Rainbow young people need to that know they are seen, or are counted. They can be invisible in youth spaces if no one asks about sexuality and gender identity. When standard intake processes and forms give youth the opportunity to describe their sexuality and gender identity, young people know this is a space where rainbow young people count.
You can’t tell people’s sexuality or gender identity by appearances, so it’s important to ask all young people respectful questions about sex, sexuality and gender identity. Don’t leave it up to young people to take responsibility for “coming out”. Let them know that their needs are welcome in your youth space from the start. This is an especially important signal for young people who are unsure or questioning. Accurate and up-to-date information will help ensure youth spaces meet the needs of rainbow young people.
Schools and other youth space leaders often tell rainbow support groups that they do not have any young people who are sex, sexuality, or gender diverse. This contributes to the already existing issue of rainbow invisibility which is due to an absence of opportunity to express one’s identity openly and confidentially. In a New Zealand survey of 3,168 people, half of all gay and bisexual men said their general practitioner (GP) assumed they were heterosexual. Young men, bisexual men, and Asian men were all less likely to believe their GP knew their sexuality. Three quarters of New Zealand respondents in a wellbeing study said healthcare providers always or usually presumed they were heterosexual unless they were told otherwise. As this statistic shows, rainbow young people are not nonexistent--they are merely rendered invisible by assumptions.
Benefits of becoming a youth space that counts LGBTQI youth
Young people are coming out or seeking support to transition at younger ages and in increasing numbers. Despite popular assumption, young people want to be asked about their sexuality and gender by youth and health services. Having accurate information about sex, sexuality and gender diversity will help your youth service develop better strategic plans, policies and programmes for all young people.
Include all identities in Aotearoa
Before New Zealand or the Pacific was colonised, Māori and Pasefika identities for sexuality and gender diverse people were part of the community. It’s important that Rainbow young people who are Māori or Pasefika are able to identify themselves with the language that fits best on all policies, forms, and surveys. For example, youth may prefer to identify as takatāpui, whakawāhine or tangata ira tāne for Māori, or Fa’afafine (Samoa, America Samoa and Tokelau), Fakaleiti or Leiti (Tonga), Fakafifine (Niue), Aka’vaine (Cook Islands), Mahu (Tahiti and Hawaii), Vakasalewalewa (Fiji) or Palopa (Papua New Guinea).
Make the process ordinary – but confidential
People working in youth spaces can feel nervous asking direct questions about sex, sexuality, and gender identity. To normalise the process and signal positive acceptance of rainbow young people, it’s important to make it part of your practice with all young people, in the same way you ask everyone other relevant questions about age, ethnicity, gender, family members to contact etc.
Because being “outed” may be frightening or risky, respect that young people may only disclose in confidential settings, and may choose not to disclose at all. Building rapport may take time due to previous negative experiences or fear of discrimination, stigma and exclusion. Seek consent when recording information about sexuality, gender identity or intersex condition. Inform young people why your youth space asks for this information, how it will be stored, who will see it, whether they can make changes at another time, and what it will be used for. The young person should have the right to say how they want this recorded on their file. Develop and distribute a written confidentiality statement that specifically addresses “outing” without consent.
Asking in Intake Forms
Intake forms give rainbow young people the first and most important impression of a youth space, and set the tone about whether to be open about sharing sex, sexuality or gender identity. Where possible, use drop down boxes where people can self-identify, or include an option for people to describe in their own words. If asking about sexuality or relationships, use gender neutral language like “partner” to avoid assumptions. Ask questions about preferred gender, preferred pronoun and preferred name, and make sure these are used when dealing with the young person.
Asking in person
Asking about sex, sexuality and gender in person requires privacy. Ask questions in a matter-of-fact, straightforward way to create an environment where rainbow young people feel more able to disclose. Explain why you are asking, use open-ended questions, and check any terms you don’t understand. Approaching these areas with respect – by asking young people what terms they use for themselves and reflecting these back to them - is more important that getting every word right. Be supportive if a Rainbow young person tells you their identity – they have shared something important.
If asking about sexuality or relationships use gender neutral language like “partner.” If asking questions about preferred gender, preferred pronoun and preferred name, and make sure these are used when dealing with the young person and when talking about them even when they are not present. Be aware that many young people outside the norm experience their sexuality or gender differently at different times – it is a journey, and every stage is valid.
Sexual behaviour and sexual health
Sexual identity and sexual behaviour are not always the same, and in some contexts it may be more important to understand behaviour-- what people do--to provide the best response in terms of sexual health. For example, many people who have sex with people of a similar gender do not identify as homosexual or bisexual. Homophobia and biphobia can influence whether someone is comfortable identifying with diverse sexuality identity labels. Both sexuality and gender identities are fluid and may change over time. It’s important not to make assumptions, but to listen to young people’s framing of their own experiences. Questions about sexual behaviour should make no assumptions about heterosexuality. If in doubt, consult with New Zealand Aids Foundation or Family Planning.
Examples of what makes Rainbow young people feel counted – asking them
- Create Intake Guidelines to help staff feel confident and comfortable asking young people questions about sex, sexuality and gender identity
- Clearly explain why you are asking about sex, sexuality and gender identity, use open-ended questions and explain confidentiality and how information will be used and recorded.
- Intake forms that allow for sex, sexuality, and gender identity to be recorded beyond male/female, heterosexual/homosexual options – use the New Zealand Statistics Standard as a guide.
- Intake forms that ask questions that are gender neutral and inclusive when asking about relationships and sexual activity (if appropriate).
- Intake forms ask young people to give their preferred name.
- When asking questions about sexuality and gender identity in person, do it privately, preferably during the first contact with the young person.
- Ask how young people want information recorded, and respect their choices.
- Use anonymised statistics to improve your strategic planning, policy and programme responses to Rainbow young people.