Post submitted by Youth Well-Being Program Manager Andi Salinas
The American Counseling Association is celebrating their annual Counseling Awareness Month, bringing light to the work and importance of counselors across the US. Counselors in schools and other service settings can play a critical role in the lives of LGBTQ youth. They can advocate for safe spaces in schools and provide much needed affirmation of their identities. Compared to their cisgender and heterosexual peers, LGBTQ youth experience higher levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. When LGBTQ youth aren’t sure if a space is welcoming, they may avoid seeking help from counselors or other professionals out of fear of rejection or mistreatment. According to HRC’s 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report, only 27% of LGBTQ students say they feel comfortable talking to school counselors about questions related to their LGBTQ identity.
When a counselor has had training on LGBTQ inclusion and is LGBTQ-affirming in their daily practice, it can make a world of difference for LGBTQ students. HRC Youth Ambassador Ace Auker (they/them) explains that counselors can save a “LGBTQ person’s life, or they can make it significantly more dangerous. A supportive, open-minded, and protective counselor can allow a closeted LGBTQ person the space to be themselves and to feel safe at school.”
Having had both positive and negative interactions with their school counselors, Auker offers advice for those looking for somewhere to start. “If you don’t understand LGBTQ terminology or concepts, tell them that. Allow (and encourage) them to self-identify and explain what that means to them....” Auker explained. “Ask them how they want to be supported and remind them that you will keep their sexual orientation or gender identity confidential. They may want someone to defend them when another educator isn’t supportive, they may want to anonymously report people bullying them, or they might just want someone to talk to, or somewhere safe to sit at lunch.”
If a counselor works in a space with limited resources or little support from their administration, working to better support LGBTQ youth may seem difficult. But Auker believes that helping LGBTQ youth and speaking up for more resources is critical. “I know advocacy may feel daunting, but doing nothing signals you are siding with the oppressors,” Auker advised affirming counselors looking to do more. “If school counselors don’t step up, many LGBTQ youth may fall through the cracks. Advocating for staff training on LGBTQ inclusion has the potential to save hundreds of lives, and forever alter how our school system supports vulnerable student populations.”
If you are a counselor looking to provide more support for LGBTQ youth during this challenging time, click here for a list of online and phone resources for LGBTQ youth.