Support Andrus

LGBTQ Youth in Care – Siobhan Masterson

January 25, 2019

This month ANDRUS residential staff members participated in a dynamic and comprehensive training entitled “Enhancing Services for LGBTQ Youth in Care.” The training, generously funded by the Office of Children and Family Services, was led by consultant and trainer Lyndon Cudlitz. Over the course of two sessions, Lyndon guided ANDRUS staff through engaging and informative material aimed at breaking down stereotypes and increasing awareness and sensitivity especially regarding the needs of trans youth. Additional training sessions are already scheduled for the operations team, the human resources team, admissions, and the residential leadership team. We will then develop or update our policies and procedures to ensure that they are LGBTQ sensitive and evidence based, especially for trans youth.

Lyndon Cudlitz, a consultant and trainer for more than 15 years for non-profits, colleges, and schools, created an environment where staff members, whose knowledge about LGBTQ issues had a wide range, were able to ask anything and use the learning environment to think carefully about gender and identity. Some specific areas we explored were sexual orientation, assigned sex, gender identity and expression, all distinctly different topic areas. We also explored the broad array of experiences of people who are LGBTQ, how to become more sensitive to and familiar with barriers experienced in care, learned about the physical and medical transition of people and youth, and examined how our understanding and awareness can contribute to the comfort and safety of LGBTQ youth in our program.

According to a survey conducted by the Human Rights Campaign with more than 10,000 LGBTQ identified youth, the experience of being LGBTQ in America is incredibly stressful, and the risks of depression, anxiety, homelessness, suicide and also physical and sexual violence are much greater solely for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Below is a description of the top three things that LGBTQ youth would like to change compared to their non-LGBTQ youth counterparts. What the survey reveals is that the most difficult and painful factor is intolerance from family and community, and the safety risks associated with being who they are. In other words, the intolerance and hatred from other people is the most painful thing that LGBTQ youth experience.

Last year, for the very first time, the US Centers for Disease Control added two important questions to their annual survey of high school students: one was asking about sexual orientation and one was asking about the gender of partners. And yet, according to quartz.com, only 27 states agreed to ask these questions at all. Regardless, here’s what we learned from the CDC survey:

At least 8% (and probably more) of high school students in America report being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. That’s about a million and a half students. LGBTQ students reported being bullied more than twice their straight counterparts, they were more than twice as likely to avoid school because of fear; almost 30% of LGBTQ students reported attempting suicide, a rate four times more than straight students, and more than half reported being sad or hopeless. Because of all of these stressors, they also were more likely to use hard drugs, alcohol, and be at risk for harmful experiences.

These are startling statistics, especially given the fact that it’s the first time the CDC has even asked about the specific experiences of LGBTQ teens. Surveys that have been going on for more years, such as in Massachusetts, show that the more explicitly the state and local policies reflect a commitment to supporting and accepting LGBTQ youth, the willingness to share their reality goes up and the risk factors go down. For example, in Massachusetts, the first survey was in 1995 and in it about 6% of the students identified as LGBTQ and about 35% of them said they had tried to commit suicide. Fast forward twenty years, and in the same survey about 13% of youth identified as LGBTQ and about 25% said they had attempted to committ suicide. Creating a culture committed to the needs of LGBTQ youth, and ensuring adults listen and support LGBTQ kids about their experiences, is one of the most important first steps to reduce risk and build trust, thereby increasing their safety and well being.
Andrus’ Campus program serves approximately 150 children in our school, about half of whom live on campus. We are admitting more students who are trans youth, and Lyndon helped us understand that these students are not “deciding to change genders” or “confused.” Challenging and exploring these concepts of gender, identity, attraction, and self expression was an essential part of the training, and what many staff members took away from it was that the most important thing they can do to support LGBTQ youth (or anyone) is to be supportive, to listen, to be open and non-judgmental, and to accept students for who they are. One staff member said that this training “opened my eyes,” and another said that “it made me feel more sure that the most important thing I can do is be open and caring, and try to learn as much as I can about the needs of LGBTQ students.”

The message was clear: how a person feels on the inside about their identity is far more important than anything else, including what they wear or how they look to us. And if we can strive to honor and celebrate students for who they are, we are doing our part to create a safer world for them to thrive. The world certainly needs more of that.