In light of the recent surge in teen suicides and prevalence of teen bullying, I wanted to put a call out to all adults who are supporters of GLBT youth to make themselves visible and available to kids in their communities.
I applaud all of those who have spoken in the It Gets Better Campaign, and who have broadcast their own stories to the world. Their voices are irreplaceable! For kids to hear from people who have experienced similar struggles, and survived to become happy adults, there may be nothing more helpful—except maybe an adult in their life who is willing to listen and be accepting.
When a child is surrounded by peers who don’t understand; teachers and school staff who are not allowed to talk about the issue of sexual orientation; and families who may be unaccepting, finding an adult they can trust to listen to and validate them may be next to impossible.
There is a lot of pressure in our society to not discuss sexuality issues with minors. In recent years, I was employed as a youth director at a very liberal, open, and affirming Christian church. Even in this environment, I was told firmly by the copastors that I could not have one-on-one discussions with the youth.
This happened after they demanded I tell them what my conversations were with a specific member of the youth group. It so happened that this teen’s parents had requested I talk with their child because of struggles with sexual identity. They were very supportive of their child, and wanted to add another supportive adult into the conversation.
When confronted by the authoritative pastors (who, I presume, had church politics in mind), I felt obligated to tell them the topic of our talks, and I did. I was subsequently told that these conversations were not appropriate; that I was not qualified to have them; and that, therefore, I was not allowed to have further one-on-one conversations with any youth group member.
Even though the pastors were very supportive of the GLBT community, and no obvious harm or embarrassment came to anyone from doing so, I completely and wholly regret betraying this teen and the family. I will never allow myself to be intimidated into that situation again.
My point is that if someone trained at the master’s level in religious leadership, in the position of youth director, upon request of parents to discuss this topic with a minor cannot do so—who can? My answer is: all of us.
There was no fault or harm done on my part. By letting this teen talk about fears of being labeled, bullied, and teased because of sexual orientation, I did not, as many may assume, bring up anything within the realm of sexual activity, or encourage or validate sexual behavior.
In fact, it was an opportunity to encourage responsibility, respect, and mindfulness when it came to any relationship, including romantic interests, as well as those with friends, family, peers, and especially oneself. These types of conversations are important. They may mean the difference between happiness and misery—and, as we have seen lately, even life and death.
It is our job as supportive adults to allow these kids to talk, and to let them know there are people who support them who are not offended, grossed out, disgusted, angry, or disappointed with them for their feelings. Most of all, we need to show them we are not fearful of others who may be all of that, or plain out fearful of what the political consequences of talking to kids will be.
I closed an open door on an entire group of kids because someone else told me I had to. I will never do that again. In fact, I will be opening my door to anyone who needs an ear.
I am hoping the rest of you will join me. Put a Human Rights Campaign or GLBT Pride or ally sticker on your car, in the front window at your house, on the back of a binder you carry, on your shirt—anywhere to let these kids know that you are someone who will listen without judgment. Do something to advertise your acceptance to GLBT youth.
Even if you are in a position where an authority figure or family member has said you cannot discuss these things, you can quietly advertise your support to your students, young relatives, church youth, neighborhood kids, employees, patients…whoever the youth in your life might be. Let them know you are someone they can trust. And offer an ear when they request one!