Barriers LGBT youngsters face #2: can you handle the truth?

February 9, 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.

We don’t get many opportunities to celebrate the positives of our LGBT identities, not least due to the isolation forced on everyone by the covid-19 pandemic. Thankfully, LGBT History Month was created for this exact reason, to dedicate the month of February to celebrating LGBT people’s many successes and achievements! The theme this year is ‘Politics In Art’, and amplifies artists who used their talents for political ends, to bring about equality for disadvantaged people.

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

Peer pressure and the pressure to conform to society’s standards
Unfortunately, peer pressure is present in most teens’ lives – pressure to ‘fit in’ with everyone else. This can manifest in many ways – being pressured to buy expensive branded clothes, wear lots of make-up, be very muscular or macho, lose weight, or try alcohol and drugs.

LGBT youth are also susceptible to the pressure to conform, especially those whose sexuality or gender identity isn’t as well-known or well-understood as other identities.

To explore this further I spoke to a friend, Pandora, who used to identify as bisexual, but now identifies as pansexual. Bisexuality means being attracted to two or more genders. Pansexuality means having the potential for attraction to anyone, regardless of their biological sex or gender identity.

Pandora didn’t feel pressured to conform, but knew other LGBT youth who would pretend to be straight in order to blend in with everyone else. “I don’t feel a need to conform in any sense at all, as my sexuality doesn’t change other aspects of myself,” she told me. “I tend not to tell people my sexuality until they specifically ask – but this is just because it’s a personal thing for me, I don’t feel other people need to know.”

  • More than two in five LGBT pupils (43 per cent) – including half of trans pupils (52 per cent) – don’t feel part of their school community.
  • Almost half of LGBT pupils (45 per cent) who experience homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying never tell anyone about it.

Negative stereotypes
There are still stereotypes held about different groups within the LGBT community, many of which aren’t entirely accurate. As these stereotypes are so well known in the wider society, it can discourage people from coming out as they feel their identity won’t be taken seriously.

Pandora has been subject to stereotypes as well, feeling her sexuality wasn’t always taken seriously or understood. The assumptions made about her sexuality have been mostly negative.

When identifying as bisexual, she was told to “pick a side” with regards to which gender/s she’s attracted to (a common stereotype bisexual people face).

Some people, upon learning about Pandora’s pansexuality, have wrongly assumed that it means you’re attracted to “any human with a pulse”. Which isn’t true – pansexual people have their preferences when it comes to potential partners, just like everyone else.

Shockingly, some have also tried to exploit her pansexuality, as an opportunity to explore their own sexual preferences. “Some girls try to use me to experiment with their own sexuality – some try to kiss me, while some suggest they have sex with me as they’ve never been with a girl.”

  • A third of bi people (32 per cent) aren’t open about their sexual orientation to anyone in their family, compared to eight per cent of lesbians and gay men.
  • Three in ten bi men (30 per cent) and almost one in ten bi women (eight per cent), say they cannot be open about their sexual orientation with any of their friends, compared to two per cent of gay men and one per cent of lesbians.

Their personal situation or cultural background
While being LGBT can be an important part of your identity, many people have other cultural identities, which can impact on someone’s ability to come out.

Cultural or religious beliefs aren’t always supportive of LGBT identities, and people from these backgrounds need to factor this in when considering whether or not it’s safe for them to be openly LGBT.

Furthermore, some LGBT people may have more pressing difficulties, which take priority over coming out. They may have mental health difficulties or a disability.

Alternatively, their family or partner may not be supportive of LGBT people, which means that leaving their home or relationship, living somewhere safe and becoming financially independent would need to take priority before they can consider coming out.

  • A third of lesbian, gay and bi people of faith (32 per cent) aren’t open with anyone in their faith community about their sexual orientation.
  • 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.

Lack of education about LGBT-related topics
In 2019, the Government updated its statutory guidance for the Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) curriculum. This included a number of positive changes, including specific guidance on teaching children about LGBT people and relationships. It states that schools should ‘should ensure that [LGBT] content is fully integrated into their programmes of study’, that is, teaching children about LGBT history and identities should be integrated into lessons.

Despite this promising development, education often starts at home, and it’s been shown that parents still feel they aren’t aware or informed enough about LGBT issues or identities. Adults also show hesitancy towards the idea of accepting their child as LGBT, which may influence their children’s self-esteem should they happen to be LGBT.

  • Two in five LGBT pupils (40 per cent) are never taught anything about LGBT issues at school.
  • Three in four (77 per cent) have never learnt about gender identity and what ‘trans’ means at school.
  • More than half of LGBT pupils (53 per cent) say that there isn’t an adult at school they can talk to about being LGBT.
  • When asked about education, just 59% of UK adults believe that age-appropriate Relationships and Sex Education should include LGBT issues.[/expand]

Read more in part 1

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.