Respecting the Rights of GLBTQ Youth, a Responsibility of Youth-Serving Professionals Print

Transitions: Working with GLBTQ Youth
Volume 14, No. 4, June 2002

This Transitions is also available in [PDF] format.

By Jesse Gilliam, Program Manager for Internet Interventions, Advocates for Youth

Some organizations and programs are intentional about serving gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (GLBTQ) youth. However, many programs in the United States that serve youth, including educational, health care, youth development, sports, recreational, and employment programs, among others, ignore or overlook the presence of GLBTQ youth among those they serve.

A recent survey of high school youth found that 5.5 percent self-identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual and/or reported same-gender sexual contact.1 This probably does not include transgender and questioning youth or those who are fearful of sharing this personal information. Consider then, that six to 10 percent of young people in classrooms and other youth programs may be GLBTQ. Often, unless the program positively acknowledges their presence and actively discourages homophobia, these young people feel compelled to keep their sexuality and their questions hidden.

Society in the United States is overtly hostile to GLBTQ people, and societal homophobia often leads them to devalue themselves. Statistics paint a frightening picture of the stresses in the lives of GLBTQ youth. Too often, these young people feel isolated and alone. Violence and hostility at home and school lead many GLBTQ youth to drop out, run away, use drugs, and attempt suicide.1,2 A values-based approach to serving youth asserts that every young person is of infinite value, regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, health status, socio-economic background, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Valuing youth provides an ethical imperative to acknowledge and serve GLBTQ youth equally and positively along with heterosexual youth.

In October, 2001, Advocates for Youth launched the Rights. Respect. Responsibility.® (3Rs) campaign. Through the campaign, Advocates for Youth asserts that—

  • Adolescents have the right to balanced, accurate, and realistic sexuality education, confidential and affordable sexual health services, and a secure stake in the future.
  • Youth deserve respect. Today, they are perceived only as part of the problem. Valuing young people means they are part of the solution and are included in the development of programs and policies that affect their well-being.
  • Society has the responsibility to provide young people with the tools they need to safeguard their sexual health and young people have the responsibility to protect themselves from too early childbearing and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

The 3Rs applies to all youth, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Most of my role models are my friends who have been able to survive when they were told they shouldn't.
Gay youth, in an online interview3

Anyone who provides services to youth has an obligation to promote the health and well-being of GLBTQ young people. These youth need and deserve help to survive in the face of family rejection and school harassment, against heightened HIV, STI, suicide, and violence rates, against racial, cultural and socio-economic prejudice. More, they can and should thrive as contributing members of their communities. But, GLBTQ youth need support in order to succeed.

Many programs and approaches exist that specifically serve GLBTQ youth, helping them to value themselves and to avoid or reduce sexual health risks. These approaches offer assistance, insights, and techniques to help programs that do not focus solely—or at all—on GLBTQ youth. Programs that respect young people's right to make responsible decisions about sex will want to develop policies and environments that support all the youth in the program, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This issue of Transitions compiles the best of these approaches. It offers factual information about the lives of and risks to GLTBQ youth, as well as personal observations of young activists in the field. It provides criteria for successfully serving GLBTQ youth, GLBTQ youth of color, HIV-positive youth, transgender youth, and young people who question their sexual orientation. It addresses the chilling effect of abstinence-only-until-marriage education and the need of lesbian and bisexual young women for access to emergency contraception. Throughout the issue, GLBTQ youth give glimpses of their lives, perceptions, personalities, and experiences.3

Click here to view the endnotes.

Next Chapter: Stressors in the Lives of GLBTQ Youth
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Transitions (ISSN 1097-1254) © 2002, is a quarterly publication of Advocates for Youth—Helping young people make safe and responsible decisions about sex. For permission to reprint, contact Transitions' editor at 202.419.3420.

Editor: Sue Alford

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