suitable fiction and nonfiction books written for LGBTQ youth exist, school counselors need only a small selection of well-chosen books available to recommend to students.
Additionally, Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), which are student-led, school-based clubs that address LGBTQ issues, help prevent alienation and silence. One of the unique qualities of these clubs is that membership is open to all students, regardless of sexual orientation or sexual identity. GSAs typically provide support and foster a sense of belonging for nonheterosexual students and their allies. GSAs also help educate the school community about LGBTQ issues and advocate for an improved school environment for all students. Research has shown that the presence of a Gay–Straight Alliance is the strongest indicator of a supportive environment for nonheterosexual students.
LGBTQ youth are in need of role models who can help counter negative messages and can help to create a more positive and supportive environment. Nonheterosexual counselors, teachers, and others who are “out” in the school can serve as role models for the gay and questioning youth in their school. By being visible as a LGBTQ individual, these role models can help dispel many of the myths and stereotypes about nonheterosexual people.