I’ve been working with LGBTI young people for about three years now, and I happen to be a bisexual young person. Here’s some of my hot tips to do the best you can by your young LGBTI clients.
Presume at least some of the young people you are working with are LGBTI, and create an environment that is safe and welcoming. Some young people will immediately tell you if they are LGBTI, but some may be initially hesitant, and some may never. This means you need to operate under the assumption that any young person you are working with might be lesbian, gay, bi, trans or intersex. You can make your workplace safe by putting up inclusive posters or creating signs which show you and your workplace are LGBTI inclusive.
A big part of creating that safe and welcoming environment is working on your language. Firstly: get educated! Teach yourself what different terms mean, and how to use them. That way the onus isn’t on the young person to educate you, which is great as LGBTI people frequently have to explain aspects of their identities and experiences, and it gets tiring. Of course it’s no worries if you’re unfamiliar with a concept – it can be a great chance to build rapport with a young person by saying something like ‘I’ve never heard that before. What does that mean for you?’ When you ask open-ended questions and keep an open mind about what you might hear, it provides the opportunity to create a dialogue with young people, and a learning opportunity for you.
Use gender neutral language where possible. This means familiarising yourself with using ‘they’ as a neutral pronoun. This can be tough at first, but it’s worthwhile to practice as it provides a fantastic way to talk about someone without assuming their gender. You can also start using ‘folks’ instead of boys and girls or ladies and gentlemen, ‘siblings’ instead of brothers and sisters, and many other alternatives. Once this is easier, you can begin to examine your own ideas about what it means to be a boy or a girl, so statements like ‘That’s just how boys are!’ can become a thing of the past.
Reflect the language that young people use. If a young person calls themselves bisexual, so do you. If they ask you to use a specific set of pronouns, whether ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’ or something else, try to do it. And if you don’t know the right thing to say, ask. As above, it’s a great way to create dialogue and learn from each other.
Speak up in kind and constructive ways when others are being homophobic or transphobic. This is another vital part of creating a safe and welcoming environment. If you hear a colleague or another young person say something homophobic or transphobic, speak up! Some examples could be ‘I don’t think that kind of language is OK in this workplace, we try to be accepting of everyone here’ or ‘How about we use different words so everyone feels welcome here’. Obviously this can be difficult, but it’s a great way to demonstrate that you’re committed to making LGBTI young people feel safe and supported.
Finally, show respect towards young LGBTI people. This means not telling others about their sexuality or gender without their permission, respecting their choices to come out or not come out, and respecting their identities.
Young LGBTI people are everywhere, and experience significant barriers seeking help for mental health, sexual health, financial support and many other domains. By educating yourself you can help reduce these barriers 🙂
For more information, you can check out the following links: