ClubX Blog superstars Erica Warren and Lesa Sexton are back with tips you need to help create an inclusive and emotionally safe environment for trans youth, PLUS a new opportunity to dig deeper with an NTI specialization.
Creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth has been a priority for people who work with youth and teens, especially as many communities experience backlash against trans youth. And while safety is critical, we can’t stop there. Creating high quality Club experiences where trans youth thrive also means bringing forth and developing their inherent strengths.
With Transgender Awareness Week coming up on November 13-19 in 2022, this blog post offers some tips for people working with trans youth to ensure that we create spaces where they are expected, respected, and connected.
Safe Spaces as the Foundation: We Were Expecting You
If you’ve ever had a visitor to your house, you know it’s best to prepare for their arrival beforehand. Preparing the space for your visitor—making sure they have clean linens, stocking the pantry with some of their favorite snacks, finding local activities they may enjoy, and maybe even putting out some reading materials aligned to their interests—takes some energy, but it makes your guests feel welcome, safe, and have fun. Along these same lines, Clubs need to expect trans youth and take steps now to prepare for them to be safe and thrive.
Youth development professionals should spend some time ensuring that trans people are represented in programming (for example, this article highlights trans people who have made amazing contributions in STEM careers). Also, making sure that accommodating the needs of trans youth doesn’t become an awkward and embarrassing exchange for the youth (and staff!). This includes having answers to questions like where do they use the restroom? How will you handle gendered teams and gendered programs? Enrolling in the LGBTQ+ Inclusion training on Spillett Leadership University is a great way to get started.
Pronouns, Names, and Identity: Acting out Respect
From the Serving LGBTQ Youth Toolkit, transgender is “an umbrella term covering a range of identities that transgress socially defined gender norms.” Transgender refers to “people who live as a different gender than the one that is expected based on their anatomical sex assigned at birth.” While these definitions are helpful, it is important to understand that trans girls are girls and trans boys are boys. We should never refer to a trans youth as a “boy who used to be a girl” or “a boy, but really a girl” or vice versa. In addition to pronouns, sometimes youth change their names when they transition. Using pronouns and names shows a basic level of respect for the person and their journey. Check out this video to learn more about the importance of using someone’s pronouns:
It is also important to note that gender identity is different from gender expression. Regardless of how a youth identifies, gender expression may change, and it may change rapidly, especially during adolescence. It is not uncommon for a young person to change their pronouns or dress. This is not an indication that the youth is changing their gender identity. For more information on identity versus expression, check out the Serving LGBTQ Youth Toolkit.
Getting Connected: The Bridge to Thriving
The third thing we all need to thrive is connection and a sense of belonging. In Clubs, you can use community builders to help youth connect across interests and identities. If you don’t have one already, consider forming an LGBTQ+ affinity group for youth to connect with one another, engage in service and advocacy projects together, plan and celebrate special events, and more generally have fun and cultivate joy. Helping youth build connections helps grow support networks and confidence as they see people like themselves represented and thriving in the world.
Transgender Awareness Week is great time to reflect on Club practices to ensure they are inclusive of the identities of youth and staff. Remember, creating safety is only the beginning. We want to engage all youth in inclusive environments where they experience affirmation and fun daily.
In recognition of Transgender Awareness Week, BGCA is offering the chance for Tier 2 trainers to win a $500 stipend! Simply complete the LGBTQ+ Specialization during the month of November and you’ll be automatically entered into the raffle. (As a note, the DEI Specialization is a prerequisite.) Email Lesa Sexton at email@example.com with any questions.
Learn more about supporting trans youth, including 2022 mental health data, in these ClubX Blog posts. Read what it means to empower LGBTQ+ youth from BGCA’s Senior Vice President of Youth Development on BGCA.org.