June is Pride Month in the United States. During this month, we come together to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and its progress toward equality, as well as the many accomplishments of its members. Parades and celebrations are held all around the country in acknowledgment of the deep sense of community and pride that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming people have with one another and how far they have come together.
While less than ten percent of overall youth polled report identifying as LGBTQ+ in some way, this does not account for many who are still questioning their identity – or who are too afraid to acknowledge it for fear of the repercussions they might face. An 8-9% section of the overall youth demographic in America is still quite a staggering number of children who are being under-served in terms of specially-tailored services, though, which is why many youth organizations are making efforts to fill in the gaps that have been left by communities and schools.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County is one such organization, introducing their BIGPride initiative this year to help match LGBTQ+ youth to mentors who can help them stay safe and receive the support and guidance they need.
What is BIGPride?
The relationship between mentored children and their mentees has been shown to be extremely beneficial to the overall development of the youth involved. It can help children stay in school longer, improve their grades, enhance their social skills, and even give them a person with whom they feel connected when these types of mentors are in short supply elsewhere in their lives.
This last benefit is one of the biggest when it comes to the BIG Pride initiative. LGBTQ+ youth are some of the most at-risk for feeling rejected by both their peers and their loved ones. They may feel as if they have no one to talk to who supports or understands them. When it comes to matters of health, interpersonal relationships, and socialization, they may have nowhere to turn for guidance.
The BIGPride initiative seeks to match these young people to LGBTQ+ adults for site based and community based mentoring sessions. These sessions grant safe, confidential places for youth to talk openly to someone in a mentoring position who is free of the judgment they may fear elsewhere – and who understands many of the challenges they may be facing. Through this mentoring, LGBTQ+ youth are able to better cope with those challenges – and to better understand themselves, as well.
Why BIGPride Matters
The Big Brothers Big Sisters organization as a whole has always served at-risk and in-need youth, which has always included members of the LGBTQ+ community. However, BIGPride was developed as a response to an obvious and urgent need for more focused, more specific services for these young people.
The lives of LGBTQ+ youth can be frightening, frustrating, and fraught with danger. This is because gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming youth are at a much higher risk of physical harm from those around them, may fear displacement from their homes, or may be facing threats from family and peers simply for being who they are. Adolescents who feel like their parents want to change who they are think their parents don’t love them or even hate them. Problems with communication and lack of understanding about sexual orientation and gender identity can lead to fighting and can often result in an LGBTQ+ youth being removed from or forced out of the home.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, while the largest percentage of non-LGBTQ+ youth see their biggest problems during adolescence as school-related – such as exams, classes, and grades – a larger portion of LGBTQ+ youth report that their greatest fears are being bullied, harmed, or rejected by their loved ones or peers for being themselves. That’s a lot to deal with when you’re already dealing with being a teenager!
The problem with many community mentoring programs is that they exist in areas where adults and even other teenagers are generally unaccepting of LGBTQ+ youth. This means that these young people are often subject to aggression and thinly-veiled hatred, even in spaces that are supposed to be safe for them. Thankfully, Big Brother Big Sisters and other organizations are developing initiatives such as BIGPride to offer LGBTQ+ youth in America the chance to be mentored by people who both understand and support them. This is something many of these young people would never have access to in their own homes, schools, or communities without these programs.
Creating the Best Futures by Avoiding the Worst Endings
It’s a sad fact that LGBTQ+ youth are far more likely than non-LGBTQ+ children and teens to harm themselves or take their own lives. Because many of these youth are too afraid to share that they are LGBTQ+ with their parents or peers because of the perceived stigma, many of their loved ones never know the reason for this self-harm until it’s too late to prevent it. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth harm themselves or contemplate suicide at a rate nearly three times as high as heterosexual youth, while nearly half of all transgender youth have either contemplated or attempted suicide before the age of 25.
The one positive that can be taken from all of this is that these statistics can be changed. The futures that many of these youth see themselves as doomed to having are not certainties; with mentoring, guidance, and support, they can enjoy happy, healthy, long lives. Programs like BIGPride are an integral part of the solution for these young people, who often just need someone to remind them of their own value and worth – and to help them understand who they are and who they can become.
For more information about BBBSand the BIGPride Initiative, contact Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County today. Enroll or refer a child, learn how you can become a volunteer, donate to help this project and many like it, or sign up to be a ‘Big’ yourself. You’ll never know just how much a small action can do in the life of a child until you take the first step!