Barriers LGBT youngsters face #1: can you handle the truth?

February 1, 2022

Photo by Isi Parente on Unsplash

Jamie Aldridge looks at the cultural and social hurdles young LGBT people have to overcome

The teenage years can be a difficult time for many young people. Teens now need to balance homework, coursework, revision and exam stress, with puberty, unrealistic standards of beauty and social pressures. This has only become amplified since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

Repeated lockdowns have taken their toll on everyone’s wellbeing, but research shows that LGBT people are even more at risk of isolation and poor mental health than straight, cisgender peers.

A 2018 study found that 31% of cisgender LGB people and 46% of trans people had thought about taking their life in the previous year. In comparison, NHS Digital reports that 5%, or 1 in 20 adults in the general population had thought about taking their own life in the same time period.

In light of this, I feel it’s more important than ever to raise awareness of these issues, so more people can learn how to support their LGBT friends and loved ones.

Thankfully, there are organisations out there, dedicated to supporting LGBT people. akt helps LGBT+ people aged 16-25 who are facing homelessness or abuse due to their LGBT status. Likewise, Stonewall Housing supports LGBT adults with housing problems. There’s also a dedicated information and support helpline, Switchboard, where LGBT people can talk to trained volunteers who self-identify as LGBT.

These are just some of the barriers faced by young LGBT people, which explains why they may not be able to come out and fully embrace their identity:

Fear of discrimination
LGBT-phobic bullying is underreported compared to other types of bullying. This may be because the victim is worried that they will be ‘outed’ to friends or family. At school, they may feel their teachers won’t help them tackle the bullying, or that reporting the bullying will make it worse.

[expand title=”get the facts”]
  • Nearly half of lesbian, gay, bi and trans pupils (45 per cent) – including 64 per cent of trans pupils – are bullied for being LGBT at school.
  • Nearly all LGBT young people (97 per cent) see homophobic, biphobic and transphobic content online.
  • In the first three weeks of the March 2020 lockdown, the LGBT Foundation’s helpline saw a 100% increase in calls about transphobia, and a staggering 450% increase in calls about biphobia.[/expand]


Fear of abuse
LGBT people are more likely to experience physical or emotional abuse than straight and cisgender people.

This is particularly worrying for LGBT youth, who may still be financially dependent on their parents. If they come out and find their parents aren’t supportive of their identity, they risk homelessness.

[expand title=”get the facts”]
  • More than one in ten LGBT people (11 per cent) have faced domestic abuse from a partner in the last year. This increases to 17 per cent of black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT people.
  • Almost one in five LGBT people (18 per cent) have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.
  • In the first three weeks of the March 2020 lockdown, the LGBT Foundation’s Domestic Abuse Programme saw a 340% increase in unique viewers of its webpages, and a 38% increase in referrals.
  • As of May 2020, 8% of LGBT did not feel safe where they are currently staying. This includes 9% of BAME LGBT people, 15% of disabled LGBT people, 17% of trans people and 17% of non-binary people.[/expand]


Worrying about people reacting negatively
Lots of LGBT people consider their LGBT status to be an important part of their identity, and research has shown that being accepted for who you are is integral to an LGBT person’s mental health, wellbeing and sense of fulfilment in their everyday lives.

Therefore the thought of friends or family rejecting you because of your LGBT status is a very frightening one for many people, especially young people. Some LGBT youth will delay coming out while they ‘test the waters’ and gauge parents’ or friends’ reactions to other LGBT people (such as celebrities).

Some people don’t come out until later in life, as they’re afraid their LGBT status won’t be accepted in their community (for example within their faith group).

[expand title=”get the facts”]
  • Only half of lesbian, gay and bi people (46 per cent) and trans people (47 per cent) feel able to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity to everyone in their family.
  • A 2019 study by akt found that 11% of parents surveyed said they would feel uncomfortable living at home with an LGBT child. 14% would not want their child to bring home a same-sex partner.
  • 28% of adults said they would not be willing to change the pronouns they used for their child if they came out as transgender.[/expand]


Mental health needs
LGBT people experience mental health problems at a higher rate than straight people. This could be due to a number of factors – bullying about their LGBT identity, discrimination in the community or workplace, or because of gender dysphoria if they identify as trans.

Depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, suicide and self-harm are particularly prevalent among the LGBT community.

[expand title=”get the facts”]
  • More than four in five trans young people (84 per cent) have self-harmed.
  • For lesbian, gay and bi young people who aren’t trans, three in five (61 per cent) have self-harmed.
  • In 2020, 42% of LGBT people said that they would like to access support for their mental health, and 25% said they’d like to access support to reduce feelings of isolation.
  • 64% of LGBT people said that they would rather receive support from an LGBT-specific organisation.[/expand]


Access to transition-related healthcare
This relates specifically to transgender people, many of whom want to medically transition. Yet there are many potential barriers which can prevent them transitioning.

They may have mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. While this doesn’t automatically exclude trans people from transitioning, some doctors won’t agree to endorse surgery or hormone treatment until the patient’s mental health is more stable.

Conversely, they may have a family history of certain medical conditions (or they may have a pre-existing condition themselves), which prevents them from having surgery or taking hormones.

NHS Gender Identity Clinics have long waiting lists, and access to their services have been severely impacted by the covid-19 pandemic. Most clinics have changed their appointments to telephone or videocall appointments, however some people need to be seen face-to-face, such as those being assessed for surgery. This means they may have to wait months for a face-to-face appointment after it’s found that a telephone or video appointment isn’t sufficient for them to start treatment.

Some clinics have stopped accepting referrals altogether, because of limited capacity and small numbers of staff available to treat patients.

[expand title=”get the facts”]
  • Almost half of trans people (47 per cent) who want to undergo some form of medical intervention, but have yet to have it, say that long waiting times prevent them from accessing medical treatment.
  • Nearly half (45 per cent) say they don’t have the financial means to afford it (e.g. costs for treatments they’ve been unable to access on the NHS or travel expenses).
  • Before the Covid-19 pandemic, 80% of people who had tried to access Gender Identity Services said that doing so had not been easy.
  • As of January 2021, the London adult Gender Identity Clinic reports that there are 10,648 people on their waiting list, waiting to be offered a first appointment.[/expand]


Read more in part 2

Further support

Educate and Celebrate can provide workshops, training and resources to create a more inclusive school or work environment.

All statistics quoted above are taken from reports by Stonewall, the LGBT Foundation and akt, published between 2017 and 2021.