LGBTQ children and youth are diverse
Learn more about the diversity of LGBTQ youth. Being in care can make them even more vulnerable to sexual violence.
Let’s start with resilience
LGBTQ youth are incredibly self-aware and demonstrate strong resilience even in the face of discrimination and hate. Support is like a super-power that provides critical protective benefits. Youth who experience trans or homophobic discrimination show fewer signs of depression if they are accepted and supported.[Ryan, C. (2010). Engaging families to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) youth: The Family Acceptance Project. The Prevention Researcher.]
Support and acceptance are powerful interruptions to the trauma and injury caused by intolerance, aggression and hate. Demonstrating support can begin with appreciating the creative ways that children are resilient rather than describing them as ‘acting out’ and being ‘at-risk’, both of which imply the problem lies with the youth and/or with being LGBTQ.
Being silenced is further amplified when in care.
The ‘bad kid’ stigma of being care
Being a child in care carries stigma that adds to social disadvantage. Stigma is a mark of disgrace that sets a person apart. The message is that there is something ‘wrong’ with you. The stigma of child welfare says that you are a ‘bad’ kid from a ‘bad’ family. When children and youth believe it is their fault they are in care, they have internalized the stigma. LGBTQ young people in care are starting out under the burden of the stigma of child welfare and then have to deal with the homophobia/ transphobia/biphobia and all of the other piling on of disadvantage associated with their unique social location.
Diversity by definition
Children and youth who identify as LGBTQ are not a homogenous group. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, two spirited, queer and questioning people have very different experiences and issues depending on their unique and social circumstances. They may identify as being gender fluid, multi-gendered, non-binary or trans. They may resist being labelled by any term. Neither gender identity nor sexual orientation are static or set at birth. The sex we are born - male, female, intersex - is the only biological reality. Each young person is unique in how they self-identify and experiment / explore who they are in the world.
LGBTQ children and youth experience trauma when their sense of identity is questioned or rejected. To insist that trans and non-binary children fit inside traditional boy-girl gender roles is to actively refuse to respect their humanity. It causes great harm, without exception.
When people quiz me about my pronouns or don’t like using them, I feel as if they’d rather pretend I don’t exist.
Gender identity, expression and orientation
There is no way to tell if a child is LGBTQ without asking them.[Ryan, C. (2006) Best Practice Guidelines: Serving LGBT Youth in Out-of-Home Care. Child Welfare League of America] Many children realize that they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual as early as five years of age, long before they become sexually active.[Ryan, C., & Diaz, R. (2005). Family responses as a source of risk & resiliency for LGBT youth.] Children identify as trans as young as three. Each young person’s life experience will be different based on who they are and how they present to others.
There are different aspects of identity:
- Gender identity is how you see yourself on a spectrum of feminie, masculine, androgynous
- Gender expression is how you express yourself in the world
- Sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to
- Sex is the anatomical sex you were born - male, female, intersex
- the Genderbread Person
- YOU soup: understanding the diversity and intersections of identity
We don’t have the privilege of being secure in a gender that is constantly affirmed. We have to deal with people misgendering us, not believing us or even asking invasive questions about our bodies.
“Intersectionality” is a term that is used to describe other aspects of being human that create a person’s unique social identity, also called their social location. Social location is made up by your gender, sexual orientation, race, age, ability, age, religion, class, education etc. You might experience oppression and discrimination for any aspect of your identity that does not conform to what has been considered ‘normal’ in mainstream North America.
Traditional patriarchal roles have defined the family for centuries as being limited to a male and female couple who exhibit traditional masculine and feminine genders, are able-bodied, white, Christian and living in a nuclear family. It is a two-class system in which the husband is the head of the household and the wife is the less-valued caregiver. We can see the structure of the patriarchal social system in capitalism. Women and 'womens work' is valued less and therefore paid less.[See CBC Stats Can on gender pay gap] Males who fit the mainstream identities have “privilege” because they do not have to justify or protect their identity and are not disadvantaged by their social location.
Experiencing discrimination for multiple reasons describes the ‘piling on’ of disadvantage. This is called “multiple oppression”. While the LGBTQ community is marginalized because of sexual orientation and gender identity, some still have more privilege than others, depending on individual social location.
For example, if you are a young white girl living in poverty you are likely to experience sexism and classism. If you are a young, black trans girl who is deaf, you are likely to experience discrimination based on transphobia, sexism, racism and ableism. Both girls can speak about sexism but their experiences of discrimination and disadvantage will be very different because they will experience discrimination for different reasons and from different groups.