LGBTQ+ Youth Are Facing a Crisis and Need You!

LGBTQ+ Youth Are Facing a Crisis and Need You!

By: Cheryl Greene (she/her), Senior Director of Welcoming Schools, HRC and Ted Lewis (they/them), Director of Youth Well-Being. The American School Health Association is a proud Project THRIVE partner. Project THRIVE is an initative of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) focused on ensuring LGBTQ+ youth thrive. HRC envisions a world strengthened by diversity, where our laws and society treat all people equally, including LGBTQ+ people and those who are multiply marginalized.

While support for LGBTQ+ equality is at an all-time high, LGBTQ+ people are simultaneously facing an avalanche of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Over 75 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have become law in the last year and include banning transgender youth from participating in sports, censoring LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum, banning books on LGBTQ+ youth and families, and denying transgender and non-binary youth medically necessary and age appropriate gender-affirming care. It is not an exaggeration to say that LGBTQ+ people and specifically LGBTQ+ youth are facing a national state of emergency

Given this moment, it is imperative that LGBTQ+ allies speak loudly and boldly in the face of increased attacks on our community. LGBTQ+ students are heading back to school fearful and uncertain that they will be supported. It is the job of all educators to ensure ALL students feel valued and can be their authentic selves so that students can flourish both academically as well as socially and emotionally. 

In order for LGBTQ+ students to thrive and flourish we have to understand what they are dealing with. In 2022, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) partnered with the University of Connecticut and conducted a survey of LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-18. Nearly 13,000 LGBTQ+ young people responded and shared their experiences figuring out who they were, coming out to family and navigating home dynamics, surviving an often hostile school environment, and struggling with their mental health and hope for the future (click here to read the full report). Here are three key findings and what you can do as educators and school staff to support LGBTQ+ students heading back to school in this current moment:

Address biased based bullying, harassment, and violence

More than half (51.6%) of LGBTQ+ youth reported they were victimized at school at least once in the past year because of their LGBTQ+ identity. Only 1 in 5 (22.4%) of LGBTQ+ youth ever told a teacher or staff member about bullying they experienced in school. Of those who did report it, 1 in 4 (23.3%) said the adult “didn’t help me at all.” What can you do?

Consistently use the correct name and pronoun for transgender and gender-expansive youth

Less than 1 in 6 (15.6%) of transgender and gender-expansive youth are always referred to by the correct pronoun in school. What can you do?
  • In your classroom or interactions with students, ask for the name and pronoun they use and consistently use it. Also share your pronouns to normalize the practice in your school and/or classroom.
  • Ask students who use a pronoun that differs from the legal gender, who they are out to and who knows the pronouns they use. Ensure their safety by not sharing their pronouns with staff who don’t know yet and allow the student to lead on who should know.
  • Ensure class rosters have the correct name and pronouns students use not only for their regular teachers, but for substitute teachers as well.

Provide or refer to LGBTQ+ affirming mental health resources

55.1% of LGBTQ+ youth screened positive for depression (on the PHQ-2 included in the survey), 63.5% of LGBTQ+ youth screened positive for anxiety (on the GAD-2), and 30.9% of LGBTQ+ youth screened positive for severe psychological distress (on the PHQ-4). Additionally, over 4 in 10 (41.7%) of LGBTQ+ youth wanted to receive therapy but were unable to do so. What can you do?

The 2023-24 school year may be particularly challenging for LGBTQ+ students as they head back to the classroom with the avalanche of new anti-LGBTQ+ laws on the books. Even if you are in a state that has inclusive laws, the debate about the existence of LGBTQ+ youth and particularly transgender youth is having an impact on the mental health and well-being of all LGBTQ+ young people. Now is the time to speak up and speak out. Now is the time to be strong allies in support of ALL students. Now is the time to ensure LGBTQ+ students in your school and community don’t simply survive, but THRIVE.

Over the course of the last 15 years, HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools has become the most comprehensive, bias-based bullying prevention program in the nation to provide LGBTQ+ and gender inclusive professional development training, lesson plans, booklists and resources specifically designed for Pre K - 12 educators and youth-serving professionals. For more information, visit