Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth face many of the same struggles as heterosexual and cisgender youth. However, LGBTQ youth are 8 times more likely to attempt suicide when they come from rejecting or non-accepting families (1). LGBTQ youth are also 3 times as likely as their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide (1). And LGBTQ youth are 2.5 times more likely to hurt themselves with each time they are physically or verbally harassed (1). These are sobering statistics to describe youth who are simply being their authentic, true self.
What accounts for the increased suicidal risk for LGBTQ youth? It is NOT because of who they are. It is their interaction with an unsupportive and misunderstanding environment that creates the inner turmoil that often leads to increased suicidal ideation and attempts (2). LGBTQ youth are often subjected to overt and micro aggressions in school, peer groups and their families, which has increased negative consequences for youth (and adults). Alternatively, if youth have the love, support and are affirmed for who they are, by even just once caring person, these negative consequences are greatly ameliorated and create the resilience needed in other nonsuppurative environments (3).
One way in which parents, families, friends and other supports (i.e. teachers, mentors, coaches, employers) can learn how to be a positive support for the LGBTQ youth in their life is by contacting their local PFLAG chapter. Within their local PFLAG chapter, supporters will find opportunities for education and increased awareness on LGBTQ issues. PFLAG is an excellent resource aimed at reducing the negative consequences of coming out, because, as previously stated, the degree to which a youth’s environment is accepting has a substantial impact on how the youth moves forward in viewing and embracing their identity.
For those unfamiliar with PFLAG, it is a network of 400 chapters throughout the United States. Its mission is to unify families, LGBTQ loved ones, and their allies in order to support, educate and advocate until "all hearts and minds respect, value and affirm LGBTQ people” (4). PFLAG chapters do this through support groups, social events, making presentations on bullying in schools, outreach, educating on policy issues, and advocating for change. PFLAG understands the impact family (other environmental influences) support, or lack thereof, can have on an LGBTQ individual and work to provide an environment where anyone can come to process their own feelings about LGBTQ issues, grow in understanding, and become an advocate and ally for their LGBTQ loved one.
I wish I could say I grew up around a lot of diversity but most of my social and family circles were very homogeneous. With the exception of a few wonderful people, I grew up around mostly Caucasian, cisgender heterosexuals. So, when I attended my first El Paso PFLAG support group, I found myself enlightened and welcomed by the diverse group of parents and supporters there. They are passionate, educated, contributing members of the El Paso community. I was so excited to hear the love each of these members had for their LGBTQ loved one. While I expected more parents to discuss their struggle, what I heard, instead were natural affirmations of love and acceptance. I learned many parents involved in PFLAG are not there for personal support (as they did not struggle with their child’s sexual or gender identity/expression) but to make the world a better and fully inclusive place for all LGBTQ individuals. PFLAG does this by bringing to light discriminatory policies in schools and other public forums, make bullying presentations to schools and organize social events to help foster sense of community. It is through these and other means PFLAG sets out to accomplish its vision to see “diversity and all people respected, valued and affirmed inclusive of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression” (4).
Anyone, who is struggling to understand LGBTQ issues or accepting an LGBTQ loved one, PFLAG is a fantastic, and essential, place to start. These parents, family, friends and allies all understand the experience you are going through. PFLAG members are there to provide support, love and acceptance as you work to understand, love and accept. Your mind and heart will change for the better. And you will help change the world for LGBTQ youth. By opening your mind and heart you will change suicide statistics for LGBTQ youth.
For those looking for a way to contribute to the fight for equality and inclusion of all, you can donate directly to your local PFLAG chapter. For PFLAG El Paso you can donate here: https://www.pflagelpaso.org/donate-to-pflag-el-paso. You can also become a member of PFLAG here: https://www.pflagelpaso.org/become-a-member-.
PFLAG meetings are open to everyone. They are free and confidential. For dates and times, please see https://www.pflagelpaso.org/monthly-weekly-meetings. You may also contact them for more information at (915) 209-AMOR (2667) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1) PFLAG. (2019, February 28). Retrieved from https://pflag.org/
2) Craig, S., Austin, L., & Alessi, A. (2012). Gay Affirmative Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Sexual Minority Youth: A Clinical Adaptation. Clinical Social Work Journal, 41(3), 258 - 266.
3) Ryan, C., Toomey, R., Diaz, R., & Russell, S. (2018). Parent-Initiated Sexual Orientation Change Efforts With LGBT Adolescents: Implications for Young Adult Mental Health and Adjustment. Journal of Homosexuality, 1-15.
4) PFLAG. (2019, February 28). Retrieved from https://pflag.org/