Professionals working with LGBT Youth

Without support, LGBT young people are more likely to have mental health problems, misuse alcohol and drugs, experience homelessness, and continue risky sexual behaviour. How can we reduce this risk and help them develop resilience?

1. Vulnerabilities

We must first acknowledge these vulnerabilities and identify the risk factors. The attached paper, "Vulnerabilities" identifies the risk factors.

2. Damaging Services

Next, we must acknowledge that some services, historically, made the situation facing LGBT young people worse; and some still do! The attached paper, "Damaging Services" gives REAL examples of how, in the recent past, agencies have harmed rather than helped young LGBT people. To understand the potential effects of services who are ignorant of the needs of young LGBT people, have a look at Julie's Story.

3. Lack of Training

It is hardly surprising that most agencies do not meet the needs of LGBT young people because most professional training courses do not look at the needs of this group or how to respond to their needs. And only a few services have provided relevant in-service training - see Training Needs Assessments for evidence.

Here is a link to Supporting LGBT Young People in Education. This is a short on-line training course GALYIC developed. It can be used individually or with a group. It outlines the responsibilities of public services under the Public Sector Equality Duty and shows how other agencies can work in partnership with LGBT youth groups to meet the needs of young LGBT people.

Free Awareness Training on YouTube

Click here to access free, in-depth, homophobia awareness training. Session 5 looks specifically at the Effects of Homophobia on Services

4. Omission from Strategies/Research

Historically national strategies and policies have not identified LGBT young people as vulnerable. It is, therefore, not surprising that local strategies and policies exclude them. This is partly because mainstream research rarely includes sexual orientation or gender identity and, therefore, LGBT young people remain invisible and their significant vulnerabilities are missed.

Having said this, some strategies are just beginning to acknowledge these vulnerabilities. For example, the government's new drug strategy identifies LGB people as vulnerable to substance misuse and recommends targetted services are developed to meet their needs.

Similarly, the government's new mental health strategy not only includes LGB people but identifies LGB youth as one of eight vulnerable groups and states, "it is important to target children and young people at particular risk of developing mental health problems."

The new Preventing suicide in England - a cross-government outcomes strategy to save lives highlights LGBT people as vulnerable and suggests mental health services are tailored to meeting the specific needs of this group. The strategy refers specifically to the PACE document Where to Turn?. This report highlights the work of Gay and Lesbian Youth in Calderdale, and in particular use of the Needs Assessment Tool, as an example of good practice.

Here is a link to a power point presentation on "Suicide Prevention Strategy and LGBTs."

5. Lack of Monitoring

Very few children and young people's services include sexual orientation within their monitoring procedures. They do not know, therefore, how many LGB young people are accessing their services. This simply perpetuates their invisibility. However, under new equality legislation (and their mental health strategy) the government are encouraging agencies to include sexual orientation in their monitoring procedures.

Here is a short, two-hour, training session adapted from a Barnardo's training programme, which looks at why we monitor and asks participants to identify and discuss their fears about including sexuality.

The aim is to include a question on sexuality within the usual monitoring form (e.g. which of the following best describes you: heterosexual (straight), gay, lesbian, bisexual, rather not say?) and try and complete the monitoring with the young person as soon as they access the service. Clearly, if a parent is present the young person is unlikely to admit to being gay.

If you would prefer a less direct way of asking, here are some suggestions from Angela Hodgson, the Psychosexual Health Counsellor, who explains how to "Ask 'the Question', but don't Ask the Question."

6. Specialist Services

Even if mainstream services tackle the homophobia of its users (and staff) and make concerted efforts to be LGBT-friendly there will still be a need to develop specific services which target the needs of LGBT young people. For example, LGBT youth support groups, and specialist workers or projects in housing, mental health, substance misuse, and family services.

This is not a difficult concept to understand given that, historically, agencies have provided specialist services to meet the needs of, e.g. black and minority ethnic young people; disabled young people; young women; young carers; etc.

Ask yourself, Why is there a need for a service which specifically targets young carers? Then ask yourself whether the answer to this question is not the same answer as to why there is a need for specialist services for minority groups, including LGBT young people.

The answer is partly that mainstream/generic services (one size fits all) rarely cater for the specific needs of minority groups and partly that minority groups need to come together to tackle isolation and provide peer support, acceptance and understanding, as well as accessing positive role models.

The other, more obvious, reason for targetted groups/space for LGBT young people is that in order to form meaningful relationships they need to meet other LGBT young people!

Another, more poignant, reason is that, unlike other minority groups, many LGBT young people do not have the support of their families!

Visit the Old Services section to see the range of projects and support GALYIC used to offer. Here are examples of other, specialist, services for LGBT young people, some are within LGBT specific agencies like Stonewall (housing), PACE (mental health), some are specifically for young LGBT people like the Albert Kennedy Trust (family services), whilst others are projects within specialist services such as Inside Out at 42nd Street (mental health).

7. Lack of Assessment

Again, few children and young people's services include sexual orientation in their assessment procedures. Even if staff are aware of the needs of this group, if the sexual orientation of users is not included in the monitoring process, how can services respond appropriately?

GALYIC developed a comprehensive Needs Assessment Tool and a follow-up Impact Assessment Tool. This is now available on-line; click here.

8. Fear of Homophobia

Because many LGBT young people have experienced homophobia, either at school or on the streets or in the home, they are unlikely to attend mainstream services for fear of experiencing homophobic abuse from either other users or staff. Or if they do, they are rarely out about their sexual orientation/gender identity. Again their invisibility is perpetuated, and their needs go unmet.

Once your agency has undergone training, includes sexual orientation in the monitoring and assessment processes and has begun to provide services that can meet the specific needs of LGBT young people it is important that you 'come out' to LGBT young people. You can do this by publicising that your agency is LGBT-friendly and you are working towards delivering services that will meet their needs.

Of course, you need to ensure you use inclusive language and your resources are inclusive of the needs of LGBT young people. If you are not consistent in your approach it is unlikely that LGBT young people will trust you.

9. Reducing Vulnerabilities

GALYIC showed that providing targeted services which met the specific needs of LGBT young people their vulnerabilities could be significantly reduced, especially with regards to mental health.

But other agencies also need to play their part. The attached "Pathways to A & E" identifies the triggers, the role of agencies, and what agencies need to do to help reduce admissions to A & E.

GALYIC and Calderdale produced "10 Ways to Support LGBT Young People in Education," aimed at teachers but the advice is just as relevant to others who work with young people.

Families also have a huge part to play in reducing the vulnerabilities LGBT young people face and agencies can significantly help families to accept and understand their children. For more information see Parents webpage.

10. Public Sector Equality Duty

The new Equality Act (2010) became law in October 2010; it brings together six equality strands: race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion and belief.

The Public Sector Equality Duty will be introduced in April 2011. For the first time, all public services will, by law, have to proactively:

  • tackle homophobia
  • ensure they are meeting the needs of LGBT young people

  • include sexual orientation and gender identity within their monitoring procedures

  • include sexual orientation and gender identity within their assessment procedures.

11. Priorities

Local authorities and services will need to prioritise their equalities work.

Laws to challenge racism, sexism and disableism have existed for several years now whereas anti-discrimination legislation for sexual orientation and gender identity are relatively new.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission published a series of reports in October 2010 including "Equality and human rights in schools."

This includes the findings of a survey with 1,700 secondary school teachers in England. Teachers identify LGBT young people as

  • the group which are most bullied;
  • the group which are least supported; and
  • the group for which schools do least work to promote respect for.

The gap between LGBT young people and those who belong to the other equality strands is significant and shows that there is a lot of catching up to be done.

12. Positive Actions

Here is a link to a presentation which identifies the key ten issues facing LGBT young people and the key ten positive actions that need to be taken to address their vulnerabilies.