We all want someone to confide in; someone who will listen to our worries and help us navigate through the rocky waters of life.
For the up to ten percent of the US population of youth that are in a sexual minority, this is an even stronger need. Especially in rural high schools, discrimination (sometimes unknowing and sometimes deliberate, even cruel) runs rampant, and day-to-day life can seem a struggle.
In this article, “sexual minority youth” refers to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth (GLBT for short); including any youth who may be experiencing same-sex romantic attractions or gender confusion which high school society generally finds unacceptable.
Some figures suggest that the rate of attempted suicide among GLBT youth can be as high as 20-40% greater than for their heterosexual peers. They are significantly more likely to report depression and anxiety, and more vulnerable to alcohol and drug addictions. A large part of this is due to familial rejection, the cruelty of peers, and chronic stress due to the stigma surrounding homosexual behaviour and identity.
They are at a greater risk for intense victimization at school, as shown by studies that consistently illustrate the hostile environment GLBT students (and those perceived to be GLBT) navigate. According to one study, 90% of GLBT students reported having been harassed or assaulted in the past year, as opposed to 62% of heterosexual youth.
Other startling statistics include:
-A quarter of GLBT youth surveyed skipped school due to fear (five times the rate for heterosexual youth)
-Over half had property damaged (nearly twice their peers’ rate)
-A full third of GLBT students were threatened with a weapon at school (nearly five times as many as their peers)
-Over a third of GLBT students were harassed or physically assaulted by family members because of their orientation
-Over a quarter of GLBT students drop out of high school before graduation
With all this aggression directed towards GLBT youth, is it any wonder many seek a safe, nonjudgmental refuge?
Mentoring programs vary, but common types for sexual minorities include ‘teacher mentoring student’, ‘student to student’, ‘professional to youth’, or ‘community mentoring youth’.
Regardless of the type of program, characteristics of a mentoring program include a connection created between the mentor and partner, which does not have to form because of similarities between the two. Rather, the important thing is that the mentor is understanding and accepting of differences in the youth, using effective communication to encourage him or her to reach full potential.
In light of this, training mentors is crucial to the success of a mentoring program for GLBT youth. While not all mentors might be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or queer themselves, they should not be judgmental and should treat the youth’s sexual orientation as normal.
The reactions of society towards sexual minorities have conditioned many youth to expect negative reactions if they share anything about themselves, particularly relating to their orientation.
Acceptance and support of the youth’s decision to recognize his or her orientation by his or her mentor can go a long way towards helping GLBT youths who are already depressed, stressed, or anxious, and towards preventing the worsening of the situation.
Having an open and accepting environment means young people in general, particularly GLBT youth, are more likely to share their problems, ask for help, and share their thoughts. If the mentor responds in a supportive manner regardless of the situation, this can only be a good thing for the mental and emotional health of sexual minority youth.