My wife and I are educators working at the same school. On a daily basis we navigate micro-aggressions in the workplace; unwillingness to use our married name, discomfort when addressing us publicly, and lack of congratulations for milestones typically only recognized for heterosexual couples. It can be a challenge working in that kind of environment, and sometimes it takes a toll on us, but working with hundreds of amazing young people year after year, gives us the hope and strength we need to keep moving forward. As important, are the LGBTQ youth on our campus who view us as models, a living and breathing example of what their future can look like if they keep striving and thriving. So, we deal with the challenges, and mostly because if we give up, we are teaching them to give up as well.
If as LGBTQ adults my wife and I struggle to face these challenges, imagine what an LGBTQ youth, with little to no advocacy might feel. The challenges that all young people face today can be quite complex, but even more so when growing up LGBTQ. Though successful movements have arisen to address the many obstacles that the LGBTQ community faces, our young people, especially those of color, still lack support and advocacy in their daily lives. Facing what sometimes seems to be insurmountable odds, LGBTQ teens have higher rates of depression, suicide and homelessness than their heterosexual peers and are more likely to be deemed at-risk. They struggle, and with over 1.3 million of them without mentors, they often do it alone.
Our community has spent considerable amounts of time and money to usher in more progressive and inclusive policies, as well we should, but we still have quite a ways to go when it comes to addressing the needs of our youth. Where are the mentoring programs? Where are the mentors who are willing and who have been trained to work with LGBTQ youth? Where is the support from those who have gone before and who must surely, give back? Investing in the fight to secure our freedoms must also include investing in the future of our youth. After all, they are the new pride. What will all of the work we have done mean if our young people don’t see the benefit in their lives now? Our young people deserve mentors. And they need them, they need them for three reasons:
Mentoring relationships matter: Mentoring has been noted as an essential strategy for positive youth development. Studies show that the positive benefits youth receive when engaged in mentoring relationships include; high academic performance, fewer school absences, and less engagement in risky behaviors. Young people who make connections with mentors build healthier relationships and significantly expand their networks. If mentoring works for all other youth, it must certainly work for LGBTQ youth.
Mentors help build resilience: When young people have mentors, ones who engage them in self-care, self-love, and self-respect, it helps them to build the resilience they need to meet the challenges they face. We all know that rampant homo antagonism can break us down and harm our self-esteem. Having a mentor’s support can create a buffer for the toll that discrimination and life challenges can take on young people. Having a sounding board, having a support system, having someone who can show you how to navigate muddy waters, not only helps young people to survive but to thrive.
Mentors are models of pride: One of the most important aspects of mentoring is being a model. Sometimes mentors are one of the few adults, outside of parents, that young people see as examples of what they can grow into, what they can become. Without these models, young people lack a realistic vision of what life after youth looks like. Young people need to see adults who engage in healthy behaviors, have healthy relationships, live life triumphantly so that they know it is possible for them as well. It is said in the mentoring world that “what you give is what you get and what they see is what they will be.” Mentors must model pride and comfort in identity so that youth will follow.
LGBTQ youth need strong mentors, and they need these mentors now. Our community must come together to encourage, support and build resilience in our future, because, youth are the new pride.