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June is Pride Month, a month of celebration and an opportunity to show support to the LGBTQA+ community. This year, like many organizations, we at Planned Parenthood Keystone are looking at ways to help examine and strengthen our efforts as allies.  We offer medical services that reach all members of our community, and three weekly LGBTQA+ Youth Programs that provide education, advocacy and recreation to youth ages 14-21. Our oldest program, the Rainbow Room, will celebrate its 14th anniversary this month and it truly amazing to see how much has changed over the years. Two years ago, I wrote a post for this blog about intimate partner violence and LGBTQA+ youth and wanted to revisit it and see what has changed in the past two years.

In my previous post, I talked about LGBTQA+ youth being underrepresented in discussions about unhealthy relationships and dating violence. This can leave youth believing that dating violence can’t happen to them, or unable to see the signs when it is happening to them. The good news is this is starting to shift a bit. Over the last few years, strides have been made in ensuring that schools and programs are more LGBTQA+ inclusive and that youth do see themselves represented. This is especially true in sexuality education, where content often directly address relationships. In 2015, the Office of Adolescent Health put out a guidance document around LGBTQ youth and teen pregnancy prevention acknowledging and spotlighting the unique needs of LGBTQA+ youth. These kinds of steps are key to providing information that reaches all youth, and to helping LGBTQA+ youth to be seen.

I also talked about the threat of being outed –having your sexual orientation or gender identity disclosed without your consent- as a barrier to LGBTQA+ youth leaving unhealthy relationships. This unfortunately is still something we are hearing from young people, and why further education on supporting LGBTQA+ youth is crucial. Until we live in a world where all young people feel they can safely be out to friends, family, and peers, this will remain an issue.  The best thing an ally can do is recognize the gravity of this concern and be a source of support.

Lastly, I’d like to revisit the idea that homophobia and discrimination are barriers for LGBTQA+ youth when it comes to leaving unhealthy relationships. Knowing that you may not be treated equally or fairly is a major barrier. It can create a lack of trust in the systems in place to help those who are experiencing dating violence. While there have been great strides both culturally and legislatively, such as marriage equality, and the recent Department of Justice and Department of Education guidance on transgender students’ rights, there has also been some very unsettling pushback.  For example, the bathroom bill legislation requiring individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth. These types of legislation, and the vitriol that surrounds them, leave young people feeling like their identity is even more of a target for homophobia and discrimination.

It is affirming to see some of the positive changes that occurred in that past few years, and upsetting to see the ways in which some efforts are still being made to move LGBTQA+ rights backwards. There is still a long way to go to ensure that all young people live in a world free from dating violence, but awareness is the first step to change. If you are wondering what you can do to be more LGBTQA+ inclusive, the ally quick tips below are a great start!

Listen. You can’t truly be an ally without listening to the voices of those whom you wish to support and lift up, and this includes young people.

Learn. It is not the role of a LGBTQA+ identified individuals to educate everyone in their life (parents, family, friends, teachers, etc.) about being LGBTQA+. You can read books, attend trainings, and have open discussions about what you know and don’t know. You can also seek out resources through organizations, such as PFLAG and the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network, which exist to support the LGBTQ community.

Show your support. Saying that you or your organization are allies is not enough. Think about ways, both big and small, that you can actively engage is supporting the LGBTQA+ community and individuals. How does your organization, school, or place of business ensure that you treat individuals equally regardless of orientation or identity? Are LGBTQA+ individuals represented in your curriculum, staff, and community groups? Do you advocate for legislation that advances LGBTQA+ rights and stand up against legislation that limits those rights?

If we continue to work together and as allies, we can help make Bucks County a place where everyone is welcome and supported. Interested in learning more about Planned Parenthood Keystone’s LGBTQA Youth Programs? Visit http://www.plannedparenthood.org/keystone/lgbtqa-programs-40928.htm.

Alison McKee, M.Ed.,
Senior Director of Education & Training
Planned Parenthood Keystone

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