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You want top tips? We’ve got top tips!
We know how important it is to support our LGBTQIA+ friends and community members when they’re in crisis. That’s why we’ve put together a practical guide, based on our own lived experiences, to help you effectively support LGBTQIA+ young people during challenging times.
Let’s make a difference together.
Mali: Hi. My name is Mali. My pronouns are they/them or she/her.
Twyla: Hi. My name is Twyla. My pronouns are she/they.
Jenny: Hi. My name is Jenny. My pronouns are she/her.
Chris: Hi. My name is Chris. My pronouns are they/them.
Mali: We know you might not have a lot of time to explore the challenges that LGBTQIA+ young people face when in crisis so we have put together these top tips.
Twyla: These are some ways you may find useful that are a combination of lived experience and practical advice.
Jenny: A top tip for starting the conversation is to introduce yourself with your pronouns and ask ours. We’ve talked about this in the ‘Understanding our perspective’ guide. If you’re unsure about this you could say, “how would you prefer me to address you?” If you are in a professional situation, it’s better to ask than rely on what is written in any notes, as pronouns can change along someone’s process of understanding their own identity.
Chris: If we don’t know you, tell us who you are and what is going to happen. Whether you are a professional or a family member, carer or friend asking, ‘what can I do to help?’ is a good start. When you choose to mention identity, ask an open question such as, ‘what does it mean for you to identify as LGBTQIA+?’
Mali: We need safe spaces and time to talk about our experiences. We may not have been able to turn to our usual support networks and you may be the first person we have talked to about our identity. We may need quiet spaces to manage how overwhelmed we are feeling, and privacy; especially if our experiences have taught us to be careful about being overheard. Ask us if we feel safe enough to talk and listen to the answer.
Twyla: My top tips for making a young person feel validated is to make sure you are using the correct pronoun and name. We may have a preferred name and a legal name. If you don’t know us, ask us what we would like to be called and use that name. This is especially important for transgender people. If anyone in their life has kept calling them by their original name (or ‘deadnaming’) this can be really upsetting. If you are a family member, this may take some adjustment and you may make mistakes but it is vital you keep going until it becomes a habit.
Jenny: Understanding that talking with you will be part of the young person processing their identity. Your reaction is important. If you are unsure how to respond, starting the conversation and risking getting it wrong is better than ignoring things. We’re feeling vulnerable so meet us as a human being. Don’t be scared to say the wrong thing, be open to understanding and learning.
Chris: One professional discussed the benefits of being informed when talking to a queer young person, saying, ‘I feel a huge factor of training and understanding comes from education about LGBTQIA+ topics such as transition, hormones, fluidity, differences between gender and sex, queerness and the history of people around the world who identify as LGBTQIA+.’ We have included more resources about where to find out information if learning more about these are relevant to you.
Mali: When a young LGBTQIA+ person needs help it may be the first time they have reached out. The reasons they are there may or may not be connected with their gender identity or sexuality. If it is, it may be that they aren’t able or ready to talk about these things. Sharing feelings about this for the first time is known as ‘coming out.’ For LGBTQIA+ people this is a significant event as it is about realising and understanding ourselves. A young person may feel it is okay to talk about their gender identity but their sexuality is private. It’s good to approach them personally without probing them.
Twyla: My top tips for supporting me are to give me support that is free of judgement. Positive ways of doing this are showing active listening in person, and being aware of your body language, especially if you are online. If you are on the phone your encouragement and the way you speak to us is really important. We appreciate that you meet a young person in crisis in your own context, with your own experiences, opinions and emotions. You don’t have to fully understand or agree with how we are feeling but it is really positive if you support us in that moment.
Jenny: It may be that you are concerned that the young person is under pressure to identify as a certain label, but what helps is if you provide a safe space for them to explore this without judgement and feel listened to when they say who they feel they are. Whatever their level of certainty as they work through this, they need to be able to trust you. This helps to keep the conversation open.
Chris: Some young people may not have come out or may not have been able to speak to their families about how they are feeling. It is always important that they feel they are talking to allies and the Pride flag/lanyard/pin as well as pronoun badges on a staff member is good to see. The person may be feeling overwhelmed so it is better that there is a quiet place to go to if they need it.
Mali: In my experience a Youth Worker who I spoke to treated me like a human being/ individual and I felt really supported by them. They were the first adult who wanted to know who I was as a person and what I found helpful or triggering before going into the trauma I was experiencing. They didn’t treat me like a patient but a human they wanted to understand.
Twyla: My top tips for when things do go as planned is that I will feel listened to and understood and ready to hear what is going to happen next. I will have felt safe enough to challenge any misconceptions or misunderstandings. Feeling safe with someone can be about their demeanour, if they are relaxed, asking who you are, listening. Young people may not have experienced this situation before and may not know what to expect. If someone comes out to you, say something non judgemental and positive.
Jenny: It’s much more helpful to help us navigate how we are feeling by talking about it rather than you expressing any doubt. Feeling that you are being authentic and asking what you can do to help is reassuring. Be kind and empathetic towards our distress, even if outwardly we may seem withdrawn. There may be things that are being left unsaid that are just as important as the words that are being used.
Chris: My top tips for when things don’t go as planned are: if someone gets pronouns wrong, you don’t need to make a big deal out of it, you can just apologise, say, ‘oh sorry, I meant…’ Just acknowledge it may be a new experience for you too. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You don’t need to give a long apology as we will still need to focus on our conversation.
Mali: If we are interrupted before we’ve had the chance to explain how we are feeling or work something through, this can make us feel dismissed or belittled. We may want to end the conversation. Everyone knows it is frustrating to be talked over. If you interrupt, apologise and allow the conversation to continue. This is especially important if we are asking for help using a phone call.
Twyla: Having somebody on the phone give genuinely good or helpful advice instead of just recommending general advice can make a difference, as anyone who calls these services needs to have a talk tailored to them or the issues they are facing as an individual.
Jenny: If something triggers a young person it means that they are having a really powerful reaction to a reminder of an experience right there and then. Again it’s important to learn to avoid what causes this. You could try changing the conversation to allow them to think about something else, or the person might need time and space before they can carry on. Grounding exercises for anxiety can also help, like slowing your breathing.
Chris: Some young people have felt they can’t talk about their queerness as they want to avoid having to argue about it or convince who they are talking to. When their feelings are dismissed by people it makes the interaction more overwhelming. They are left feeling like they have to justify and fight their corner, and at that point don’t want to do it anymore.
Mali: This can also be a part of wanting to talk about other worries but the conversation not moving away from their queerness. As one young person told us: ‘once I had a therapist that would consistently call my sexuality a phase, it would be the topic of every session. She’d somehow link my issues to me being LGBT.’ Understanding and using the advice we give here can allow young people to discuss their feelings without being judged.
Twyla: It’s really common for a young person to look for online help with their mental health, especially if they feel they need to get help in secret. It may be that you suggest general techniques to improve how they feel that they have already tried from these platforms. This might mean they then seem unenthusiastic or feel hopeless or come across as not wanting to change.
Chris: You can be in a position to change that. If your conversation takes that direction, listen to them and ask about their experience. If you are limited in what you can do, involve someone who is more specialised.
Mali: My top tips for ending the conversation is to tell us what is going to happen next. Ask us if there is anything we would like to go over or add to what we have talked about. We may need a period of reflection time before we can answer. If you are a professional or trusted adult it makes a big difference if you explain the process of accessing services and referral pathways, ensuring the young person continues to get support after your contact with them, involving them in the next steps.
Twyla: In terms of reaching out for help it may be more difficult for the person depending on their age or knowing what help is available. For example, when I was younger I didn’t understand the referral pathways or know which resources and services existed and no one explained them to me. I understand them more now as I have been through accessing help. Signposting resources and knowing what help is available for young people is essential, especially information specific to the LGBTQIA+ community.
Jenny: There are lots of resources online to help anyone be an ally and you can look at these. It might be a positive thing to share with the person you care for. You might also want to discuss sharing these resources with any support network the young person may have, as long as they agree to you doing that.
Mali: Understanding and using the advice we give here can allow young people to discuss their feelings without being judged.
Amazing. Thank you for hearing us. It means SO much.
We’ve covered a lot in this Top Tips learning guide.
Don’t forget When meeting us, share your pronouns and ask for ours. Create a safe environment by checking if we feel comfortable talking and listening to our needs. Validate our identity by using our preferred names and pronouns, especially for transgender individuals. You can find out more about gender identity and sexual orientation from The Proud Trust, NSPCC and Young Minds.
Be open to learning and making mistakes, as it’s better to engage and learn from us. Offer genuine, judgement-free support by actively listening and providing a safe space for self-exploration. Show your allyship by displaying the Pride flag, wearing a pronoun badge, and educating yourself on LGBTQIA+ topics through resources like The Proud Trust and Stonewall.
When mistakes happen, acknowledge and correct them without making a big deal. Offer tailored advice based on our unique experiences, and involve us in planning next steps by discussing available services and referrals, such as those provided by NSPCC and Cafcass.
The Royal College of Paedatrics and Childs Health have coproduced a supporters pack with young people from the LGBTQIA+ community. Embrace allyship as an ongoing journey, and together we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for LGBTQIA+ youth in crisis.
You can also learn more on the Crisis Tools platform by completing the other learning guides in our LGBTQIA+ series.
- It’s better to ask us rather than rely on what is written in any notes or make assumptions.
- Pronouns and names can change along someone’s process of understanding their own identity. This is especially important for transgender people.
- Whether you are a professional, family member, carer or friend, asking, ‘what can I do to help?’ is a good start.
- We need safe spaces and time to talk about their experiences without feeling dismissed. Talking with you will be a part of us processing our identity.