June is LGBTQ+ awareness month. Nearly 5% of people in Ohio identify as LGBTQ+, so this is not a small number, nor is it unusual that Beech Brook serves kids that are LGBTQ+. In fact, it is more likely because it is considered a risk factor.

But maybe not for the reasons you think.

Being LGBTQ+ doesn’t cause mental health problems, nor is it caused by mental health problems. But these youth are at higher risk because of the way our society treats them. While our attitudes have shifted a great deal in the past few decades, we still have a long way to go.

LGBTQ+ kids are too often rejected, bullied, discriminated against, and victims of violence at higher rates than their peers. These challenges leave them more susceptible to depression, anxiety, and attempting suicide. In fact, environmental risk factors, such as the ones LGBTQ+ kids face, are often the cause of mental health problems.

The good news is that there are ways that parents and others can support all youth’s mental health and help them grow up safe and happy.

Things that reduce the impact of risk factors are called protective factors. Protective factors reduce the chances that kids will develop mental health problems and make it more likely they will seek help from organizations like Beech Brook or other systems of support.

The biggest protective factor for LGBTQ+ kids is having unconditional love and support at home. And importantly, that is also the biggest protective factor for all kids.

But everyone can play a part in increasing protective factors for LGBTQ+ youth.

The first, and most direct, way is to not allow these kids to be considered part of an “out-group,” a group that is unlike you or the group you are in. Because they are not an “out-group.” They are your family, your fellow church members, your co-workers, your doctor, your lawyer, and your bartender. LGBTQ+ youth and adults are just trying to live their lives in their own way.

Unfortunately, Ohio does not have a statewide law that protects LGBTQ+ people from discrimination. The Ohio legislature has been voting down LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination bills for the past twenty years.

As a society, we need to take a more active role in making sure our schools, our workplaces and our communities have supportive policies where people can safely use the name and pronouns that match their identity. Schools should have anti-bullying policies covering LGBTQ+ students and curricular standards ought to be LGBTQ+-inclusive.

I’m proud to say that the staff we have at Beech Brook who work with LGBTQ+ youth support them and advocate on their behalf in their schools. We play an important role and provide great support in the lives of these kids – but they need more.

They need more advocates in their corners. They need more protective factors built into our communities. The more support they have, the greater the positive effect on the mental health of kids who, like all kids, want to live their lives the way that makes them happy.

Ways to advocate for LGBTQ+ youth in schools:

  • Advocate for a gay-straight alliance (GSA), which has been shown to make schools safer and boost academic performance among LGBTQ+ students.

  • Push for more inclusive sex education. Very few states allow schools to provide LGBTQ+ students with the information they need to be safe and healthy, including Ohio. Be aware of these knowledge gaps so that you can fill them yourself.

Learn more about Beech Brook's Comprehensive Sex Education program

  • Above all, don’t hesitate to speak up. “Parents forget that they have a huge voice in the school system. You do have power,” Dr. Renata Sanders of John Hopkins Medicine emphasizes. “If there’s a problem and the school isn’t taking your concerns seriously, go to the principal or even the school board.”

Thank you for being an advocate for LGBTQ+ youth. They need us now more than ever.

- Tom Royer, Beech Brook President/CEO

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