by Judy Bokao
23 years ago today, Matthew Shepard died after being brutally attacked for his LGBTQ+ identity while in college in Laramie, Wyoming. While critical progress has been made since across the United States, here are 23 ways we can better support LGBTQ+ youth.
LISTEN TO LGBTQ+ YOUTH
First and foremost, it is pivotal to make LGBTQIA+ youth feel heard. It is the only way we can know exactly what is needed and come up with solutions.
USE PROPER PRONOUNS
Show respect to the LGBTQ+ people in your life by referring to them by their preferred pronouns once they tell you. If you are unsure, ask kindly.
It is critical to acknowledge the intersectional issues LGBTQ+ youth face and see them not for a simple label but as the mutli-faceted people they are.
FIGHT FOR TRANS RIGHTS
Trans youth are in the midst of new legal, political, and culture wars that could deny them rights to compete or attain a full-course education. We need to stand up for their civil rights.
INTEGRATE LGBTQ+ AWARE PROGRAMMING IN SCHOOL
Schools need to integrate LGBTQ+ studies in their curriculum, from including LGBTQ+ history in textbooks to including critical LGBTQ+ sexual health information in sex ed.
SUPPORT LGBTQ+ ANTI-BULLYING CAMPAIGNS
LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to face discrimination and abuse as they navigate school. We need anti-bullying programming that specifically addresses homophobia and transphobia.
ACCEPT LGBTQ+ FLUIDITY
It’s important to understand that as LGBTQ+ youth navigate and question their identity, labels can change. It’s important to embrace this fluidity and adjust to someone’s evolving identity.
NEVER OUT LGBTQ+ YOUTH
It is not your job to reveal anyone’s LGBTQ+ identity. You can help them through the journey, but ultimately they deserve to decide how or if they want to come out.
PREVENT LGBTQ+ YOUTH HOMELESSNESS WITH COMMUNITY-WIDE RESPONSE
There is an urgent need to effectively tackle the disparities when it comes to housing with a community-wide response, especially for LGBTQIA+ youth who are more likely to be homeless.
FIND LGBTQ+ PROFESSIONALS FOR YOUR KIDS LIFE
If you are a guardian, try to find LGBTQ+ friendly professionals for your kid. Whether it is the family doctor, librarian, or music teacher, identify someone who is sensitive to LGBTQ+ issues and include them in your kids life and support system.
FUND MORE RESOURCES FOR LGBTQ+ CRISIS RESPONSE
Queer youth need more support. They should be able to have trained counsellors when they are in a crisis and need help that is affordable and accessible.
SEE EDUCATION AS AN ONGOING PROCESS
It is important to continually educate yourself on LGBTQ+ issues if you don’t understand, ask questions, and do research to avoid using terms or unknowingly doing or saying something that could be offensive. There is always more to learn to make spaces safer.
INCLUDE LGBTQ+ REPRESENTATION IN MEDIA
Whether you are a librarian, teacher, or media professional, we all have an opportunity to amplify LGBTQ+ stories for the youngest generation.
TALK POSITIVELY ABOUT LGBTQ+ YOUTH
It’s time to encourage LGBTQ+ youth with words of affirmation that recognize their unique strength and beauty and help anyone struggling with their own internalized homophobia to love and accept themselves as they are.
EDUCATE LGBTQ+ YOUTH ABOUT THEIR RIGHTS
It is important to teach LGBTQ+ youth their rights so that they can be able to effectively combat discrimination and encourage them to speak up for themselves.
BE AWARE OF UNIQUE RISKS TO LGBTQ+ YOUTH
If you are a guardian to an LGBTQ+ youth, understand the risks and look out for the signs that they may be going through bullying or participating in risky behavior. Always be on the lookout for any negativity that may influence their mental and psychical health.
FOSTER SAFER SPACES ONLINE
Some of the worst homophobic attacks and bullying happen online and there should be more strict guidelines on online interactions to protect queer youth.
CREATE AN LGBTQ+ YOUTH SUPPORT GROUP
LGBTQ+ youth often feel isolated. Creating a neighborhood, school, or district-wide support group can make people less alone.
LAUNCH A PEER EDUCATION PROGRAM
With proper training, older students can provide important information to younger adolescents and help to counter the homophobia they may witness in school.
IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH CARE
Most LGBTQ+ youth have no access to competent care after undergoing trauma, or just navigating the questions of their identity. It is time to support the mental and physical health of queer youth by funding, training, and hiring more LGBTQ+ competent health care professionals.
DEFEND LGBTQ+ LEGISLATION
We need to stand up against recent legislative attacks that would directly impact LGBTQ youth- from school bathroom bills to panic defense measures.
SHOW UP AND PROTEST
We can’t just sit and condemn legislation- we also need to take action to fight back against systemic discrimation LGBTQ+ youth face.
FINANCIALLY SUPPORT LGBTQ+ YOUTH PROGRAMMING
Get your wallet out and write the check to LGBTQ+ youth programming from after-school programs to community centers and homeless shelters across the country.
About the Author:
Judy Bokao is 20 years old and was born in Ethiopia but relocated to Nairobi two years ago. She is passionate about everyone having equal rights and is also big on conservation and speaking up for our planet. Judy loves reading and photography and is just a free-spirited young lady trying to grow into a woman her mom can be proud of.