Warning: This blog contains discussions of mental health issues in children which may be upsetting to read.
Every June, the UK dolls itself up with rainbow-tinted glasses and fastens its seatbelt for a month of parades, parties and celebrations that create a safe and joyful space for LGBTQ+ individuals. But as pride month is wrapped up for another year and the rainbow flags slowly disappear from our town centres, its important to remember that pride is much more than a month-long party, here at Little Lives, conversations that centre how we can best support LGBTQ+ youth are considered in all months of the year.
People can realise they are LGBTQ+ at any age or life stage, and for some, this can happen during childhood or teenagerhood. Exploring one’s identity is an important part of growth and development in a young person’s life as this is often the time when people begin to question whether they feel attraction, who they are attracted to, and how they feel about their gender and gender expression. However, many LGBTQ+ young people report that having a sexuality or gender identity that is different from the majority of their peers can feel like an extra weight on top of the existing pressures of growing up, with the prominent concern for many young people being judgement or bullying.
Studies reveal that 45% of LGBTQ+ young people experience bullying in school or college and more than half feel that bullying has had a negative effect on their plans for future education. The effects of bullying and negative stigma means that LGBTQ+ young people experience higher rates of poor mental health and suicidal thoughts in comparison to straight, cisgendered people.
At Little Lives, we believe that no one should have to go through this alone and that mental health support should be accessible to everyone. In our ‘Someone to Talk to’ campaign, we provide free counselling for children who need mental health support but cannot afford to access it privately- and this is campaign is provided to children of all races, ethnicities, sexualities and genders. Alongside professional support, there are also many ways that you as an individual can show your support for LGBTQ+ young people. So, whether you are a parent wanting to support your child, an ally, or an LGBTQ+ person yourself, here are a number of ways that you can show your support all-year round:
CREATE A SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT
One of the most important aspects of being an LGBTQ+ ally is consistency, it is not enough to attend a pride parade once a year, being an ally means having zero tolerance for homophobia at all times. It’s important to proactively create a supportive environment so LGBTQ+ people in your life, including those who are closeted, know that if and when they decide to come out, they will be supported. This is particularly important for young people of whom 60% feel that they don’t have an adult at home they can talk to about their sexuality or gender identity.
Creating a supportive environment doesn’t require a lot of effort! It simply means having an open mind, listening to and centring LGBTQ+ people in conversations that concern the community, and using inclusive language.
Growing up LGBTQ+ in a heteronormative world can be an isolating experience, so it’s important that young people have access to inclusive resources that show they are not alone. There is a danger that comes with isolation as many LGBTQ+ youth report that they have used inappropriate means to meet other LGBTQ+ people, such as dating apps or going to bars/clubs, this can put a minors’ safety at risk and cause them to become potential a target for predators. Instead, young people should be made aware of safe ways to meet age-appropriate people like them, such as through local or online LGBTQ+ youth groups or clubs.
Additionally, another way to practice inclusivity is by showing young people media with diverse representation, inclusive media not only increases empathy for others, but it can also make LGBTQ+ youth to feel seen and understood. Being shown role models that reflect who they are can reassure young people that they are not alone and reassure them that LGBTQ+ people can live happy and successful lives.
START THE CONVERSATION
The final way to show support, especially as a parent, is to speak about and inform young people about the LGBTQ+ community. There is so much beauty and joy within the community that can be shared with children, and information can be delivered in ways that align with a child’s level of understanding, for example, Stonewall put forward a child-friendly definition for the word gay:
“the word gay describes someone who falls in love with or wants to have a relationship or partnership with someone of the same gender, for example, some people have two dads that are in love with each other and some people have two mums that are in love with each other.”
It’s important that children are given the correct language and definitions so they can learn to understand and accept other people, and be able to understand and accept themselves. It’s important that these conversations don’t come to a close as soon as the calendar turns to July, because LGBTQ+ youth should be seen and heard all year round, and they should always have someone to talk to.