Supporting LGBTQ+ youth who are Black, Indigenous and people of color
Because of concerns about COVID-19, L.A. Pride and other large celebrations of Pride Month were not held for the first time since 1970. Simultaneously, we are in the midst of a movement led by Black and brown young people that seeks to address the systemic racism that is deeply ingrained in our society and is expressed in law enforcement, criminal justice, housing, education, employment and access/quality of health care.
Youth who are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) that also identify as LGBTQ+ representation of sexual orientations and gender identities experience higher rates of social discrimination and isolation, including bullying, family rejection and a lack of social support.
Here are ways that families and friends can support LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ2S (Two-spirit*) -identified BIPOC youth:
● Help them find diverse representation: It is empowering for youth to see positive, diverse representations of people like them. Connect youth with TV shows, movies, books and social media that represent lives and experiences that mirror their own. This can help to affirm their identity.
● Listen and learn: As youth explain their experiences and identities, it is important to listen to them in a non-judgmental manner. Many of the terms youth use to describe themselves may be new to you (i.e. pansexual, genderqueer) and if so, it can be helpful to do some research before re-engaging in a conversation. This will reaffirm your willingness to support them.
● Encourage access to social groups and support: It is important for young people to be around other youth like themselves. Studies have shown that the more LGBTQ+ youth of color interact with each other, the more resilient they become. Further research has shown that youths who participated in a diverse and multicultural school-based Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) were less likely to miss school due to safety concerns, less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation and more likely to feel a greater sense of belonging in their school community. For youth without access to in-person resources, there are a number of online support communities that can offer support.
● Believe them, while also supporting their exploration: It has been well-demonstrated that few youths will change their minds about identifying as LGBTQ+. It is important to recognize that these identities are not a phase. At the same time, it is important to encourage and support exploration of gender and sexuality. Many youths will shift identity descriptors over time, depending on what feels most affirming, for example switching from identifying as “gay” to “queer” or from “transgender” to “genderqueer.” Though it may be confusing at first, these identity descriptors can be important in helping youth feel comfortable and understood.
● Advocate for inclusion in school curricula: The histories and key events for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people are often left out of school curricula. It has been shown that Black and Indigenous LGBTQ+ students who had some positive representation in their curricula were less likely to feel unsafe in their sexual orientation and gender expression. Encourage your local schools to upgrade their lessons to include this important history and information.
● Seek out alternative histories: In addition to advocating for inclusion in school curricula, help youth discover their history and the people who have fought for them. So much of mainstream LGBTQ+ history focuses on white people, even though an enormous part of LGBTQ+ rights were achieved because of the efforts of BIPOC individuals like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Learning more about tribal histories can empower Indigenous youth by understanding that Two-Spirit people (LGBTQ2S) hold unique and powerful roles within their communities.
● Encourage other adults to do the same: Support BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth if they choose to have similar conversations with other adults such as extended family and family friends. Encourage other adults to listen openly and without judgement, to affirm youth in their exploration of identity descriptors and to encourage their search for social groups. LGBTQ+ youth benefit most from a robust community of support — a network of both peers and adults.
Pride Month exists because of the activism of young, BIPOC activists. Ask how you can support them and what they need from you. Happy Pride to all!
About the authors:
Carly Chiwiwi (she/her) is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and is a third-year medical student in PRIME-LA at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM). She is passionate about reproductive justice and health equity in Indigenous communities.
Mikiko Thelwell (she/her) is a third-year medical student at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and DGSOM. She hopes to practice psychiatry and is committed to improving patient care and increasing access in marginalized communities.
Alena Kantor (they/them) is a third-year medical student at DGSOM. They are passionate about improving care and addressing health disparities for transgender and non-binary people.
LGBTQ+: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, + is an all-encompassing representation of sexual orientations and gender identities.
LGBTQ2S: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Two-spirit. Two-spirit refers to indigenous people who identify as having both a masculine and feminine spirit. Only Indigenous folks can be Two-spirit; however, being Indigenous and queer does not automatically make that person Two-spirit.
BIPOC: Black, Indigenous, people of color. BIPOC highlights the unique relationship to whiteness that Black and Indigenous people have, which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within the United States.
Sexual Orientation: A person’s romantic, physical and/or emotional attractions (heterosexual, bisexual, queer).
Gender Identity: A person’s individual perception of their gender, which may or may not correspond to their sex assigned at birth (eg. cisgender, transgender, non-binary).
Gender Expression: How a person outwardly expresses their gender (through clothing, hairstyles, makeup, pronouns and chosen name).