Confused about LBGTQ?

New report provides important information for adults who work with youth.

Adolescence is a time of change and transition for young people and typically includes significant physical, social and emotional growth. An important task during this time is identity development. For youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning (LBGTQ), this can be a particularly challenging time, especially if the adults in their lives are uninformed and ill-equipped to support them.

If you’ve heard the letters “LBGTQ” and wondered what this means, a new report from Child Trends can help you understand the differences and nuances between sexual orientation and gender identity. It can also help you learn ways you can provide positive support to young people. The report called Five Things to Know about LBGTQ Youth begins with basic information and definitions including:

LBGTQ:  Lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer/questioning

Gender identity: A person’s sense of their own identity as a female (girl or woman), a male (a boy or man), or other gender (for example, transgender, bi-gender or gender queer which is a rejection of the traditional binary view of gender).

Sexual orientation: The pattern or disposition one has related to romantic and sexual desires for people of the other sex (heterosexual), one’s same sex (homosexual, lesbian, gay), or both sexes (bisexual).

Queer:  An umbrella term used by some youth and young adults (as well as some older adults) who identify outside of traditional societal norms related to gender and sexuality. Once (and sometimes still) used as a hurtful slur, the term “queer” has been reclaimed and is used to describe a sense of community and pride. The term “questioning” refers to people who are unsure of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Sexual minorities:  People who identify as something other than heterosexual.

Gender minorities: Individuals whose gender identity is incongruent or different than their biological sex.

Adults have important roles to play in the healthy sexual identity development of young people. The Child Trends report emphasizes the need for supportive family and friends and positive school climates to help LBGTQ youth navigate the sometimes harsh waters of hate, homophobia, stigma, marginalization and bullying that too often come with the coming out process. The phrase “coming out” means recognizing, accepting, expressing and sharing your sexual orientation with yourself and others.  

Michigan State University Extension provides opportunities for parents, youth workers and other adults to learn more about issues of bullying, bias and harassment and ways to create safe, affirming and fair environments with and on behalf of young people.  For more information, check out a new initiative called Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments.

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