The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has released a new report detailing the experiences of LGBTQ African American teenagers, providing critical insight for educators and youth support professionals who serve this demographic. The results — based on a broader study conducted by HRC and the University of Connecticut in 2017 — draw on survey responses from 1,600 LGBTQ teenagers who identify at least in part as black or African American, making it the largest study to date on this population.
One of the study’s most telling findings shows that a vast majority of these teens suffer from low self-esteem and chronic mental and emotional distress. Seventy percent say they “usually” feel worthless or hopeless and 8 in 10 report feeling depressed or anxious on a regular basis. While parents and family can play a huge role in helping these individuals develop self-worth and resilience, according to the study’s authors, 67% of respondents say their family makes them feel bad about their LGBTQ identity. Almost 1 in 2 survey takers had been openly mocked or taunted by a family member for being LGBTQ.
Transgender and gender nonconforming respondents tended to report higher levels of discrimination and hostility than their cisgender peers, particularly at school. Eight in 10 had been verbally abused and 40 percent had been physically threatened on school grounds, compared to 60 and 25 percent of cisgender respondents, respectively. African American teens who are transgender or gender nonconforming also face significant distress when it comes to using school restrooms and locker rooms. Nearly 60 percent say they do not feel safe in these facilities and 63 percent say they try to avoid using the restroom during school hours.
This study also reveals the extent of sexual abuse and harassment directed at black LGBTQ teens. Nearly one in five respondents say they have been forced to perform unwanted sexual acts while 13 percent report being raped. As with bullying, transgender and nonconforming youth experienced this abuse at higher rates.
Despite these disheartening statistics, HRC does provide positive examples and methods for supporting black LGBTQ students. The report emphasizes the importance of having school counselors and mental health professionals who are educated on the nuances of intersectional identities. Educators and counselors should also be proactive in assuring students that any discussion regarding sexual or gender identity is confidential, as this was a major concern for survey takers who reported not asking for school support. Furthermore, respondents suggested that simple measures — such as displaying pride flags or safe spaces signs — can create a more inclusive school environment, as can having teachers who don’t tolerate hate speech or slurs in the classroom.
For more information on supporting this population of young people, including guides on helping LGBTQ teens from specific racial and ethnic backgrounds, visit hrc.org.