Rainbow young people need to know they are valued. Respect means creating youth spaces where differences in sex, sexuality, and gender diversity are celebrated. These spaces need to ensure that rainbow people can share their voices without fear of discrimination, stigma and exclusion. Rainbow young people must be recognised as experts in their own lives.
Adolescence often involves strong pressures to conform around sexuality and gender. It’s a complex time of change for young people as peers become key reference points. Feeling different from dominant sexuality and gender identity norms can be challenging for rainbow young people. They need to be in safe youth spaces where everyone is treated with respect.
Moving towards protective environments
Training in sexuality and gender diversity for staff and volunteers working with young people will help your youth space create a protective environment for rainbow young people. Rainbow young people often develop high levels of internal resilience due to resisting discrimination, stigma and exclusion. However, due to lack of external validation, help-seeking skills may be less developed, thus youth spaces may need to go the extra mile to ensure rainbow young people feel safe.
In order to go that extra mile--to provide rainbow young people access to inclusive, respectful youth spaces--community, and school support groups, and other organizations need to celebrate diverse bodies, relationships and gender identities. Additionally these organization must develop strong relationships with the families of rainbow young people chosen families, and links to all communities of belonging (e.g. ethnicity, culture or religion).
All youth spaces should aim to create bully-free environments to ensure all young people can fully participate. Bullying has detrimental effects on young people’s health, well-being, learning, and also has negative impacts on those who witnessing acts of bullying. Young people who are bullied are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and to avoid environments where bullying occurs. This bullying can be is verbal such as, “that shirt is so gay," or physical. Bullying that is particularly sustained, severe, or intense may be linked to serious physical and mental health outcomes for the victims of bullying, including increased risk of suicide.
Rainbow young people are targeted for bullying at significantly higher rates than their peers in schools and other youth spaces, contributing to serious impacts[on their well-being:
- One in five trans, same and both-sex attracted students drink alcohol at least weekly, compared to less than one in ten of their peers
- Trans students are five times more likely to have attempted suicide in the previous year
- Same and both-sex attracted students are four times more likely to experience significant depressive symptoms
Rainbow young people may choose to hide their sexuality or gender identity to avoid discrimination, stigma and exclusion, including bullying. However, being forced to hide may result in reduced intimacy with friends, family and others. This can be very isolating for rainbow young people, and is often a direct result of bullying.
One of the most important ways to demonstrate respect to rainbow young people is dealing with bullying in person or online. This means having anti-bullying policies which explicitly address homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and ensuring training and continuing professional development around sex, sexuality and gender diversity is available to all staff and volunteers in youth spaces.
Training and diversity education
Training in rainbow competency should teach people working with young people how to use inclusive language, ask open questions, demonstrate respect and sensitivity and challenge discrimination and bullying. It’s important that sex, sexuality and gender identity in themselves are not treated as the problem, and that information and resources are made accessible so youth spaces can follow best practice in supporting Rainbow young people.
Youth spaces need diversity education which covers sex, sexuality and gender diversity, taught by experts, for both young people and staff and volunteers. Discrimination, stigma and exclusion operate at personal, interpersonal and institutional levels. Training and diversity education must address people’s personal attitudes and knowledge to change behaviours, and respect for all Rainbow identities must be built into policies and practices.
Evaluate the training
Providing the right learning environment, with content taught by experts in sexuality and gender diversity will help your staff and volunteers to feel confident and comfortable, including in terms of language working with rainbow young people. It’s important to measure any changes in attitudes, knowledge and behaviours to ensure your training is effective, and future training needs can be identified.
Become fluent and speak the same language as rainbow young people by mirroring the words people use for themselves, their partners, and their bodies. Language is fluid, dynamic and changing all the time – it is important for positive expressions of self and identity. When you ask questions, focus on care, not curiosity – rainbow young people, and trans people in particular, are used to being asked inappropriate questions. Explain why each question is relevant. Deal with the person and treat them as the expert in their own life. If you use the terms rainbow young people use for themselves, you will demonstrate respect.
Be well informed
Join mailing lists and subscribe to websites with information about how to improve the well-being of Rainbow young people. Your local Rainbow support organisations will be able to help you identify good sources of information, or may run their own newsletters. This field is changing rapidly, as more research is completed, particularly around gender diversity, and to make the best decisions for your youth space, it’s important to be up-to-date.
What makes rainbow young people feel respected – value them
- Ask experts in sex, sexuality and gender diversity to provide training to all staff which covers: rainbow terminology and language, discusses homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, prioritizes the intersectional identity and minority stress (including for takatāpui and Pasefika Rainbow identities), results of discrimination, stigma and exclusion on rainbow young people, and how to build inclusive, safe rainbow spaces including ways to respond to bullying.
- Ensure training is reviewed regularly as part of staff and volunteer professional development.
- Ensure all new staff and volunteers receive rainbow competency training within their first year.
- Evaluate training for changes in knowledge and attitudes towards rainbow communities.
- Keep up-to-date with information, research and resources related to the well-being of Rainbow young people to ensure best practice informs policies and practice
- Encourage staff to raise issues related to their work with rainbow young people in supervision to improve responses
- In the policy review cycle, analyse policies for impact on sex, sexuality and gender diverse young people with input from Rainbow young people.