Content note: This blog post contains brief mentions of suicide and self-harm.
The Trevor Project is one of the highest-regarded national organizations supporting LGBTQ youth. According to their extensive research garnered through annual surveys, community interviews, and professional consultation, 21% of LGBTQ youth reported that their religion or spirituality is important or very important to them. Great news, right? Plenty of opportunity to bring our LGBTQ children, grandchildren or extended family members, neighbors, and friends to church with us. We have a powerful opportunity to create nurturing spaces for dialogue and discernment as some of our most vulnerable students mature. We have a chance to offer that ministry in a space that teens value and respect. What a gift!
It also turns out not being exposed to negative remarks about being LGBTQ in religious spaces is really healthy and helpful for LGBTQ youth. Tweens and teens who feel safe from LGBTQ-condemning messaging in their church spaces have a significantly reduced risk for suicide, self-harm, and mental health crisis. Most youth leaders have grown familiar with mental health first aid or trauma-informed support by necessity as the pandemic has been shaping our youth’s academic and social lives in recent years. Anything that affirms adolescent mental health is good news for youth ministry. How do we ensure our LGBTQ youth know the invitation to youth ministry includes them and encourage their active participation?
It’s helpful to remember that many youth seek the support of affirming adults and mentors because this may not be a safe or comfortable conversation to have at home. Be transparent and respectful with youth about confidentiality, mandated reporting policies, and what you will disclose to parents. Naming boundaries actually builds trust as long as you keep to them. Model best practices that help a space feel safe for LGBTQ youth, such as adding pronouns to introductions or on name tags and addressing groups using gender-inclusive language (“friends” or “God’s beloveds” instead of “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen”). Celebrate holidays and embrace community participation through guest speakers or outings that include the LGBTQ community in the same way we encourage youth to learn about creation care or racial justice. Don’t be afraid to put community agreements in place, and then hold brave conversations and Bible study that allow youth to ask questions. (Sojourners has a great article that addresses inclusion, in case you want ideas to get started.) Pride Month is a great time to invite community youth into relationship, especially if we continue to include and support them year-round!