LGBTQ2s+

About 2-10% of North Americans self-identify as LGBTQ2S+ or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and Two-Spirit.1

A growing body of research demonstrates that LGBTQ2S+ youth face a number of increased social, mental health, educational and physical health concerns.

It is not being LGBTQ2S+ that increases these risks. Rather, it is the lived experience of stigma, discrimination, isolation and prejudice that result in these challenges.

 LGBTQ2S+ Youth are more Likely to:1,2,3,4

  • Attempt suicide,
  • Experience high levels of depression,
  • Use illegal drugs,
  • Have high-risk sexual encounters,
  • Contract HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs),
  • Experience assault,
  • Experience dating violence,
  • Have been sexually assaulted,
  • Experience bullying and discrimination, and/or
  • Be street involved or homeless.

KYLE’S STORY…

I thought I was getting it together and now this. I was close to telling my friends I’m gay, but then I hooked-up with some girl at a party, and now I’m as confused as ever. I was sure that I was gay and that I like guys, but I’ve never had sex with a guy yet. When I told my aunt I was gay, she wasn’t surprised and even said that it’s all in the genes- I probably caught being gay from my uncle. Is it OK to like both guys and girls? What’s wrong with me?

SAMMY’S STORY…

A date beat me up last night. Gotta make some money you know. How else am I going to get my own place? Funny, they pay extra to get a girl like me, but then they get pissed off about it, like they’re worried that they’re gay or something. Maybe I deserve it, you know? Still better than my own dad being the one to punch me and call me lady-boy while my mom just stands by and watches him throw me out. She could have said something. I’d rather be here on the street than there…what kind of parents are they? I’m just sick of all of this.

Sexual and gender diversity

Sexual and gender diversity are broad terms that include all of the ways a person’s sexuality is uniquely their own including sex (reproductive biology), sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Often these broad terms are expressed as acronyms including: LGBT, GLBT, LGBTQ+, LGGBTTTQQAAAIP, LGBTQ2S+.

When people are talking about sexual and gender diversity, they are talking about:

  • Sex: categories (male, female) to which people are typically assigned at birth based on physical sex characteristics. Sex assigned at birth typically appears on proof of identity documents, unless a person has documentation changed.
  • Sexual orientation: a person’s emotional and/or sexual attraction to others. It can be fluid and may or may not reflect sexual behaviors. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing.
  • Gender/gender identity: a person’s internal sense of identity as female, male, both, or neither, regardless of sex assigned at birth. It is not visible to others.
  • Gender expression: External and public presentation of a person’s gender. This can include appearance, name, and pronouns. A cisgender person’s identity conforms to the cultural expectations of the sex assigned at birth.

Tip

 LGBTQ2S+ Organizations such as PFLAG Canada or PREVNET have resources to support LGBTQ2S+ youth and their allies.

Terms

The acronym LGBTQ2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and Two-Spirit) is often used as an umbrella term to refer to the spectrum of sexual and gender minority people. The aim of defining terms is to help people increase their understanding. When we have better understanding, we are better able to provide good care.

Language is fluid. Some terms may have a negative meaning for some people and other terms go out of favour. Terms change and new terms become more accepted. Some words, like “queer” have been reclaimed by some members of the LGBTQ2S+ community; others find these words hurtful and offensive.  Some words that were once commonly used, like “homosexual” or “hermaphrodite” are now generally considered offensive.

Definitions of commonly used terms:5

AGENDER

AGENDER

A person who does not identify with a specific gender or have recognizable gender expression.

ASEXUAL

ASEXUAL

A person who does not experience sexual attraction; may or may not experience emotional/romantic attraction.

ALLY

ALLY

A person who advocates for human, civil and sexual rights for sexual minorities and who challenges discrimination and heterosexism.

BISEXUAL

BISEXUAL

A person who has emotional and/or sexual attraction to people of any gender or sex; also a person who has sexual attraction to males and females.

CISGENDER/CIS

CISGENDER/CIS

A person whose identity conforms to the cultural expectations of the sex assigned at birth.

GAY

GAY

A person who has emotional or sexual attraction to people of the same sex or gender. Often used for a male who has emotional or sexual attraction to males.

GENDER BINARY

GENDER BINARY

This is the classification of sex and gender into two distinct and disconnected states of masculine and feminine. It describes a social boundary that discourages people from crossing or mixing gender roles.

GENDER

GENDER

Social and cultural expectations of roles and presentations.

GENDER IDENTITY

GENDER IDENTITY

A person’s internal sense of identity as female, male, both or something else, regardless of sex assigned at birth.

GENDER EXPRESSION

GENDER EXPRESSION

How a person presents their gender. This can include appearance, name, pronoun, behaviour, voice or body characteristics.

GENDER FLUID

GENDER FLUID

The gender identity, behaviors and appearance of a person moves along a gender spectrum and/or challenges gender restrictions and norms. Related terms can include gender queer, gender non-conforming, gender neutral, pangender, tri-gender, agender, non-binary gender, or gender independent.

HETEROSEXISM

HETEROSEXISM

Discrimination based on the assumption that all people are heterosexual and cisgender and that these are the normal and/or superior sexual orientation and gender identities.

HETEROSEXUAL (STRAIGHT)

HETEROSEXUAL (STRAIGHT)

A self- identifying term for someone who is physically and/or emotionally attracted to people of the opposite sex or gender, to their own.

HOMOSEXUAL

HOMOSEXUAL

A dated and potentially offensive term for a person who has emotional and/or sexual attraction to people of the same sex.

HOMO/BI/TRANS PHOBIA

HOMO/BI/TRANS PHOBIA

A fear and/or hatred of homosexuality/bisexuality/transgender shown by prejudice, discrimination or acts of violence.

INTERSEX

INTERSEX

A person’s reproductive, sexual or genetic biology is unclear, not exclusively male or female or otherwise does not fit with traditional definitions of male or female.

LESBIAN

LESBIAN

A female who has emotional and/or sexual attraction to females.

PANSEXUAL

PANSEXUAL

A person who has emotional and/or sexual attraction to people of any gender or sex.

POLYAMORY

POLYAMORY

Having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time with consent of all partners involved.

QUEER

QUEER

A reclaimed term used by some people who identify as a sexual minority and also used as a positive collective term to describe communities and social movements.

QUESTIONING

QUESTIONING

A person who is exploring, or is unsure of, their sexual orientation or gender identity.

SEX

SEX

Categories (male, female, intersex) to which people are typically assigned at birth based on reproductive biology and genetics. The term is also used to refer to sexual activity.

SEXUAL ORIENTATION

SEXUAL ORIENTATION

A person’s emotional and sexual attraction to others. It can be fluid and may or may not reflect sexual behaviors.

TRANSGENDER (TRANS, TRANS-IDENTIFIED)

TRANSGENDER (TRANS, TRANS-IDENTIFIED)

An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression do not fit conventional expectations of sex assigned at birth. Not all people identity as transgender and some people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms.

TRANSITION

TRANSITION

A process of change that refers to activities that a transgender person may undertake to affirm their gender identity. This may include physical, legal and social changes.

TRANSSEXUAL

TRANSSEXUAL

A transgender person expressing their self-identified gender through transition which could include medical intervention.

TWO-SPIRIT

TWO-SPIRIT

A cultural term used by some Aboriginal people to mean a person has both male and female spirit which may include concepts of spirituality, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Tip

Always reflect the language the person is using and avoid using terms to label people. If a person uses a term to identify themselves, it can be useful to check understanding and ask “can you tell me more about what that means?”

When a person comes out

When a person comes out, it is important to show supportive behaviors.

Supportive behaviors include: 

  • Active listening,
  • Having encouraging and positive body language,
  • Talking about and supporting a youth’s LGBTQ2S+ identity,
  • Advocating for a youth when they are mistreated,
  • Bringing youth to LGBTQ2S+ organizations or events,
  • Connecting youth with an LGBTQ2S+ role model,
  • Working to make a faith community supportive of LGBTQ2S+ members or find a supportive faith community that welcomes LGBTQ2S+ youth and their families,
  • Welcoming a youth’s LGBTQ2S+ friends and partner,
  • Supporting a youth’s gender expression, and
  • Truly taking actions to be an ally.

Rejecting behaviors, on the other hand, are harmful and may include:

  • Expressing disappointment when youth come out,
  • Discounting or ignoring LGBTQ2S+ youth,
  • Physical or verbal abuse,
  • Excluding youth,
  • Blocking access to LGBTQ2S+ friends, events and resources,
  • Blaming youth if they are discriminated against,
  • Pressuring youth to be more or less masculine or feminine, and
  • Telling youth that God will punish them because they are LGBTQ2S+.

Good to know

Adolescence is a time of experimentation and curiosity. It is common for youth to have crushes and relationships. These early experiences do not necessarily indicate sexual orientation.

 People are usually aware of their gender identity in early childhood,6 but gender expression and understanding of gender identity may shift over time.

 Children often experiment with gender roles.  This is typical child development. Children who are transgender have consistent mild to severe discomfort with the sex they were born with and this can include confusion or stress about their genitals and expressing unhappiness at being the gender they have been assigned (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario [CHEO] & Fedoroff, 2014).7

Tips for Community Service Providers

Below are tips for community service providers working with LGBTQ2S+ youth

  1. Focus on the client and their needs not their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  2. Avoid making assumptions about gender, sexual orientation, sexual behaviors/practices, family structures, or relationships.
  3. Use inclusive language and be aware of non-verbal communication such as facial expression, body language and tone of voice.
  4. Communicate as respectfully about people as you do to people. People recognize when these are not consistent.
  5. Express willingness to learn about individual needs. Listen to what the client is saying, both in their words and in non-verbal communication.
  6. Acknowledge and apologize for mistakes and slip-ups without dwelling on the issue.
  7. Protect the confidentiality of all information. This includes not revealing gender identity or sexual orientation to others, even those who may be present at an appointment or session between the client and service providers.

Tips for creating safer and inclusive spaces

Here are tips for creating safer and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ2S+ youth

  1. Provide all-gender bathrooms and change rooms.
  2. When possible, avoid separating people according to sex. When separation is required, consideration needs to be given to the client’s gender identity.
  3. Include images of sexually and gender diverse people and families in posters, literature, and resources.
  4. Create a non-discriminatory policy and code of conduct outlining the expectations and responsibilities of staff and clients.
  5. Post a non-discriminatory statement that equal service will be provided to all clients regardless of age, sex, race, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation and religion.
  6. Consider displaying LGBTQ2S+ welcoming symbols such as the rainbow flag.

Tip

Do a visual scan of your workplace to check to see if the space is inclusive. Start with the front entrance and include waiting spaces, common areas, offices, bathrooms, staff spaces. Do posters, handouts, signs, resources and other images reflect sexual and gender diversity? Are there all-gender inclusive bathrooms? Does your workplace display a rainbow flag?

Good to know

Bathroom harassment can be common for people with gender expressions and identities that do not reflect societal gender norms. Historically, public bathrooms have been separated according to class, race, ability and gender – all based in myths and stereotypes. A common myth is that women and children will be put at risk if men are allowed in the same bathroom. This myth adds to stereotypes about men as predators. Having all gender bathrooms allows safe spaces for everyone and can break down stereotypes.

Tips for Inclusive Language

Heterosexist and heteronormative (see definitions) culture is often reflected in even the most basic communication. For example:

  • Teachers calling their classes to attention by saying “OK boys and girls;” or
  • Admission forms asking to identify as either female or male.

When service providers find ways to make their language inclusive, ALL clients and colleagues are recognized and included. It is important to avoid:

  • Joking or teasing about biological sex, gender identity or sexual orientation (such as, “you throw like a girl” or “that’s so gay”), or
  • Using derogatory slang (such as, homo or tranny).

Below are some inclusive language strategies:8

Situation Strategy
Talking with people
  • Avoid assuming gender identity.
  • Avoid using Mr., Ms., Mrs., Sir or Ma’am unless the person has requested it.
  • Listen and then REFLECT the clients’ language when describing relationships, gender and sexual orientation.
Intake or meeting client for the first time
  • Introduce yourself and your pronouns
  • Ask what a client would like to be called and document it for future reference and for other staff.
  • Ask the client’s pronouns and document it for future reference and for other staff.
  • Use the name people go by and their pronouns and ensure others do the same.
Talking about clients
  • Use the name people go by and their pronouns.
  • If pronouns are unknown, use gender neutral pronoun such as “they” or just use their name.
Asking about relationships
  • Avoid assuming relationships based on sex, gender or age.
  • Use gender neutral terms such as parent, sibling, spouse, partner, or youth.
  • Avoid assuming youth have two parents, opposite sex parents or that parents are active in their life.
Gender or name shown on file doesn’t match youth’s representation
  • Respond respectfully and ensure confidentiality and privacy.
A client “comes out” to staff
  • Respond with respect and ensure confidentiality.
Staff makes a mistake or assumption
  • Acknowledge the mistake, politely apologize and move on.
  • Avoid blaming the client for the mistake.
Gathering information
  • Only ask for information necessary to do your job.
  • Ask self: What do I need to know? Why do I need to know that? How can I ask this in a sensitive way?
  • Avoid asking clients questions just to satisfy your curiosity or to learn about sexual diversity.
In addition to using the tips provided above, service providers can offer support by referring youth to these community services:
Crisis phone numbers
Peer chat or phone support
Social support
Mental health services and resources
 Addiction treatment
STI testing and treatment
Sexual health clinical services
Anti-bullying information and advocacy
Victims of violence support
Domestic, dating and intimate partner violence education, prevention and safety planning
 Housing first initiatives
To learn more about support, resources, inclusive practice and sexual diversity, see here:
http://egale.ca/ 
 http://www.ismss.ualberta.ca/
http://www.tesaonline.org 
http://pflagcanada.ca/
http://www.rainbowhealthontario.ca/
http://sexualhealthcentresaskatoon.ca/qyouth/qyouth_home.php
http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/
http://librarypdf.catie.ca/pdf/ATI-20000s/26289E.pdf
http://www.sexandu.ca/lgbttq/
1Government of Canada. (2014). Questions and answers: Sexual orientation in schools – What do we know? Retrieved from, https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/infectious-diseases/sexual-health-sexually-transmitted-infections/reports-publications/questions-answers-schools/questions-answers-sexual-schools.html 
2Ryan, C. (2009). Supportive families, healthy children: Helping families with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children. San Francisco: San Francisco State University.
3Gaetz, S. (2004). Safe Streets for Whom? Homeless youth, social exclusion and criminal victimization. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 423-455.
4National Coalition for the Homeless. (2019). LGBT homelessness. Retrieved from http://nationalhomeless.org/issues/lgbt/
5Alberta Health Services. (2017). Terms to know. Retrieved from, https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/assets/info/pf/div/if-pf-div-terms-to-know.pdf
6American Academy of Pediatrics. (2015). Gender non-conforming and transgender children. Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/Pages/Gender-Non-Conforming-Transgender-Children.aspx
7Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario [CHEO], & Fedoroff, P. (2014). Gender identity and diversity. Retrieved from http://www.cheo.on.ca/en/genderidentity
8Alberta Health Services. (2017). Inclusive language, communication & information records management. Retrieved from, https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/assets/info/pf/div/if-pf-div-inclusive-language.pdf