LGBT youth have the same developmental tasks as their heterosexual peers, but they also face additional challenges in learning to manage a stigmatized identity.  This extra burden puts LGBT youth at increased risk for substance abuse and unsafe sexual behaviors and can intensify psychological distress and risk for suicide.

Studies of more recent generations of lesbian and gay youth suggest that the period between becoming aware of same-sex attraction and self-identifying as lesbian or gay is much shorter that in previous generations exposing them to greater potential social stressors at important developmental stages. (see chart below)

Average Age (Years) Event Onset


Earlier Studies*

More Recent Studies**


Females Males


First awareness of same-sex attraction


14-16 9


First same-sex experience

15 20 13-14


First self-identified as lesbian or gay

19-21 21-23 14-16


From “A Providers Introduction to Substance Abuse Treatment for LGBT Individuals”

*Studies of adults who remembered their experiences as children and adolescents

** Studies of adolescents who describe their experiences as they were happening or right after they happened

Although people may be more aware that an adolescent may be gay, they are generally no more tolerant and may even be less accepting of homosexuality in adolescents.  In fact, violence and harassment against LGBT youth appear to be increasing.  For those youth who choose to self-disclose or are found out, coping with this stressful life event is most challenging.  Adolescents at this point in their lives have not developed coping strategies and are more likely than adults to respond poorly to these stressors.  These youth must adapt to living in a hostile environment and learn how to find safety.  Combine this with other intersections such as; race, ethnicity, socio-economic, etc. and you have a kids on the fringe.

So my question is this…

What would an appropriate response from youth ministry look like to the problems LGBT youth face today?

Andrew Marin, founder of the Marin Foundation has been working to build bridges between the LGBT communities and the church.  I have the privilege of calling him my friend and support his work around the world.  If you’re not familiar with the work the Marin Foundation is doing you can visit their website here.

Andrew wrote a book last year entitled, “Love is an Orientation“.  In it he says this,

“We’re not called to posit theories that support our assumptions.  We’re not called to speculate about genetics or developmental experiences or spiritual oppression in faceless groups of other people.  We’re called to build bridges informed by the Scriptures and empowered by the Spirit.  We’re called to let a just God be the judge of his creation.  We’re called to let the Holy Spirit whisper truth into each person’s heart.  And we’re called to show love unconditionally, tangibly, measurably.”

So how do we move into that?  How do we move past our fears and judgements?  What will it take?