Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth who live in rural areas report that they get little support from their community. But they say a lack of resources—not the community itself—may be the reason.
For a new study, researchers interviewed 34 gender and sexual minority youths living in nonmetropolitan areas in a Midwestern state. The findings reveal their four areas of need: Reduction in isolation; social acceptance and visibility; emotional support and safety; and gender and sexual minority identity development.
“We wanted to find out what these youths needed in life,” says Megan Paceley, assistant professor of social welfare at the University of Kansas. “There is some literature out there about this population’s need broadly, but not about those living in rural areas.”
Support to combat isolation was high on the list. Many youth reported they were the only LGBTQ person in their community that they knew of. Others said they knew of other youths of the same background, or perhaps some adults, but in the case of the former if they weren’t friends or acquaintances it wasn’t comfortable discussing LGBTQ issues, and in the latter the dynamic between youths and adults often resulted in the same being true.
Isolation was geographic as well. Some youths reported that while their community did not have any kind of LGBTQ resources or support groups, they would sometimes travel to neighboring communities that did. That created its own problems, including a need for gas money or telling parents where they were going.
Other areas of need
- Community support: “That support could consist of parents, teachers, and others simply saying positive things instead of demeaning LGBTQ people. Or they said social acceptance could be as simple as businesses displaying rainbow flags,” Paceley says. Youths who did have community support found it in gathering places, such as public libraries, affirming churches, community organizations, or online.
- Emotional support and safety: Youth pointed to a need for mental health resources and school counselors who are LGBTQ positive—and a need for safe spaces in case of physical danger. Further, youth say they need tips on how to come out to family and shelters that are open and accepting to all if families are unsupportive.
- Legal support: Transgender youths reported plans to change their names at some point and said they would need guidance through the process and help navigating public bathroom policies.
“From a developmental perspective, gender and sexual minority youth are just youth trying to figure things out like anybody else,” Paceley says. “But they have all these other stigmas to deal with as well.”
While rural communities presented unique challenge, many youth in the study were quick to point out that it’s a lack of resources—not the community itself—that is the problem.
“Many of them loved their communities,” Paceley says. “One young woman said, ‘I love my community, but I hate it at the same time.’ It was a fascinating dichotomy. That helps break the myth of somebody is gay and they grow up and run off to the city. That doesn’t always happen.”
The findings, published in the journal Families and Society, should help social workers, educators, families, and communities ensure gender and sexual minority youths grow up happily and safely in non-urban communities.
“I think social workers can be at the forefront of advocating for youth,” Paceley says. “Especially in a way that’s specific to the community and its strengths. Part of that has to be involving the youth in that process. They need to have their voices heard and need to come first.”
Source: University of Kansas