Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teens are fielding negative messages about their sexuality from places most consider as safe havens, according to a survey of more than 10,000 LGBT youth ages 13 to 17.
Ninety-two percent of LGBT teens surveyed confront hostility toward homosexuals—and schools, religious leaders, and elected officials are often the ones sending the messages, states a report released last week by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a nonprofit that advocates for LGBT rights.
Compared with their peers, LGBT teens are also more likely to report feeling isolated and unhappy, experience verbal or physical harassment, and try drugs or alcohol.
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These findings should be a wake-up call for parents, writes Benjamin Siegel from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"This survey is a call to action for parents and all adults who care for children and youth," he writes in a statement on HRC's website. "We each have a role to play so that LGBT youth, in our communities and in our families, have the support they need to thrive and succeed."
Giving this support means letting teens know you accept them regardless of their sexuality, says Michael Cole-Schwartz, communications director for the Human Rights Campaign.
"Half of these gay teens say there's not a single adult that they can turn to if they feel worried or sad. Not even about their identity, but just in general," he says. "That points to the fact that these kids feel alone and alienated, and they need someone to reach out to them and let them know that there's a sympathetic ear."
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But how can parents, and adults in general, make LGBT teens feel more comfortable in their community? It's the little things as much as the big gestures, Cole-Schwartz says.
"If there's an anti-gay joke on TV, do you say, 'I don't think that was appropriate,' or do you laugh at it?" he asks. "That sends a signal of whether or not you're going to be accepting."
The big picture is letting teens know that you don't view people differently simply because they are bisexual, homosexual, or transgendered.
"It doesn't have to be about your family or your situation, but you can express things in a broader context," such as news stories on marriage equality or LGBT rights, Cole-Schwartz says.
Teens may not be comfortable discussing their sexual identity with their family—56 percent of the teens surveyed by HRC say they are out to their immediate family, while 91 percent say they are out to their close friends. For 26 percent of LGBT youth, rejection by their family was the most important problem in their lives.
Finding ways to show support—even if you don't agree with your LGBT teen's sexual identity—is a must, Cole-Schwartz says.
"The baseline is, you always have to love your child, and your child needs to know that they are loved," he says. "Even if this is a difficult issue for people to deal with … 'I will love you no matter what' is such a critical thing for young people to hear."
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