The plight of LGBTQ youth has been a growing passion for CotF over the last several years. As we continue to look deeper into what it means to be a gay youth we are regularly surprised by the vilification of these adolescents by the church and the exploitation of them by the world. CotF is committed to pulling back the curtain in LGBTQ youth related issues, to bring an end to the continued marginalization of this potentially vulnerable group of beloved youth.
*This is an update on a previous post that challenges the church to consider whether it is actually Good News or contributes to the further victimization of LGBTQ youth.
Adolescence is a time of significant physical and psychosocial development. As youth develop, they are typically informed by and supported by their peers. Experimentation, exploration, and risk characterize adolescence, and many engage in high-risk behaviors during this time. Beyond the impulsive, risk-taking nature of adolescents their budding identity is being shaped as well. This is often a difficult and exciting time of exploration but can be even more difficult for a self-identified LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning) adolescent. While all teens are at risk to some degree, LGBTQ students are at a higher risk by the very nature of their orientation.
The following are just some of the reasons that LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk than the average student:
Alcohol and Drug Use in LGBTQ Youth
LGBTQ youth use alcohol and drugs for many of the same reasons as their heterosexual peers: to experiment and assert their independence, to relieve tension, to increase feelings of self-esteem and adequacy, and to self-medicate for underlying depression or other mood disorders. However, LGBTQ youth may be more vulnerable as a result of the need to hide their sexual identity and the ensuing social isolation. As a result, they may use alcohol or drugs to deal with stigma and shame, to deny same-sex attraction/feelings, or to help them cope with ridicule and antigay violence.
Stigma, Identity, and Risk
LGBTQ students have the same developmental tasks as their heterosexual peers, but they also face additional challenges in learning how to manage a stigmatized identity. This extra burden puts LGBTQ youth at increased risk for substance abuse and unprotected sex and can intensify psychological distress and risk for suicide. This is even more true when there are compounding intersections such as; being a minority, having a disability, etc.
Abuse and Homelessness
LGBTQ youth are at a high risk for antigay violence such as bullying (which is really peer assault and harassment), verbal, emotional, and social abuse. Antigay attacks heighten an adolesent’s feelings of vulnerability, intensifies their inner conflict, and typically drives them further into isolation, reinforcing their sexual identity.
Homelessness is a particular concern for LGBTQ youth, because many teens may run away as a result of harassment and abuse from family members or peers who disapprove of the sexual orientation. Still others may be thrown out of the home when their parents learn they are gay. Like their heterosexual peers, LGBTQ homeless and runaway youth have many health and social problems, including mental health problems, high risk for suicide, and STDs (including being at high risk for HIV/AIDS).
*excerpts taken from SAMHSA: A Providers Instruction to Substance Abuse Treatment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Individuals
At first glance, adolescents who work in the commercial sex industry may be identified as prostitutes. As prostitution is illegal in most countries, adolescents may initially be labeled as criminals. However, since sex trafficking and prostitution involve the sale of sex and sexual acts, adolescents are actually, according to the legal criteria, the victims of criminal activity, i.e., of sex trafficking. Specifically, adolescents who are forced into commercial sex acts through the use of coercion, fraud, or threats are considered victims of sex trafficking regardless of their age, and any person younger than age 18 involved in any form of commercial sexual exploitation (e.g., prostitution, pornography, sex tourism, and stripping) is considered the victim of the crime of sex trafficking of a minor. The legal criteria or definitions, which provide additional legal protection to victims, are provided under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which was adopted by the U.S. Congress in 2000 and reauthorized and revised in 2003, 2005, and 2008.
Crimes committed against child trafficking victims (e.g., threats, extortion, theft of documents or property, false imprisonment, aggravated or sexual assault, pimping, rape, and murder) result in an immeasurable amount of short- and long-term physical, mental, and emotional harm. Minors are targeted more frequently because they are easy to manipulate and unable to protect themselves. LGBT minors who are homeless are at the highest risk for sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. According to the U.S. National Coalition for the Homeless (www.nationalhomeless.org), homeless LGBT youth are much more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking than other homeless youths. For instance, only 20 percent of homeless youth are LGBT in the United States, and 58.7 percent of them are exploited through sexual prostitution. This is a much higher rate than the 33.4 percent of heterosexual homeless youth that are at risk of sexual exploitation on the street.
Lack of reporting limits the ability to protect LGBT youth. If local publications and news channels do not report on the prevalence of human trafficking and on the disproportionate number of our homeless and runaway youth that are LGBT, it creates a perception that LGBT human trafficking and youth homelessness are issues outside the community or are issues only affecting the “Western world.” Increasing awareness of the worldwide prevalence of such issues will lead to a productive debate in society that could potentially tap into the core issues affecting LGBT homeless and LGBT youth at risk of sex trafficking.
Love146, a organization working to prevent child trafficking and exploitation, reports that sexual exploitation is devastating to a child. The after effects that children/youth face include…
Drug and alcohol dependencies, depression and anxiety, HIV and other STDs, revictimization, PTSD and/or complex stress disorder, unplanned pregnancy, addiction to money, fistulas and other health complications, hypersexualization, shame and humility, complex issues of self-worth, trauma bonds and Stockholm Syndrome, suicide attempts and self-injury, guilt and self-blame, mental illness, pressure from family, and prostitution in adulthood.
We CANNOT continue to allow this to happen. The church has mandate to NOT allow this. If our practices, intentionally or unintentionally, contribute to a system that further marginalizes and exploits LGBTQ youth then it is simply not Christian.
So my question is this…How can the church (and our youth ministries) be Good News to these precious kids that are at such a high risk?