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Talking with Youth about Sexual Identity

Do not act surprised when someone "comes out" to you, tells you they think they may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The person may have tested you with a series of "trial balloons" over a period of time, and decided that you can be trusted and helpful.

Remain a neutral source of information and support to all students at all times.

Respect confidentiality. GLBT youth who share their identity with you trust that you will be respectful.

Many GLBT youth feel alone, afraid, unsure and guilty. Some GLBT youth feel empowered by their identity and are impatient with institutions which have not changed to accept them. You can help by listening, allowing them to discuss feelings and thoughts.

Understand the meaning of sexual orientation. Assess the young person's level of understanding. What do they know? How do they feel about it? Ask, "Do you think you might be gay? What messages have you heard about homosexuality?"

Replace misinformation with accurate knowledge. Don't assume that GLBT youth know a lot about human sexuality. We have all been exposed to the same myths and stereotypes, so it is very helpful to provide clarification.

Each person's sexual orientation is what's natural to that person. It's not a matter of "sexual preference." People do not choose to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender; they simply are.

Many gay and lesbian teenagers are sure of their sexual orientation by the time they enter high school. Others may be confused and unsure.

Be supportive. Let gay and lesbian teenagers know that they are "okay." Explain that many people have struggled with the issue of sexual orientation. Acknowledge that dealing with one's sexuality is difficult. Keep the door open for further conversations and assistance.

Know when and where to seek help. Know the resources, referral agencies and counselors in your area. Gay/Lesbian hotlines can provide information to professional persons and agencies that are qualified to help as well as the students themselves.

Be informed. All of us are products of a society that is heterosexist/homophobic. All of us carry this misinformation around with us, and must actively work at challenging this bias. You cannot be free of it by just deciding to be free; read reliable resources and talk to qualified persons.

Source: Alone No More, Minnesota Department of Education