Emerging Practices for Supporting LGBTQI+ Young People Across Human Services Programs

The Emerging Practices for Supporting LGBTQI+ Youth project highlights promising and emerging practices that human services agencies, programs, staff, and leaders are using to make human service delivery and prevention more welcoming and accessible for LGBTQI+ young people (ages 10-24) in child welfare and juvenile justice systems, as well as those experiencing homelessness, and those seeking sexual health services. The project included an environmental scan to identify programs and the types of services they were offering to LGBTQI+ young people and their families and key informant interviews with young adults (ages 18-24), parents and caregivers, human services program staff, and staff who oversee programs at a federal level. Additionally, the project and project deliverables were developed in collaboration with a steering committee of five LGBTQI+ young adults with lived experience navigating human services programs. Their participation was critical in ensuring that the practices outlined in the deliverables are aligned with the lived experiences of young people and are relevant to the field.

Brief

Identifies methods, key terms, and project findings including barriers to positive youth development for LGBTQI+ young people and emerging practices human services programs are using to support LGBTQI+ young people and their families.

Infographic

This is a one-page version of the project brief that calls out five key emerging practices human services providers are using to support LGBTQI+ young people and their families. This is helpful as a quick reference tool. For more information and the full list of emerging practices see project brief.

Webinar Slides and Recording

The webinar recording, and slides include an overview of the project and findings, a panel discussion among young people, human services providers, and a caregiver of LGBTQI+ young people, and an opportunity to hear from LGBTQI+ young people about the co-creation process for the project and project deliverables.

To access the brief, infographic, webinar and slides please visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation’s website.

Letter from Young People to Human Services Providers on Potential Opportunities for Action

This letter was authored by the five young adults on the steering committee for this research project. It provides their perspective on barriers faced by LGBTQI+ young people and opportunities to improve human services programs across sectors and levels of government to better serve LGBTQI+ young people and their families. The views and opinions expressed in the letter are those of the authors based on their lived experiences and working on this research project. It is not intended to express the views and opinions of all LGBTQI+ young people or of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Rather, the letter provides some additional insight into project findings from five young adults with lived experience in this area.

August 2023

Dear human services agencies and providers,

This letter of action is written by five young adults, ages 23-24, from the LGBTQI+ community. We live in different parts of the country and have different backgrounds, yet we also have shared experiences navigating human services programs such as child welfare, housing, and behavioral and sexual health services. This letter is our account of barriers LGBTQI+ young people face and opportunities for improvements. We hope to set a vision for transforming programs to better serve the LGBTQI+ community.

Whether you work for local, state, tribal, territorial, federal government, private, or nonprofit organizations, you provide services that support young people’s healthy development and well-being, and you have the power to prevent negative outcomes that would require more services.

The five of us served as lived experience experts on a steering committee for a federal project aimed at identifying emerging practices in human services programs for supporting LGBTQI+ young people (ages 10-24). The project team along with the steering committee conducted a scan of human services programs websites and interviewed key individuals (LGBTQI+ young people, parents and caregivers of LGBTQI+ young people, and staff from human service programs and agencies).1 We developed this letter by relating the project findings to our own lived experiences to highlight some of the most important practices for making sure LGBTQI+ young people feel supported and affirmed.

There are several challenges that keep LGBTQI+ young people from achieving their life goals and growing into healthy adults. In our experiences, the ability to address the needs of LGBTQI+ young people are influenced by several compounding challenges that can make navigating care overwhelming. This can result in burnout, depression, anxiety, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Some challenges include:

  • Anti-LGBTQI+ policies and lack of legal protection. Anti-LGBTQI+ policies, such as laws that ban gender affirming care for trans young people or permit discrimination against LGBTQI+ people2, attempt to invalidate the lives and experiences of trans and queer people. They can keep human services agencies from providing affirming services that proactively address the full spectrum of needs of LGBTQI+ young people and ensure protection of our rights. In addition, in our experience, some programs lack accountability mechanisms for addressing harm in instances when young people are misgendered or bullied. Thus, the burden to address the harm and seek accountability is sometimes placed on the LGBTQI+ young person.
  • Fragmented services. Services are often not comprehensive or focused on LGBTQI+ young peoples' needs. Even agencies that do similar work often don't coordinate or collaborate with each other. This limits their ability to support LGBTQI+ young people. For example, worker turnover issues in child welfare can mean that young people need to re-establish relationships, and for LGBTQI+ young people who may not easily trust people, this can be especially difficult. As another example, trying to access different services (such as housing and medical services, or public benefits) in different locations requires extra time and labor. This can be especially taxing for people experiencing poverty, those with disabilities, and those living in locations that lack reliable transportation.
  • Lack of appropriate staff skills. An agency's capacity to provide affirming care depends not only on funding, but also on equipping the people who serve young people with the appropriate skills and knowledge to adapt their approach to meet LGBTQI+ young people's needs.
  • Lack of family support. Many LGBTQI+ young people experience complicated relationships with their biological families because of their LGBTQI+ identities. Some may have no relationship, as they may be cut-off or disowned from family members who reject their identities. This may cause young people to experience housing instability and impact their desire or ability to build other trusting networks of support.
  • Difficulty accessing basic resources. LGBTQI+ young people often lack access to basic resources. They have trouble getting resources needed for permanent, affordable housing, as well as mental health and medical care. This is often due to inconsistent community outreach, not knowing what services and supports they are eligible for, and not knowing how to access them. LGBTQI+ young people may have to rely on temporary housing or pay for medical care out of pocket, leaving them in a constant state of transition and insecurity.
  • Poor mental health. These above challenges can combine to influence LGBTQI+ young people’s mental health. Many LGBTQI+ young people struggle with low self-esteem which can be impacted if they experience judgement related to their identity from society and/or the people close to them. LGBTQI+ young people often experience loneliness, negative self-images, lack of self-acceptance, anxiety, and depression.

It is important to recognize and work to overcome the challenges that keep LGBTQI+ young people from achieving their life goals and growing into healthy adults.

There are several opportunities for human services agencies and programs to better support and serve LGBTQI+ young people.

Despite the challenges, we recognize there are several opportunities to support LGBTQI+ young people. We have been helped by programs that provide food and other basic needs like toiletries, Wi-Fi, and gender-affirming clothing. Other programs offer emergency housing services that help young people find safe and affordable housing, or transportation to the services they need. Programs like Big Brothers, Big Sisters promote services and resources on radio stations and websites. This outreach helps young people connect with resources and supportive relationships across the country. Programs can also provide services and supports that can help reduce rates of homelessness and suicide among LGBTQI+ young people. In addition, Black trans young people experience even more societal disadvantages. Considering the needs for LGBTQI+ young people whose identities are at marginalized intersections of race and queerness is crucial.

Emerging practices human services programs can use to better support LGBTQI+ young people include:

  • Considering intersectional identities when providing services. It is important that agencies understand the many facets of an LGBTQI+ individual’s identity—racial, ethnic, and religious, among others. Intersecting identities shape a person’s experiences and needs, which is essential for understanding how to provide affirming and relevant services. Programs could consider providing additional support to communities that have historically been marginalized. For example, programs can provide services and support LGBTQI+ young people who are neurodivergent, autistic, or have attention-deficit hyperactive disorder. They can connect trans young people with the right people who can provide gender-affirming health care like binders or hormone replacement therapy. It is also important for programs to ask about and understand the different aspects of LGBTQI+ young people’s identities and their life experiences, so that programs can know what resources they need.
  • Coordinating services and making them easier to access. To address the challenge of fragmented services, agencies serving LGBTQI+ young people can coordinate services. One way to do this is to have a “one-stop shop” where young people receive several services (such as health, behavioral health, and housing services) in one location. This could also make it easier for service providers to share information so LGBTQI+ young people don’t have to repeatedly explain themselves to different people.
  • Centering services around LGBTQI+ young people’s needs. It is not enough for an agency to be LGBTQI+ friendly; rather, it is important that agencies deliberately focus on and center the needs of LGBTQI+ young people, and address those needs comprehensively. It is critical that supports and priorities are built around youth’s individual needs and preferences, not deadlines or rules.
  • Promoting structural change to implement LGBTQI+ supportive policies and practices and proactively address barriers faced by LGBTQI+ young people. Consistent and unconditional advocacy for LGBTQI+ supportive policies and against barriers faced by LGBTQI+ young people is important. It is not enough to just serve young LGTBQI+ people; rather, it is critical that agencies actively dismantle systems that make it difficult for LGBTQI+ young people to grow and develop. It is helpful if they uplift inclusive systems and supports. For example, programs can consider simplifying or minimizing bureaucratic policies and practices that create barriers to accessibility, with the goal of making human services programs easier to access and navigate. Additional LGBTQI+ supportive policies and practices include offering support groups, providing professional development on inclusivity, identifying safe spaces, and implementing anti-harassment policies.
  • Hiring staff with lived experiences. It is important that staff and leaders in human services agencies are representative of the LGBTQI+ community they serve. This means that when hiring, they could consider a person’s different types of identities and lived experiences, including LGBTQI+ identity and race or ethnicity. Young people may be able to connect more easily with staff with similar experiences as their own, further helping to create a sense of safety and trust with other adults.
  • Creating safer spaces. Programs can create feelings of safety and security for LGBTQI+ young people. To create safer spaces, agencies can consider zero-tolerance and antidiscrimination policies, especially those that ban blatant misgendering and abuse. Program staff can foster a nonjudgmental environment that emphasizes trust, empathy, and engagement (not punishment, monitoring, policing, and violence) as the basis for responding to mental health crises or drug use. Programs can help create this sense of security by taking the time to deeply understand the needs of the young people they serve. By addressing young peoples’ generational trauma, program staff and those supporting the young person can consider how young people were raised and how that may impact their ability to feel safe. Additionally, it is helpful for program staff and others interacting with young people to inform young people whether and when something they disclose must be reported.
  • Providing staff with training and continuous education. Consistent and ongoing staff training help staff develop the skills to respond to the individual needs of LGBTQI+ young people. Some important training topics include advocacy, LGBTQI+ cultural competency, the importance of using pronouns, and creating a nonjudgmental environment and a sense of security. It is also important to support staff because they can experience their own trauma in serving clients with similar experiences. To effectively support their clients, it is important that staff have support to take care of themselves.
  • Providing mental health treatment or partner with programs that offer mental health treatment. It is important to have more accessible and more affordable mental health treatment and therapy, such as family and individual therapy that accepts and affirms young peoples’ and their families’ identities and lived experiences. Agencies can consider strengthening and expanding mental health service offerings or partnering with programs that provide holistic services.

We envision a better future for LGBTQI+ young people.

To conclude, for LGBTQI+ young people to thrive, we need affirmation, sovereignty, and livelihoods that exist beyond human services agencies and programs. We deserve to grow old, build families, and live unburdened lives. Our lived experiences have made us passionate about creating change, combating social injustices, and making the world a better place. We know change is possible when voices that have been silenced in the past are heard, and we come together to shape the future we want to see. It is time for human services providers to recognize a critical need to provide more and better services for LGBTQI+ young people and work diligently to change society.

Sincerely,

Sol Dixon
Rayven Hoyte
Marina Jones
Cass Phanord
Ethan Wesby

 

The issue brief on Emerging Practices for Supporting LGBTQI+ Young People Across Human Services Programs and associated webinar can be found on the ASPE and Youth.gov websites.

Peele, C. (2023). Roundup of Anti-LGBTQ+ Legislation Advancing In States Across the Country. Human Rights Campaign.