We affirm everyone’s right to love whomever they love, and to make schools safe for all identities, especially LGBTQ+ youth.
The LGBTQ+ community has evolved over time to include terms relating to both sexuality and gender. While gender and sexuality are related and connected, they are different.
First, here are some overarching terms used in the community:
- LGBTQ+: An acronym to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning people. The + symbol is used to extend the acronym to additional groups, such as intersex, asexual, and other sexualities and non-binary gender identities.
- GSA: These letters can stand for gay-straight alliance or gender and sexuality alliance. These groups are student-led clubs and organizations in schools that provide a safe and welcoming space for LGBTQ+ youth and their straight allies to discuss and explore gender and sexuality.
Here are terms relating to gender (all from Gender Spectrum):
- Sex: Used to label a person as “male” or “female” (some US states and other countries offer a third option) at birth, this term refers to a person’s external genitalia and internal reproductive organs. When a person is assigned a particular sex at birth, it is often mistakenly assumed that this will equate with their gender; it might, but it might not.
- Gender identity: Our internal experience and naming of our gender. It can correspond to or differ from the sex we were assigned at birth.
- Cisgender (or cis): People whose gender identity aligns with their assigned sex at birth.
- Transgender (or trans): Sometimes this term is used broadly as an umbrella term to describe anyone whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex. It can also be used more narrowly as a gender identity that reflects a binary gender identity that is “opposite” or “across from” the sex they were assigned at birth.
- Non-binary: An umbrella term for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine.
- Two spirit: a term used within the Indigenous community to describe people who have both male and female spirit within them. This is an umbrella term adopted by the Native community, and many tribes have their own terms, roles and traditions for two spirit people going back centuries. (Indian Country Today)
- Intersex: About 1% of children are born with chromosomes, hormones, genitalia and/or other sex characteristics that are not exclusively male or female as defined by the medical establishment in our society. In most cases, these children are at no medical risk, but most are assigned a binary sex identity (male or female) by their doctors and/or families.
And here are terms relating to sexuality (all from the Human Rights Campaign):
- Sexual orientation: An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people.
- Gay: A person who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to members of the same gender.
- Lesbian: A woman who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to other women.
- Bisexual: A person emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree.
- Pansexual: Someone who has the potential for emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to people of any gender though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree.
- Asexual:The lack of a sexual attraction or desire for other people.
- Queer: A term people often use to express fluid identities and orientations. Often used interchangeably with “LGBTQ.” This term was once considered an insult by some people but has been “reclaimed” by the LGBTQ+ community.
- Homophobia: the fear and hatred of or discomfort with people who are attracted to members of the same sex.
- Transphobia: the fear and hatred of, or discomfort with, transgender people.
The Importance of Pronouns
When we meet a new person, we will often assume the pronouns they use based on the way they are dressed or present themselves. This can lead to jarring situations for trans or non-binary youth, who may not dress or cut their hair according to typical gender norms.
There is a growing movement to mention pronouns when doing introductions, the same way you would mention your name, age, or where you are from. This ensures everyone knows how you would like to be referred to, and normalizes the practice so that trans and non-binary youth feel comfortable in the space.
For example, you might say, “My name is Xander, and my pronouns are he, him and his” or “My name is Sam, and my pronouns are they, them and theirs.”
Normalize adding pronouns to your introductions, and ensure that when doing group introductions you encourage participants to mention their pronouns. This signals to trans and non-binary youth that this is a safe space for them to be themselves.
For more information on the use of pronouns, see this article from Medium.com.
Challenges for LGBTQ+ Youth in Today’s World
While the LGBTQ+ community has made great strides in achieving legal rights and social acceptance in the recent decades, LGBTQ+ youth continue to face significant challenges in today’s world. Here are a few examples:
- Only 56% of LGBTQ+ youth report being out to their immediate family members. LGBTQ+ youth often fear or anticipate family rejection, preventing them from coming out. (Human Rights Campaign)
- LGBTQ+ youth are more than two times as likely as non-LGBTQ+ youth to say they have been verbally harassed and called names at school. (Human Rights Campaign)
- LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth. Trans youth are even more likely to attempt suicide than their LGB counterparts. (Centers for Disease Control / The Trevor Project)
- Between 20 – 40% of homeless youth are LGBT, meaning that hundreds of thousands of LGBT children and young adults are living on the streets each year. (National Coalition for the Homeless) Harassment at school and family rejection are leading causes of LGBTQ+ youth leaving home without jobs or economic security.
- So-called “gay conversion therapy” remains legal in 30 states. This harmful practice attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, despite strong evidence sexuality and gender identity are immutable and cannot be changed. (Born Perfect)
Local Actions to Support LGBTQ+ Youth
Here are just a few ideas of ways students can take action locally to support and include LGBTQ+ youth in your school or community:
- Does your school have a GSA? If not, consider whether starting a GSA may be a good first step to making LGBTQ+ youth more visible and accepted in your community. Here are 10 tips for starting a GSA from Teaching Tolerance. Keep in mind how starting a new club may impact other groups, for example a diversity or social justice club. LGBTQ+ youth deserve a unique space to meet and be themselves, but at the same time should not be isolated from other social justice groups in the school or community.
- If your school has a GSA, is it fully inclusive and intersectional? In some communities students of color may not feel represented or welcome within LGBTQ+ spaces without specific outreach and efforts. If that seems to be the case, consider discreetly interviewing LGBTQ+ students of color about their experiences, and find ways to bridge the barriers to participation and inclusion.
- Are LGBTQ+ people represented in your curriculum? More states and school districts are passing regulations to ensure inclusion of LGBTQ+ history in school curriculum, but this is often due to student activism. If your teachers aren’t actively mentioning LGBTQ+ people and history in classrooms, consider a project to engage them to update the curriculum, or work on a project to change the law in your state.
- Bullying within school is one of the biggest challenges for LGBTQ+ youth. Consider launching a project to identify spaces where students are regularly harassed, and then come up with an action plan to call out and address the harassment. Try to build a coalition of student groups, teachers, and administrators working collaboratively on the problem.
- Regularly introduce yourself with pronouns, and consider a presentation or project to encourage others in the school to normalize the use of pronouns during introductions.
- Does your school have gender-neutral bathrooms available for trans and non-binary students? If not, engage administration to come up with a plan.
- Most importantly, make sure LGBTQ+ youth know you are their ally, and be available if they need support. Don’t wait to be asked to show you are supportive.
Videos to Explore LGBTQ+ Justice and Youth
Stay up to date for future student-generated videos on this topic and more by subscribing to YCD’s YouTube channel here.
What challenges do teens and young people face today when coming out as part of the LGBTQ+ community? What does the coming out experience look like for people from different backgrounds? How does coming out as trans or bisexual differ from coming out as gay or lesbian? How can we be better allies to LGBTQ+ youth and those who have not yet come out?
Diversity around gender identity continues to grow, and the term “non-binary” has become more and more well-known as an alternative to strictly male or female gender identities. In this video a teen who identifies as non-binary is interviewed about their experiences coming to realize they are non-binary, what it means to them, and what some common misunderstandings or misconceptions are around the identity.
Historian and activist Blair Imani (she/her) talks with student leaders from YCD New Mexico about intersectionality, diversity, inclusion, and youth activism.
YCD Workshops for LGBTQ+ Youth
Below are example workshops YCD has hosted in the past through our conferences for students and educators; contact us to request more information or connect with a presenter.
A Forum for LGBTQ Students
We will share resources that are available to LGBTQ+ youth. This session will be an informal discussion which will support LGBTQ youth. Allies are welcome to attend, to support, and learn with their LGBTQ peers. No questions will be turned down, all questions are encouraged. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ― Audre Lorde
Gatekeeping within the LGBTQ+ Community
Who gets to decide who is part of the LGBTQ+ community and who isn’t? In this workshop participants will share their experiences with gatekeeping within the LGBTQ+ community. Participants will explore this topic through an interactive activity exploring the four I’s of oppression and the ideas we have about the LBGTQ+ community (internally and externally).
Presented by Building Bridges, Denver, CO
Gender Fluid: Shifting on the Spectrum of Gender Identity and Expression
We will provide an overview of the differences among biological sex or sex assigned at birth, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation as well as some common gender-related terminology. Opportunities to engage and consider your own gender development and gender non-conforming experiences will be encouraged. Then, we will focus more specifically on the concept of ‘gender fluid.’ This will include a description of gender fluid, video clip examples of gender-fluid experiences, discussing common areas of difficulty/discrimination, brainstorming ways to make spaces safer for gender-fluid individuals, and practicing the use of gender affirming language.
Presented by the TRUE Center for Gender Diversity at Children’s Hospital Colorado, Denver, CO
The Intersection of Religion, Family and Sexuality
This workshop explores the intersection of religion, family and sexuality. We heard from author Amber Cantorna, the daughter of an executive at Focus on the Family and who came out as a lesbian at age 27, about her experience reconciling her sexuality and spirituality, and then had a dynamic group discussion through Q&A.
On the Field and Out of the Closet: LGBTQ+ Athletes Speak
A panel of LGBTQ+ athletes will participate in a panel/Q&A for attendees, discussing their experiences as closeted/out athletes in high school and college. We’ll discuss how we can support friends, siblings and ourselves in creating an inclusive and affirming experience for everyone in the sports world.
Presented by the You Can Play Project, Denver, CO
Transgender 101 and Beyond
How do we talk about gender? It isn’t simple when a transgender or gender non-conforming person expresses their real feelings. This workshop will discuss the gender spectrum through terminology, games, and personal stories. We’ll go from blue to pink and girl to boy and back.
Presented by Zia Klamm, Denver, CO
LGBTQ+ Leaders Who Inspire Us
Here’s a list of folx who are leading the fight for LGBTQ+ inclusion and rights. They inspire and inform our work. Follow them on social media, or seek out opportunities to hear them speak to dig deeper on these issues.
Who inspires your work for LGBTQ+ youth? Share your points of inspiration with us on Twitter:
.@ycdiversity My work for LGBTQ+ youth is inspired byTweet
LGBTQ+ Books for Students
Here is a list of recommended books for students and teens that explore and address LGBTQ+ issues. You can find free e-books or your local library using OverDrive.com.
LGBTQ+ Books for Educators and Adults
And this list is for teachers, educators and adults looking for guidance on supporting and including LGBTQ+ youth within the classroom or school system.
Movies Addressing LGBTQ+ Inclusion
Below are movies that address LGBTQ+ topics in meaningful and compelling ways.
Podcasts on LGBTQ+ Inclusion
Here is a list of recommended podcasts you can download and follow to explore LGBTQ+ inclusion in more detail.
Organizations Advancing LGBTQ+ Inclusion and Rights for Youth
YCD partners with numerous organizations to offer education and trainings for students on LGBTQ+ issues. Below are some of these groups; we encourage you to look into what services, resources and information they can offer for a deeper exploration of how you can support and include LGBTQ+ youth in your school or community.
Born Perfect is a campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement (Familia:TQLM) works at the local and national levels to achieve the collective liberation of trans, queer, and gender nonconforming Latinxs through building community, organizing, advocacy, and education.
GenderCool is a youth-led movement replacing misinformed opinions with positive, powerful experiences meeting remarkable kids who identify as transgender and non-binary.
GLSEN is a national education organization working to ensure safe and inclusive schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. GLSEN’s Day of Silence and Ally Week are designed to give students and teachers the tools that they need to move their school to address and help end anti-LGBT bullying. GLSEN also has resources on starting and sustaining a gay-straight alliance in school.
The Human Rights Campaign represents a force of more than 3 million members and supporters nationwide. As the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization, HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ people are ensured of their basic equal rights, and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.
The It Gets Better Project is a nonprofit organization with a mission to uplift, empower, and connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth around the globe. Growing up isn’t easy, especially when you are trying to affirm and assert your sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It can be a challenging and isolating process – but, the good news is, no one has to do it alone.
Keshet works for the full equality of all LGBTQ Jews and our families in Jewish life. We strengthen Jewish communities. We equip Jewish organizations with the skills and knowledge to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, create spaces in which all queer Jewish youth feel seen and valued, and advance LGBTQ rights nationwide.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, legislation, policy, and public education.
The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning youth. If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline now at 1-866-488-7386.
You Can Play works to ensure the safety and inclusion for all who participate in sports, including LGBTQ+ athletes, coaches and fans. We achieve this by creating a community of allies that is able to foster a true sense of belonging.
The Diné Equality envisions the Navajo Nation as a safe, supportive, and inclusive home for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender & two-spirit community.
one•n•ten is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving and assisting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth ages 14 to 24. From weekly discussion groups to fun, social networking events, they create a safe space, mentally and physically, for youth of all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. They also offer resources to promote healthy choices and living. In addition to their downtown Phoenix location, the group has satellite locations in Glendale, Prescott, Flagstaff, Scottsdale, Mesa and Queen Creek.
The Center on Colfax in Denver has grown to become the largest community center in the Rocky Mountain region, giving voice to Colorado’s all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community and playing a pivotal role in statewide initiatives to reduce harassment and discrimination.
Through outreach initiatives, educational programs, and social events, Four Corners Alliance for Diversity serves LGBT community members and their allies in Durango and the surrounding area, from youth to seniors.
Inside/Out Youth Services creates safe space, provides support systems and teaches life skills to LGBTIQ youth in Colorado Springs and the surrounding community. Their programs include support and discussion groups, supervised drop-in recreation center, community outings, leadership development opportunities, sexual health education, suicide prevention education, career and financial skills building, counseling referrals, food pantry, and clothing closet.
Joy as Resistance is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the hope and joy of LGBTQIA+ youth through comprehensive mental health and wellness services.
One Colorado is the state’s leading advocacy organization dedicated to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Coloradans and their families. The organization also maintains a Gay-Straight Alliance Network to help teens and teachers from GSAs across the state connect and network with one another.
Out Boulder County educates, advocates and provides services, programs and support for Boulder County’s LGBT and queer communities. They have several youth groups that serve youth age 11-18 and meet weekly to provide support to one another, and also provide homework and tutoring support by appointment, as well as trainings on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation for classes, businesses and organizations.
Over the past 25 years, the Southern Colorado Equality Alliance based in Pueblo has organized HIV/AIDS vigils and fundraisers, held debates and informational panels, provided people information on LGBTQ issues, hosted dances and a prom, supported civil unions, celebrated when the Supreme Court affirmed LGBT marriages to be an inalienable right, stood up against anti-gay protests, helped with petition drives, and much more. The SCEA also organizes Outfront, Pueblo’s LGBT youth group for people ages 13-20, including straight allies.
SPLASH Youth of Northern Colorado creates inclusive, safe, and positive environments for youth in Fort Collins, Greeley, Loveland, Windsor and Estes Park who may be at-risk or need a safe space to be themselves; while providing resources to young people who may be at-risk or feel disenfranchised due to their gender identity, expression or sexual orientation. SPLASH youth groups are youth-led and consist of weekly meetups and special events that give LGBTQIA+ youth a safe space to join together for learning about the LGBTQIA+ community.
Casa Q, based in Albuquerque, provides safe living options and services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, and allies who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
Equality New Mexico works to achieve equality and secure legal protections for LGBTQ people living in New Mexico by sponsoring legislation and coordinating efforts to ensure its passage, lobbying legislators and other policymakers, building coalitions, developing community strength, and empowering individuals in other organizations to engage in the political process.
Identity, Inc! supports the LGBTQ community and allies in Farmington and throughout San Juan County by providing a safe space and opportunity for growth through education.
The Mountain Center (TMC) is a nationally recognized and accredited 501(C)3 educational and therapeutic organization that, since 1979, has been dedicated to promoting personal discovery and social change among youth, families and groups through the use of creative learning experiences in wilderness, community and cultural environments. In particular, The Mountain Center is host to the New Mexico Gay-Straight Alliance Network, connecting GSA clubs across the state.
Southern New Mexico Pride, based in Las Cruces, provides advocacy and resources for the LGBTQ community and its allies, producing several events throughout the year.
Teen’MPower, based in Albuquerque and run through Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, is a group of LGBTQ+ youth and allies who come together and make memories. They talk about issues that affect all of us, like challenges around being LGBTQ+ in school, what do teens need from allies, or tips and tricks for challenging gender roles and expectations.
The Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico provides support, community, and connection to transgender, gender nonconforming, nonbinary, and gender variant people and their families through advocacy, education, and direct services.
Time Out Youth Center, based in Charlotte, is a place where you can experience a sense of belonging and community. Whether you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, a straight ally – or just don’t want to be labeled, you will be welcomed here. Some of our youth are out, some are partially out, and some are not out at all. Time Out Youth Center offers a safe space for all and fully respects the journey of each individual. While at Time Out Youth, you are not expected to be anyone or anything except who you are.
Fiesta Youth is San Antonio’s premier LGBTQ non-profit youth organization for youth and their allies. They offer support, educational and enrichment programming/activities designed to help youth build a sense of community through friendship and peer connection through weekly programming, special events, and partnered events with the San Antonio Library System and the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.
Out Youth, based in Austin, serves Central Texas LGBTQIA+ youth and their allies with programs and services to ensure these promising young people develop into happy, healthy, successful adults.
Equality Utah works to build a community where every Utahn is valued for being who they are regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We believe everyone in our state deserves to be treated with respect and understanding and to be afforded the same basic freedoms and opportunities as everyone else.
TEA of Utah is dedicated to finding and creating opportunities to better the lives of transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary Utahns. TEA of Utah works to educate school boards, administrators, and key policy makers to help ensure that transgender students are able to succeed in school.
Wyoming Equality strives to achieve equity for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, and queer Wyomingites by building broad and inclusive communities, shifting the hearts and minds of our neighbors, and achieving policy victories. The group created the Wyoming GSA Network to support, empower and connect LGBTQ+ youth in the state.
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