Exploring the Experiences of LGBT+ Young People: Insights from Just Like Us Study

Exploring the Experiences of LGBT+ Young People image cover

In a world where progress towards equality often feels like two steps forward, one step back, it’s essential to pause and reflect on the challenges that persist. Even though there have been some improvements in rights for LGBT+ people in the UK over the last twenty years, life is still really hard for many young LGBT+ people.

As we mark LGBT+ History Month in the UK, it’s crucial to reflect on the challenges faced by LGBT+ youth in our society. Just Like Us, a charity that helps LGBT+ young people published a report called “Growing Up LGBT+: the impact of school, home, and coronavirus on LGBT+ young people,” which explores the wellbeing and mental health of LGBT+ young people and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and tells us about the difficult times these young people face. This insightful report serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggles faced by LGBT+ individuals and underscores the importance of continued efforts to create inclusive and supportive spaces for all young people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Empowering LGBT+ young people: Insights and calls to action

The report looks at the experiences of LGBT+ young people in different places like school and home during the pandemic. It shows us that LGBT+ young people tend to experience worse mental health outcomes than non-LGBT+ young people. For example, 68% of LGBT+ young people said their mental health ‘got worse’ since the pandemic, compared to 49% of their non-LGBT+ peers. 

The report shows that LGBT+ young people face more bullying, feel less safe at school, and have more problems at home compared to other young people. It’s even tougher for some groups within the LGBT+ community, like black LGBT+ young people, disabled LGBT+ young people, and those who get free school meals. LGBT+ young people are twice as likely to contemplate suicide than non-LGBT+ young people, and three times more likely to self-harm and twice as likely to have depression, anxiety and panic attacks, as well as to be lonely and worry about their mental health on a daily basis. 

But there’s some good news too. The report tells us that pupils in schools with strong positive messaging about being LGBT+ have drastically improved their wellbeing and feel safer – regardless of whether they are LGBT+ or not. LGBT+ young people are less likely to feel sad or even think about hurting themselves when they hear positive messages at school. Even though some schools are doing great, there are still many that don’t say anything good about being LGBT+, which makes LGBT+ young people feel even more alone.

This report isn’t just about sharing information; it’s a call for action. A number of recommendations are made for schools and colleges, several of which we have highlighted below. Key to success is developing understanding, actively creating a supportive environment and taking the lead from the young people in the setting, both as a whole body of pupils and as individuals – actions that will support all. 

We need to make sure they have the support they need and that everyone feels welcome and respected. By doing this, we can move closer to a future where every young person, no matter who they are, can be happy and successful. Just Like Us wants everyone to join them in making this happen because, right now, it’s more important than ever to help and support LGBT+ young people.

About the Study: “Growing Up LGBT+”

Just Like Us charity collaborated with Cibyl, an independent market research consultancy. Together, they conducted a comprehensive study focusing on students’ career aspirations and wellbeing, with a particular emphasis on the experiences of LGBT+ individuals aged 11 to 18.

The study, which comprised a pupil survey, gathered responses from 2,934 students across 375 schools and colleges throughout the UK. Of these respondents, 1,140 identified as LGBT+ (39%). The term LGBT+ in this research encompasses individuals who define their sexual orientation as gay, bisexual, queer, asexual, pansexual, or questioning, as well as those who identify as transgender. The remaining 1,687 respondents formed a control group, allowing for comparisons between LGBT+ and non-LGBT+ responses and exploring attitudes towards LGBT+ peers.

Additionally, a survey of primary and secondary school staff, as well as college staff, was conducted to examine the landscape of LGBT+ inclusive education and interventions. This survey garnered responses from 513 individuals across 111 schools and colleges, with 142 identifying as LGBT+ (28%).

The report delves into various aspects of LGBT+ young people’s experiences, starting with an exploration of their wellbeing and mental health. It then examines how experiences can differ among different groups within the LGBT+ community, highlighting the importance of acknowledging these differences.

A significant portion of the report focuses on the educational experiences of LGBT+ youth, including issues such as bullying and safety in schools and colleges, existing LGBT+ inclusive education initiatives, and the attitudes of young people towards their transgender peers. The report concludes with a series of recommendations aimed at schools, colleges, parents, and carers, aimed at ensuring that LGBT+ young people receive the support, inclusion, and celebration they deserve as they navigate through various stages of education.

Recommendations for schools and colleges to support  LGBT+ young people

  • Be Clear in Your Fundamental Messaging

Make it clear to everyone in your school or college that being LGBT+ is normal and something to celebrate. Leaders should understand and communicate these principles clearly, while all staff should know how to explain them to students of all ages. It’s important to discuss school values and what children will learn with their parents or carers.

  • Make Space to Heal from the Impact of the Pandemic

Support students in dealing with the challenges brought on by the pandemic, such as loss of routine and friendship. Celebrate the resilience of your school community and allow students to rebuild valued connections affected by the pandemic.

  • Make LGBT+ Visible and Celebrated

Create a supportive environment where LGBT+ students feel safe to be themselves. Dedicate space in school life to LGBT+ representation, such as in the school calendar, curriculum, dress code, and the school building. All staff should include LGBT+ representation in displays, lessons and assemblies. 

  • Demonstrate That Homophobia, Lesbophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia are unacceptable.

Ensure your school has clear policies and procedures for preventing and tackling discrimination against LGBT+ individuals both online and offline. Staff should take instances of discrimination seriously and know how to record and address them.

  • Understand Differences Within LGBT+

Recognise that experiences within the LGBT+ community vary, especially for individuals who belong to other minority groups, such as Black or disabled LGBT+ young people. Leaders should consider a diverse approach to inclusion and make provisions for diverse experiences within the school community. All staff should use inclusive language and seek out diverse perspectives.

  • Centre Pupil Voice

Listen to young people’s voices and involve them in decision-making processes. Implement pupil-led initiatives and provide opportunities for feedback, such as through surveys on wellbeing or LGBT+ topics. Respect pupils’ rights, including their right to privacy regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity.

  • Provide, Signpost, and Facilitate Information, Guidance, and Support

Ensure that staff are equipped to support students, parents, and carers appropriately. Avoid treating being LGBT+ as a safeguarding issue itself and instead focus on identifying safeguarding concerns. Signpost relevant services frequently and provide digital literacy skills to help students seek information and support independently. Implement peer mentoring systems for effective support, especially from key stage 2 onwards.

By implementing these recommendations, schools and colleges can create inclusive environments where LGBT+ young people feel supported, included, and celebrated throughout their education journey.

Reference:

Growing up LGBT+. The impact of school, home and coronavirus on LGBT+ young people. Published by Just Like Us www.justlikeus.org.uk info@justlikeus.org Registered charity number 1165194 © Just Like Us, June 2021 Research administered by Cibyl, an independent student market research consultancy in the UK and Ireland and a Group GTI business www.cibyl.com emailcibyl@groupgti.com Written by Rachael Milsom, GTI Designed by Maya Little, GTI. https://www.justlikeus.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Just-Like-Us-2021-report-Growing-Up-LGBT.pdf