Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender. Queer. Questioning. Intersex. Bi-curious. Pansexual. Transexual. Bi-confident. Asexual. Heteroflexible. Gender-neutral. Two-spirit. Non-binary.
Gone are the days when gender identity, gender expression and, sexual orientation were easily understood. Man or woman? Gay or straight? For many youth today, these dichotomies are no longer options in how they choose to describe themselves. Gender specific clothing is no longer in style, and an increasing amount of fashion and entertainment caters to a young androgynous market. Youth who do not identify as LGBTQ* are supporting those that do through the formation of Gay-Straight Alliances. According to the 2015-2016 True Colors Resource Guide, there are approximately 181 school based sexual minority youth/ally groups in Connecticut. For the complete listing, click here.
Though many gains have been made in areas that directly affect the LGBTQ* population, several risk factors remain. One study revealed that factors in suicidality included:
The only significant protective factor that was identified in this same study was self-esteem (Peter & Taylor, 2014). Other research supports that additional protective factors among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth include family connectedness, adult caring, and school safety (Eisenberg & Resnick, 2006). There is much evidence to support that school culture is instrumental in determining the welfare of LBGTQ students. Likewise, reports show that LGBTQ youth are verbally and physically bullied at an alarming rate, and that teachers seldom intervene when overhearing homophobic remarks (McCabe et al, 2013).
Gender Expression: Refers to how one chooses to convey their gender identity.
Gender Identity: A spectrum of beliefs and emotions toward female and male constructs as it pertains to themselves (Kerr & Multon, 2015).
Sexual Minority: A sub-set of the general population as it pertains to sexual orientation and gender.
Sexual Orientation: Refers to romantic and sexual attraction to others as it relates to one’s own sex. Traditional models include homosexual and heterosexual; however, recent research suggests that sexual orientation is not as static as previously thought. New findings show that among females, sexual orientation is multidimensional and may change over time (Farr et al, 2014).
Currently, gender identity and expression is among the protected classes of discrimination within Connecticut civil rights policy. House Bill No. 6599, Public Act No. 11-55 on discrimination states the following:
“Gender identity or expression" means a person's gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person's physiology or assigned sex at birth, which gender-related identity can be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held, part of a person's core identity or not being asserted for an improper purpose.
The legal protection that this bill touts is only available if there is documented proof of the individual’s gender-related challenges, and does not address school bullying specifically.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) diagnoses individuals who identify with a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth and have had adverse experiences due to their gender identity and expression for at least six months, with “gender dysphoria” (Gender Dysphoria, 2013). Treatments for this condition include counseling, gender reassignment surgery, and cross-sex hormones, and can be covered under insurance if the individual has been diagnosed. Interestingly, a recent study conducted in Amsterdam and Toronto showed a shift from male to female clinic-referred gender dysphoric adolescents (Aitken et al, 2014). The study did not produce significant correlations between external factors and this increase.
Questions to Consider
Many anti-bullying campaigns center on individual acts of violence, and lack a larger cultural view. School faculty and staff tend to mimic the attitudes and beliefs of their surrounding community (Goodrich et al, 2013). When approaching the LGBTQ* conversation, a broader perspective that considers sociocultural norms, gender conformity in schools, and school culture is helpful (Payne & Smith, 2012).
Because the conversation involving gender non-conforming youth is multi-faceted, it is important for advocates to consider the systemic obstacles, and collaborate with other entities whenever possible. Advocates should ask the following questions:
Is everyone speaking the same language? Is there a shared understanding of the words youth and professionals are using to describe the complexities of the youth’s experience?
Does the youth have feelings of self-efficacy, empowerment, and optimism?
Are there school policies and programs that protect and support LGBTQ* students? How is information regarding these being disseminated to the school body, parents/guardians, and teachers?
Is the advocate aware of any biases they may hold toward LGBTQ* individuals? If so, how are they being managed?