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I’m frequently asked about different ways to support transgender and non-binary youth. Parents want to do the right thing but can feel unsure about what that means. Adults working with kids who aren’t their own (teachers, coaches, counselors, therapists) balance between empowerment and maintaining healthy boundaries.
The advice people typically expect are tips around direct interactions. Things like effective interventions for bullying and respecting pronouns; important day-to-day resources. I can (and do) talk about these things all day.
There are so many strategies for developing inclusion and supporting kids along their journey. My advice comes with an expansion pack. Because supporting LGBTQ individuals doesn’t stop at the front door.
After working through any specific questions, I also talk to them about running for their local school board. We discuss being active in the community and city council. Registering people to vote. Educating themselves on policy and candidates. Advocating for systemic, meaningful change on behalf of LGBTQ people they will likely never meet.
You support transgender and non-binary kids by turning out for public comment sessions and announcing, “this is my issue too”.
Research consistently demonstrates an increased risk for depression, suicide, and self-harm among LGBTQ individuals. There are myriad contributing factors, including marginalization, bullying, and social stigma. What is missing, when we talk about these exhaustingly higher rates of negative outcomes, is an appreciation for the influence of discriminatory policy.
Children receive early messages about not adhering to the gender binary. Anything from “Act like a little lady and get down from there!” to “Boys don’t cry, man up!” These messages form the first story that queer kids will use to interpret themselves in the world.
Transgender and non-binary kiddos are typically not struggling with their identity. Rather, they are attempting to reconcile their innate sense of self against everything the world has told them about being transgender or non-binary.
Bathroom bills and similar policies spark conversations in the child’s environment. Imagine the experience of seeing strangers publicly debate where you can go to the bathroom. Or if you can serve in the military. Or if you can be fired for having non-binary indicator on a driver’s license.
Under the guise of policy, an entire segment of the population becomes less than.
Kids process these early messages as a way to define what it means to be transgender or non-binary. Really, any identity that isn’t cisgender and straight. Eventually, this ‘less than’ status influences the risks they find themselves willing to take as they begin to exert control over their bodies and destinies.
So, yes, learn all the ways to support LGBTQ kids in your life. It’s critical to shaping their future development and well-being. Speak up, intervene, model inclusive behaviors.
Then go change the world on their behalf. And bring your friends.
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