Understanding the complexity of identity(s) and their intersections is of particular importance when working with GLBTQ youth or their families. Work to not make assumptions. Recognize that identity develops over time and is unique to the individual. And be open to learning.
A good practice: When in doubt of someone’s identification; it’s best to ask how they identify. This shows respect and care for someone.
It’s imperative to respect and acknowledge the dignity of everyone we work with. Most professional associations have standards of care, position statements, or ethical guidelines to ensure cultural competence and practice. The following is a brief list of professional associations with statements to safeguard GLBTQ youth and people:
Additionally, the APA and 12 organizations that comprise the Just the Facts Coalition published Just the Facts about Sexual Orientation and Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel. This group of national education, health, mental health and religious organizations believe that all students should have an opportunity to learn and develop in a safe and supportive environment. Just the Facts provides information and resources for principals, educators, and school personnel who confront sensitive issues involving gay, lesbian, and bisexual students.
THE PROFESSIONAL SETTING
Creating an environment where all youth feel safe and affirmed is paramount to their success. The following tips will support your practice and the youth you work with:
- Everyone is treated with respect. Homophobia and transphobia is addressed as seriously and in the same way as racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.
- Anti-bullying policies take into account GLBTQ issues and are visible within the group setting. All staff are equipped to promote inclusion and safety.
- Images the organization presents and displays reflect GLBTQ diversity.
- Practices are open and inclusive, and do not automatically assume that everyone is heterosexual or cisgender. This includes forms, policies, and language.
- Proactive outreach is applied to attract a representative group of young people across sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, etc.
- Staff have GLBTQ awareness and understand the needs and vulnerabilities that GLBTQ young people face.
- Staff teams reflect the diversity in the community in terms of sexuality as well as race, gender, religion, ability, age, etc.
- GLBTQ resources and information are available – both nationally and in the local community.
SEXUAL ORIENTATION DEVELOPMENT
There are several theories that describe the sexual orientation development of gay and lesbian individuals. Because people are unique and everyone has his or her own story, no one theory describes all people. Additionally, some of the factors that influence development are not yet accounted for by theory including race, religion, culture, gender, and ability. Therefore, be prepared for differences among individuals. Theory does however provide one explanation of identity development, and helps us predict some of the development they have ahead of them. While these stages are sequential, some people might revisit stages at different points in their life.
CASS IDENTITY MODEL
(stage 1) IDENTITY CONFUSION – Characterized by feelings of turmoil, in which one questions previously held assumptions about one’s sexual orientation.
(stage 2) IDENTITY COMPARISON – Characterized by feelings of alienation in which one accepts the possibility of being LGBTQ and becomes isolated from non-LGBTQ people.
(stage 3) IDENTITY TOLERANCE – Characterized by feelings of ambivalence in which one seeks out other LGBTQ people, but maintains separate public and private images.
(stage 4) IDENTITY ACCEPTANCE – Characterized by selective disclosure in which one begins the legitimization (publically as well as privately) of one’s identity.
(stage 5) IDENTITY PRIDE – Characterized by anger, pride, and activism in which one becomes immersed in the LGBTQ subculture and rejects non-LGBTQ people, institutions, and values.
(stage 6) IDENTITY SYNTHESIS – Characterized by clarity and acceptance in which one moves beyond the dichotomized worldview to an incorporation of one’s identity as one aspect or a more integrated holistic identity.
Adapted from Cass, V. Homosexual Identity Development, 1979.
GENDER IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT
Transgender emergence involves a complex interaction of developmental and interpersonal experiences. Every person develops a gender identity; however gender-variant people’s experience is complicated by societal expectations that are in conflict with their core sense of self. The following is one model of transgender emergence. The stages are not necessarily linear and are in relation to the individual’s overall experience. This model outlines a developmental model for some people. Some of the factors that influence development are not yet accounted for by theory including race, religion, culture, gender, and ability. Therefore, be prepared for differences among individuals.
TRANSGENDER EMERGENCE MODEL
(stage 1) AWARENESS – Characterized by feelings of great distress. The therapeutic task is to help normalize the experience of an emerging trans* experience.
(stage 2) SEEKING INFORMATION/ REACHING OUT – Characterized by seeking information, education, and support about trans*issues. The therapeutic task is to facilitate linkages and encourage outreach.
(stage 3) DISCLOURE TO SIGNIFICANT OTHERS – Characterized by disclosure of the trans* experience to significant others (ie: family members and friends). The therapeutic task involves supporting the trans* person’s integration of the family system.
(stage 4) EXPLORATION – IDENTITY & SELF-LABELING – Characterized by exploration of various trans* identities. The therapeutic task is to support the articulation and comfort with one’s emerging trans* identity.
(stage 5) EXPLORATION – TRANSITION ISSUES/ POSSIBLE BODY MODIFICATION – Characterized by exploring options for transition regarding identity, presentation, and possible body modification. The therapeutic task is the resolution of the decision and advocacy toward manifestation.
(stage 6) INTERGRATION – ACCEPTANCE & POST-TRANSITION ISSUES – Characterized by the ability to integrate and synthesize one’s trans* identity. The therapeutic task is to support the adaptation to transition-related issues.
Adapted from Lev, A. I., 2001 Transgender Emergence: A development model.