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Youth of Color

Rainbow Youth of Color experience more encounters with the criminal justice system, more teenage pregnancies, more bullying and victimization at school; they engage in more risky behavior, report higher feelings of vulnerability and stress, and face more discrimination in their daily lives.

 

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Across the board, rainbow Youth of Color in the United States experience higher levels of victimization and violence than the LGBTQ+ youth community at large. In this essay, the term “Youth of Color” will serve as an umbrella to include individuals ages 13-18 in America who are not White and share common experiences [1]. Rainbow Youth of Color live at the intersection between both minority racial/ethnic and sexual/gender identity; two highly stigmatized, oppressed, and historically disadvantaged communities. When discussing their lived experiences, scholars use the term “intersectionality,” which references a theoretical framework that unifies the historical, contextual, political, and socioeconomic experiences of various people and communities.

 

For many young people of color, adolescent development and health are largely affected by poverty, racial inequality, stigmatization of gender nonconformity, heteronormative societal pressures, and access to health care and education [2]. While the experiences of rainbow youth vary across races and ethnicities, youth of all backgrounds tend to adopt sexual identities within the same age range: around 15 to 17. Youth of color do not differ from LGBTQ White youth in their acceptance of their own sexuality [3]. Even given these similarities, they are significantly less likely to have come out to their parents: 80% of LGBT White youth have come out to their parents, compared to 71% of Hispanic youth, 61% of Black youth, and 51% of AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) youth [3]. The discrepancy may come from the fact that according to a national report by Advocates for Youth, rainbow Youth of Color reported feeling conflict between their ethnic (or racial) and sexual identities [3]. This feeling has the potential both to distance a young person from the support of their family and to make them less likely than their White peers to become involved in the social and cultural activities that provide support, access and community [3].

Rainbow Youth of Color experience more encounters with the criminal justice system, more teenage pregnancies, more bullying and victimization at school; they engage in more risky behavior, report higher feelings of vulnerability and stress, and face more discrimination in their daily lives [2,4,5]. Unlike their White peers, they bear the burdens of both homophobia and racism. Intersectionality is more than the combined total of multiple sources of oppression (in this case anti-LGBTQ discrimination and racial bigotry); it is the study of how they combine to create new and distinct burdens that impede adolescent development and health.

“Rainbow Youth of Color reported feeling conflict between their ethnic (or racial) and sexual identities.”

The majority of reports examining the health and well-being of this group since 1990 have not included the full spectrum of contextual and interpersonal relationships that predict health-related outcomes and developmental processes [6]. As the socioeconomic status of teenagers is difficult to measure in a vacuum, it is better extrapolated by the household income, educational attainment, and occupation of their parents or guardians [7]. By examining your family’s history and current experiences, you can gain some insight into some of the benefits or challenges your son or daughter may have.

The majority of research regarding the sexuality, developmental experiences, and health of rainbow youth fails to address race and ethnicity, or assumes whiteness while narrating a young person’s experience [1].

 

“Racial neutrality in LGBTQ research perpetuates the misconception that violence against LGBTQ youth occurs independently of factors related to their race, ethnicity, indigeneity, or class” [1].

Queer Youth of Color often see the mainstream gay and trans rights movements as too far removed from the socioeconomic situation of many racial minorities to have any substantial liberating potential. LGBTQ+ equality that ignores racial and economic equality will only serve to reinforce existing inequalities in America. It is important that activists never sacrifice some parts of their movements for the sake of advancing themselves.

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In a 2013 annual survey Black youth were found to be involved in fewer-gay related social activities, be less comfortable with the exposure of their sexual identity, and engage in fewer conversations about their sexual orientation than their White peers [8]. This discrepancy was more profound among young Black men than Black women. Young Black women were also found to participate in gay-related activities at a lower level than Whites, but there was more variability of involvement within the female population. The potential conflict between a young person’s racial identity and sexual orientation was most prevalent among young Black women [8]. Due to conflict between integral pieces of a young person’s identity, many young Black people find themselves divided between two communities to which they belong. Lack of community involvement puts queer Black youth in a position to have less support and less certainty in their identity, leading to mental health problems that diminish quality of life; the less likely young people are to disclose their sexual identity and experiences, the more likely they are to engage in sexual risk behaviors.

Black LGBTQ youth are often more prone to having an “early sexual debut” [9], with poor rates of condom use, multiple sexual partners before age 18, and a higher likelihood of early anal sex, all of them behaviors posing risks to health [9,10]. Even though Black youth are less involved in gay-related activities, they have higher levels of sexual experiences, with 19% of Black American youth reporting a sexual debut before the age of 13 compared to 7.1% of non-Black youth according to a study by Rutgers University [27,28]. The higher prevalence of early sexual debut amongst Black queer youth has been tied to certain disadvantages prevalent in the Black community, such as heteronormative assumptions that make seeking advice from older people difficult, inadequate adult supervision, and noncomprehensive sex education [10].

Early sexual debut can often lead to sexual behavior that challenges the law. In a study of gay Black men in 6 major US cities, 31.1% reported sex before age 12 with a partner 5 or more years older, and 30% reported unwanted sex between ages 12 and 16 [29]. Poverty, lack of childcare, single-parent households with multiple children of different ages, and crowded living conditions all create an atmosphere ripe for unsupervised sexual exploration at a young age. This often involves older children with younger children.

If you discover such a situation between two children and you think it was coercive or manipulative, you should first try dealing with the other child’s parent/guardian to keep the children apart. You can threaten to call the police if it doesn’t stop. Actually calling the police should be a last resort, as it can do more harm than good in communities of color: the criminal justice system treats both gay and black youth far more harshly than other kids of the same age, so you should think twice before ruining the life of a teen by making them a lifetime registered sex offender.

It can also be intensely traumatizing to the younger child to drag them through police interviews that are often coercive and try to manipulate them into making statements they do not want to make. Overreacting to a situation the child may have regarded as innocent play can do more psychological damage than the event itself. Involve the police and social workers only if there is no other way. Correcting these behaviors can come from within a young person’s community by initiating conversations about sex and consent at an early age. Emphasizing bodily autonomy and accountability are ways to prevent harmful behaviors amongst young people of all races.

Adolescent sexual risk behaviors also lead to higher rates of HIV in Black youth populations. Young Black gay and bisexual men acquire HIV at a rate 3x that of their White peers, regardless of their respective frequency of condomless anal sex, substance abuse, or number of sexual partners with unknown HIV serostatus [10]. The likelihood of HIV serostatus, and an individual’s knowledge of their own, is dependent upon access to education, health care, housing, and income. Queer black people in the United States are particularly disadvantaged in all of these categories.

Nationally, Black people in the U.S. are more likely to be in the health care coverage gap than Whites. As of 2017, 12% remained uninsured compared to 8% of White people [11]. These discrepancies are even higher for Black LGBTQ+ youth due to the higher levels of stigmatization that most queer people experience from medical professionals, including fear of unauthorized practices, having their reported pain minimized or ignored, experiencing moral judgment, or being refused treatment [11]. Access to health care does not always include going to hospitals; oftentimes rainbow youth prefer seeking help at community health or urgent care centers. High-functioning and economically available community centers are much less likely to exist in low-income neighborhoods.

Oftentimes if they are available, community centers in low-income areas are church-sponsored and thus have more conservative approaches to what might be seen as community inclusion and outreach. As of 2019, 18.8% of Black people in the United States lived below the poverty line, compared to 7.3% of Whites [12]. About 1 in 6 of all African American youth ages 12-17 live in families with income below the official poverty level [2]. LGBTQ persons are plagued with poverty at a higher level than the general population at 22% compared to 16% [30]. This puts the rainbow children of Black families at higher risk of not having access to necessary health care, exposure to victimization in school, unintended pregnancies, and STD infections.

These discrepancies in access to health care and education make it especially important for parents and guardians to encourage open dialogue about sexual matters, including rudimentary conversations about condoms. Such conversations might be impeded by a young person’s discomfort or feelings of non-acceptance in their family. Sexually educational discussions are also proven to be the most effective when parents have an understanding of the efficacy of condoms and how their child might be using them.

Religious organizations often exclude necessary sex education lessons. In a large survey of attendees at Black Pride events, many of whom were young people, over 50% reported that their church or religion viewed non-heterosexual identities as “wrong and sinful” [3]. If a teenager’s family is religious and attends church, these messages can create further distance between parents and their children. According to a national survey by the Pew Research Center, 83% of Black Americans attend church between once a month and twice a week [13], and most Protestant and other Christian Black churches have a “don’t name it, don’t claim it,” attitude towards non-heterosexuality [31].

Black queer youth also have notably different experiences within educational institutions. The quality and proximity of a school is strongly affected by the income level of the neighborhood it is in. Because of historical patterns of racial discrimination in real estate, African Americans are much more likely to remain close to friends and family in poor neighborhoods, even if their personal income would allow otherwise [2,14].

Lower-income schools are less likely to have access to resources that fund anti-discrimination programs, Gay-Straight Alliances, and sensitivity training for faculty [15]. Black students who attend majority White schools are much more likely to have access to and participate in school groups like GSAs, which have been proven to provide a larger sense of belonging and safety [16]. Yet, most queer Black youth attend and live in majority Black schools and neighborhoods, which have higher average levels of poverty. This puts students who attend these schools at much higher risk for experiencing victimization, bullying, unjust discipline, and criminalization. Below we have listed a series of statistics regarding the experiences of Black LGBTQ youth in school collected by GLSEN in 2019 [16].

  • 97.9% of Black LGBTQ students heard “gay” used in a negative way; 71.5% heard this type of language frequently.
  • 89% of Black LGBTQ students heard racist remarks; 55.1% heard these remarks often or frequently.
    • These statistics are even more striking when compared to two combined case studies of schools in Wisconsin and California that found only about 16% of the total student population reported race-related comments and bullying [32].
  • Many Black students experienced harassment or assault at school based on characteristics including sexual orientation (65.1%), gender expression (57.2%), and race/ethnicity (51.9%).
  • Black LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization based on race/ethnicity at school experienced less sense  of school belonging (41.8% vs. 62.7%) and greater levels of depression (64.7% vs. 36.5%) than students who were exposed to lower or no levels of victimization. These discrepancies in school participation and mental health were similar for the 40% of Black LGBTQ students who experienced discrimination based on both their race and sexual orientation.
  • Transgender and gender non-conforming Black students experienced greater levels of victimization based on sexual orientation, gender expression, and race/ethnicity than LGBQ cisgender Black students.
  • 52.4% of Black LGBTQ students who experienced harassment in the past year never reported it to staff and of those who did, only 33.8% reported that staff responded effectively.
  • 44.7% of Black LGBTQ students experienced some form of school discipline including detention, out-of-school suspension, or expulsion.
    • A CRDC study from 2013 found that Black students made up 16% of below college-level enrollment yet accounted for 40% of suspensions nationally [33].
  • Black LGBTQ students who experienced school discipline experienced higher rates of victimization based on sexual orientation, gender expression, and race/ethnicity, were more likely to skip school because they felt unsafe, and were more likely than their non-Black LGBTQ peers to experience anti-LGBTQ discriminatory policies or practices.

For many rainbow youth, and particularly for those of color, having a safe space outside of their home can be paramount to their happiness. For families who may not accept a child’s sexual or gender identity, the child’s having other accepting spaces within the community or school to express and love themself can be lifesaving. Please see our section on bullying for further insight into the ramification of these types of treatment.

According to some studies, Hispanic youth are found to disclose a LGBTQ+ identity to fewer people than their Black or White peers. However, Hispanic youth have also reported higher levels of comfort with other people being aware of their LGBTQ+ identity once they had shared it with them [8]. This data must be understood within the unique context of the Hispanic identity, which includes people from over 20 different countries, and encompasses a number of racial, ethnic, and social variations.

Hispanic rainbow youth may be subject to discrimination based on their sexual or gender identity as well as anti-immigrant sentiments. Anti-immigrant sentiments may affect both those who were born outside of the United States and even children of legal immigrants who were born in the U.S. [5]. Hispanic rainbow students who were born in the United States might be assumed to be immigrants based on their appearance or fluency in English, similar to youth being assumed to be queer based on their clothes or vocal inflection [5].

Due to the violence experienced by adults and youth of color in the United States at the hands of police and the criminal justice system, it is incredibly important that parents help to prevent sexual risk behaviors that might lead a young Hispanic LGBTQ person to encounter the criminal justice system, such as coercive sex or acts with a much younger child. Poverty, lack of childcare, single-parent households with multiple children of different ages, and crowded living conditions all create an atmosphere ripe for unsupervised sexual exploration at a young age. Early exposure to sex is more common in many first-generation immigrant families, based on customs in their countries of origin, than it is in middle-class Anglo society, which punishes it severely.

If you discover such a situation between two children and you think it was coercive or manipulative, you should first try dealing with the other child’s parent/guardian to keep the children apart. You can threaten to call the police if it doesn’t stop. Actually calling the police should be a last resort, as it can do more harm than good in communities of color: the criminal justice system treats both gay and Hispanic youth more harshly than other kids of the same age, so you should think twice before ruining the future of a teen by making them a lifetime registered sex offender. It can also be intensely traumatizing to the younger child to drag them through police interviews that are often coercive and try to manipulate them into making statements they do not want to make. Overreacting to a situation the child may have regarded as innocent play can do more psychological damage than the event itself. Involve the police and social workers only if there is no other way. Correcting these behaviors can come from within a young person’s community by initiating conversations about sex and consent at an early age. Emphasizing bodily autonomy and accountability are ways to prevent harmful behaviors amongst young people of all races. 

Although numbers of Spanish-speakers and bilingual individuals have risen in past decades, there are still barriers that ELL (English Language Learners) experience. In 2015 it was found that 77.7% of Hispanic students were ELL [18]. Rainbow youth experience stigmatization and potential maltreatment when visiting a hospital, sometimes augmented by language difficulties. LGBTQ+ youth experience a higher frequency of stigmatization at the doctor or in a hospital, including fear of unwanted procedures, of their pain being ignored, of moral judgment, or of being refused treatment [11]. In a national survey from 2014, Hispanic adolescents accounted for 20% of new HIV cases.

Access to hospitals, community health centers, and urgent care centers are also limited for a large portion of Hispanic communities due to the levels of poverty. As of 2019, 15.7% of Hispanics were found to live below the poverty line in the US. The general poverty rate in 2019 was 10.5% [12]. LGBTQ+ persons are plagued with poverty at a higher level than the general population at 22% compared to 16% [30]. This puts the rainbow children of Hispanic and Hispanic families at higher risk of not having access to necessary health care, exposure to victimization in school, unintended pregnancies and STD infections.

Impoverished neighborhoods have fewer community centers and activities for youth that provide access to technologies and childcare necessary for both parents and children. The absence of these spaces often influences high-risk behavior. Although community centers might be missing from low-income neighborhoods, these areas are rarely without churches or various places of worship. Again, however, these places are often limited in their understanding of acceptance and inclusion.

In a national landscape study by the Pew Research Center, 74% of Hispanic families reported attending church anywhere from once a month to twice a week. The same study found that 34% of the Catholic population in the United States are Hispanic [13]. In many Hispanic communities, a strict version of Catholicism or evangelical Protestantism contributes to homophobic attitudes that alienate Hispanic LGBTQ+ children, hamper efforts to reach young people with accurate information about safer sex, and abandons them to navigating homophobic and transphobic environments on their own [3]. “Machismo,” an engrained characteristic of many Hispanic cultures, perpetuates misogynistic and homophobic attitudes as well [19]. Young, impressionable and vulnerable Hispanic rainbow kids have the potential to feel further ostracized from their community and background due to the cultivation of a hyper-masculine persona by many young cisgender and straight Hispanic males.

English learner status is also intrinsic to some queer Hispanic students’ experience in school. As was mentioned previously, ELLs are often assumed to have been born outside of the United States or the offspring of illegal immigrants, exposing them to racist or nativist discrimination. These discriminatory attitudes are sometimes displayed by school personnel as well [5]. In general, there has been some progress made in tightening the academic achievement gaps between Hispanic students and the greater community. Yet, these disparities have either remained the same or worsened for LGBTQ+ Hispanic students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds and for ELLs [5]. Below we have listed a series of statistics regarding the experiences of Hispanic LGBTQ+ youth in school collected by GLSEN in 2019 [5].

  • 94.7% of Hispanic LGBTQ students heard homophobic remarks in school; 59.3% heard this type of language often.
  • 90.6% of Hispanic LGBTQ students heard racist remarks at school; 59.6% heard these remarks often.
  • Hispanic LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization based on sexual orientation at school were more than twice as likely than those who were not victimized to skip school because they felt unsafe (61% vs 24.6%), less likely to plan for a four-year degree (78.4% vs. 85.7%), and experienced lower levels of school belonging and greater levels of depression.
  • Hispanic LGBTQ students who did not learn English as a first language experienced greater levels of victimization based on race/ethnicity than those who did learn English as a first language.
  • 41.6% of Hispanic LGBTQ students experienced harassment or assault at school due to both their sexual orientation and their race/ethnicity.
    • A study of Mexican-heritage youth (both straight and LGBTQ+) in urban areas found that only around 33% of the 1,400 youth ages 13-15 had been victims of bullying [34].
  • 39.5% of Hispanic LGBTQ students experienced some form of school discipline, such as detention, out-of-school suspension, or expulsion.
    • A study using nationally representative samples of school populations including students of all races and ethnicities found that suspension and expulsion rates were 20% amongst (both straight and LGBTQ+) Hispanic students [35].
  • Hispanic LGBTQ students with multiple racial/ethnic identities experienced greater levels of discipline than those who identified as only Hispanic.

Rainbow youth of mixed races and ethnicities are subject to feeling more disconnected from their racial/ethnic backgrounds as well as being subjected to slurs or jokes speculating about their backgrounds [20]. Many queer youth of color feel unwelcome both at home and at school. Since changing the environment of every young person’s home life is impossible, it is especially important that schools take necessary steps towards making sexual and gender minorities feel safe and accepted.

Asian-American youth are less likely than LGBTQ youth of different backgrounds to disclose their sexual orientation (42% vs 68%) or gender identity (43% vs 51%) to parents [36]. On the positive side, Asian-American LGBTQ+ youth have also reported 10% lower rates of depression and suicidality compared to other LGBTQ+ youth [36]. Asian-American youth are generally expected to be hardworking and academically successful students, which often causes them to feel substantial pressure from their parents [21]. East and South Asian LGBTQ+ youth often feel that they have brought shame to their families and parents if they depart from cultural expectations to marry and have children [3].

Due to conflict between queer identity and family, many young Asians find themselves divided between two communities, leading to less involvement in both. Lack of community involvement gives Asian-American rainbow youth fewer opportunities for support, leading to less confidence in their identity. Often deviations from traditional expectations, such non-traditional dress, relationships, or pop-culture affiliations regardless of any queer identity, are seen as omens that a teen will not fulfill their heteromarital duty. For some Asian rainbow teens, conflict over parental restrictions on their freedom of expression can cause mental health disparities.

[F]or many LGBTQ Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and their families, navigating the intersection between the two identities can become a balancing act between finding strength in their lived experiences and family tradition and managing the burdens that can arise from an emphasis on putting family above the individual [37].

Additionally, if a young Asian-American person does choose to come out to their parents, vocabulary such as “transgender” and “pansexual” are often not possible to translate into their native languages, which can make the discussion of a young person’s identity even more difficult [38]. Glenn Magpantay, the executive director of The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), addressed the potential difficulty of coming out to Asian Pacific Islander parents: “It’s not because we’re fearful of them. But, for Asians, our parents have sacrificed greatly to give us a better life.” The fear of disrespecting one’s parents plays a role in preventing discussion of non-normative identities [37].

Asian elementary and secondary school students make up 5% of the U.S. school-age population [21].  The expectation of their academic excellence can cause exclusion of Asian youth, specifically queer Asian youth, from discussions of anti-discrimination policy, due to an assumption that there is no discrimination to mitigate [21]. Educators might perpetuate these same preconceived notions regarding Asian-American rainbow students and assume that their higher academic achievement indicates a lower level of experience with bullying and victimization in school [21]. However, the dismissal of the potential difficulties experienced by Asian students, and the impression of them as “model minorities” only causes them to be further disadvantaged within the school system. A 2016 survey found that only 127,400 Asian American students, out of 2.2 million within the US public K-12 school system, identify as LGBTQ+ [38]. Asian students make up a small portion of the American school population and an even smaller portion of non-heterosexual ones.

Below we have listed a series of statistics regarding the experiences of AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) LGBTQ+ youth in school collected by GLSEN in 2019 [21]. The term AAPI is used to include the full scope of Asian continental and insular heritages in the United States. It is important to note that cultural differences between 25 different Asian and Pacific countries and languages are great and not to be generalized, although there are some common threads. This variance in ethnicity and background amongst the Asian-American rainbow youth population is also represented in skin color, which can cause various levels of discrimination from peers.

  •  51.8% of AAPI LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, 41.1% because of their gender expression, and 26.4% because of their race or ethnicity.
  • 92.4% of AAPI LGBTQ students heard homophobic remarks; 51.1% heard this type of language often.
  • 89.3% of AAPI LGBTQ students heard racist remarks towards their own race; 52.7% heard these remarks often.
  • Many AAPI LGBTQ students experienced harassment or assault at school based on personal characteristics including sexual orientation (60.5%), gender expression (54.7%), and race/ethnicity (53.8%).
  • AAPI LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization based on race/ethnicity at school were almost twice as likely as AAPI LGBTQ students who did not to skip school because they felt unsafe (35.5% vs. 18.4%). They experienced lower levels of school belonging and greater levels of depression.

LGBTQ+ youth of mixed races and ethnicities are subject to feeling more disconnected from their racial/ethnic backgrounds as well as being subjected to slurs or jokes speculating about their backgrounds [20]. One study from 2015 that interviewed Asian-American gay students found that some would strategically play up certain aspects of their racial identity to capitalize on their “model minority” stereotype in order to evade harassment [39]. For many rainbow youth, and particularly for those from ethnic or racial minorities, having a safe space outside of their home can be paramount to their happiness. For families who may not accept a teen’s sexual or gender identity, the teen’s having other accepting spaces within the community or school to express and love themself can be lifesaving.

Since queerness is still a taboo topic in the Asian American community, the marginalization and invisibility of both queer and Asian American identities in schools and in their community call for a third space where queer Asian American youth can be around young people who look like them, share their identities, and offer guidance [38].

One of the most notable differences between Indigenous rainbow youth and the greater LGBTQ+ community is a long-established gender-blended identity in many tribes. “Two Spirit” is a term now used by queer Native American individuals to represent their traditional cultural understandings of gender roles and identity. The term was first adopted in 1990 at the 3rd International Native Gay & Lesbian Gathering in Winnipeg, Canada [24]. The exact form of this tradition differs for each indigenous community or tribe. Some definitions in native languages define both male and female characteristics within a person and others refer to deities or people considered sacred beings [23]. Specialized work roles, gender variation, spiritual sanction, and same-sex relations all have the possibility to play a role in a community or person’s definition of Two Spirit [23].

Two Spirit individuals occupy a distinct alternative gender status and many young native people have reclaimed this term for the sake of the convergence and recognition of both their identity and culture. Two Spirit can also be used as an accompanying identity: for example, a young person may be a Two Spirit Lesbian. Two Spirit is not interchangeable for any LGBTQ+ identity. It is a spirit, person, and identity that breaks through the rigid molds that Western cultures use to define individuals. The term is sometimes adopted by gender-variant individuals who are not of native heritage, but many queer native people resent this as a form of cultural appropriation.

Not all Native-American tribes use or recognize the term Two Spirit. Once known as berdache, Two-Spirit and its definition varies among communities, tribes, and regions. The term berdache is no longer used and has problematic origins from French anthropological reports of Native communities in the United States, as it was originally drawn from a root word alluding to a “passive homosexual” [40], which confuses native practices with Western concepts. The term Two-Spirit or “Two-Spirited” refers to an individual who feels that their body simultaneously manifests a masculine and a feminine spirit [40]. The beauty of this conceptualized identity is the amount of freedom that it gives to an individual’s specialness. The translation of conceptual identities like Two-Spirit are foundationally inaccessible to non-Native people in the United States. Our conceptualization of Two-Spirit relies on our understanding of gender as a binary and the use of the genders male and female. Some tribes and Native languages have their own, as yet untranslated terms to conceptualize gender.

Due to the profoundly detrimental effects of colonization, Two Spirit and many other aspects of First Nations history were extinguished. A major component of the colonization and genocide of native culture was the removal of Two Spirit individuals from their tribes by the U.S. government in 1879 [23]. Additionally, around 1890 all across the U.S. and Canada, the federal governments began forcing Native Americans to attend boarding schools in an effort at forced cultural genocide and assimilation into the colonizer’s religion and gender constructions [22]. Both of these historical events have played a role in erasing the culture of First Nations LGBTQ+ youth. To this day, according to the seminal ethnographic work of Walter L. Williams in his book The Spirit and the Flesh, there are a few tribes to which the identification and positive recognition of Two Spirit can be traced: Navajo, Athabaskan, Cherokee, and Ojibwe [41,43]. Since its reclamation in 1990, Two Spirit has been brought back to the forefront of the Native LGBTQ+ experience and identity and is a necessary concept for understanding Indigenous LGBTQ+ youth.

We live under the guise of a culture that mostly regards things outside of the norm, or deviations from the status quo, as wrong. By informing your Native American teen of a way that their ethnic heritage and sexual identity are compatible and celebrated, you will afford them the ability to find peace within themselves.

First Nations LGBTQ+ youth have been the subject of little investigation. They experience structural disadvantages just as often as other queer youth of color, yet the majority of our information about these communities is measured by surveying indigenous queer youth who do not live on reservations. Living on a sparsely populated reservation can present barriers to indigenous youth’s access to health care, education and social resources. Many reservations “bear the scars of history defined by discrimination and injustice and abuse” [20].

In order to understand the experiences of First Nations rainbow students, we will use GLSEN’s annual report from 2019 [25]. This report includes Native American, American Indian and Alaskan Native youth in U.S. schools, mostly public high schools. It is important to consider the potential experience on reservations and how it might be even worse, as we see from an in-depth account of the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota [22].

  • 96.3% of Native and Indigenous students heard others make homophobic remarks; 67.5% heard this type of language often or frequently.
  • Many Native and Indigenous LGBTQ students experienced harassment or assault at school based on personal characteristics, including sexual orientation (78.4%) and gender expression (70.4%) even more often than race/ethnicity (46.1%).
  • 48.5% of Native and Indigenous LGBTQ students experienced some form of school discipline, such as detention, out-of-school suspension, or expulsion. In a 2019 state-wide study of school suspensions in California, suspension rates were 16.5% for Native American boys and 9.1% for Native American girls. The state-wide average suspension rate, regardless of ethnicity, was 9% for boys and 4.3% for girls [42]. The same study found that the expulsion rate for Native American students in California was 4.2x that of the state average [42].
  • 46.5% of Native and Indigenous LGBTQ students reported having a Gay-Straight Alliance at their school [25]. However, the majority of the information collected for this study was from non-reservation schools. It is much less likely that schools on reservations have the resources to allocate for a GSA.
  • Only 16.3% of Native and Indigenous LGBTQ students were taught positive representations of LGBTQ people, history, or events.

Additionally, in 2018 25.4% of Native Americans in the United States were living below the poverty line, the highest of all ethnic minorities that year [26]. The effects of poverty on access to health care, education and community engagement put Indigenous LGBTQ+ youth at even higher risk. These discrepancies in health care and education make it especially important for parents in Native American communities to initiate discussions about condom use and safe sex.

[1]  Conron, K. J., & Wilson, B. D. M. (Eds.) (2019). A Research Agenda to Reduce System Involvement and Promote Positive Outcomes with LGBTQ Youth of Color Impacted by the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems. The Williams Institute. https://escholarship.org/uc/item/6jf587wr

[2] Schalet, A. T., Santelli, J. S., Russell, S. T., Halpern, C. T., Miller, S. A., Pickering, S. S., Goldberg, S. K., & Hoenig, J. M. (2014). Invited commentary: broadening the evidence for adolescent sexual and reproductive health and education in the United States. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(10), 1595–1610. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0178-8

[3] Bridges, E. (2007). The impact of homophobia and racism on GLBTQ youth of color. Advocates for Youth. https://www.advocatesforyouth.org/wp-content/uploads/storage//advfy/documents/fsglbtq_yoc.pdf

[4] Tulloch, T., & Kaufman, M. (2013). Adolescent sexuality. Pediatrics in Review, 34(1), 29-38. https://doi.org/10.1542/pir.34-1-29

[5] Zongrone, A. D., Truong, N. L., & Kosciw, J. G. (2020). Erasure and Resilience: The Experiences of LGBTQ Students of Color. Latinx LGBTQ Youth in US Schools. Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED603848

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[7] Santelli, J. S., Lowry, R., Brener, N. D., & Robin, L. (2000). The association of sexual behaviors with socioeconomic status, family structure, and race/ethnicity among US adolescents. American Journal of Public Health, 90(10), 1582. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.90.10.1582

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[22] Wong, A. (2017, August 2). Native American Youth and Education on the Reservation. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/08/the-real-legacy-of-crazy-horse/534924/

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[43] Pember, M. A. (2016, October 13). ‘Two Spirit’ Tradition Far From Ubiquitous Among Tribes. Rewire News Group. https://rewirenewsgroup.com/2016/10/13/two-spirit-tradition-far-ubiquitous-among-tribes/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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