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Creating Inclusive Environments

While adolescence is a transitional period for all young people, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth may experience greater stigma, harassment, assault, or discrimination because of their race, ethnicity, and/or sexual orientation. Therefore they may need increased support from peers and adults to navigate these experiences. Adults and peers may also intentionally or unintentionally exclude or create discomfort for LGBT youth in mainstream sexual health education, social activities, or community settings. These situations may put LGBTQ youth at greater risk of experiencing violence, HIV infection, STIs, and unintended pregnancy than their heterosexual peers. In particular, these issues are thought to be social determinants contributing to most new HIV infections in youth occurring among young men of color who have sex with men (YMCSM).

Youth serving providers can take intentional steps to create inclusive environments that offer equitable access to sexual health education and affirm gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Ways to foster inclusive environments include establishing peer support groups, peer support lines, and safe spaces.

Peer Support Groups

According to the University of Kansas's Work Group for Community Health and Development's Community Tool Box, peer support groups are meetings of peers who share similar issues or experiences and can offer each other support or insight. There are several benefits of peer support groups for adolescents:

  • Participation empowers members to solve problems
  • Members can share useful information and serve as role models for each other
  • The group can be a safe space to discuss issues and experiences that feel too personal to share elsewhere
  • Talking to others reduces anxiety and improves self-esteem

When creating a peer support group, it is important to consider:

  • Intended duration of the group, frequency of meetings, and other logistical details (e.g., time and place)
  • Who is in the target audience and if new members will be welcome to join at any time
  • Which adolescent(s) will lead or facilitate the group. Ideally, these youth will be energetic, enthusiastic about the group, and willing to learn facilitation skills if they don't already have them

The Community Tool Box has additional information about peer support groups, including tips on how to create, facilitate, and maintain them.

Peer Support Lines

Peer support lines provide factual information and resources for LGBTQ youth across the United States. While some organizations have created their own peer support lines, others refer the youth they serve to national services that are free and confidential.

GLBT National Youth Talkline

  • This free and confidential support line provides telephone, online private one-to-one chat and email peer-support, as well as facts and information about coming-out, relationship, and parent issues, school problems, HIV/AIDS anxiety and safer-sex information, and local resources for cities and towns across the country.
  • Toll-free 1-800-246-PRIDE (1-800-246-7743)
  • Monday – Friday, 4pm – midnight (ET)
  • Saturday, noon to 5pm (ET)

Fenway Health LGBT Peer Listening Line

  • This free and confidential support line offers young people (25 years and under) a “safe place” to call for information, referrals, and support. Trained volunteers help callers with coming out as well as locating LGBTQ groups and services across the country. Volunteers can also offer support and guidance around common issues including safer sex and relationships and HIV/AIDS.
  • Toll-free 1-800-399-PEER (1-800-399-7337)
  • Monday – Saturday, 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm (ET)

Crisis Text Line

  • This support line provides support through text message. Crisis counselors use active listening and collaborative problem solving to help texters in crisis come up with a plan to stay safe. Youth with AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon phone plans can text free of charge and without the 741741 shortcode appearing on a billing statement. With other minor carriers, standard text message rates apply and the shortcode will appear.
  • Text HOME to 741741
  • Available 24/7 in the USA
Testimonial Headshot
HIV prevention starts with conversations, not condoms. We must create spaces where youth know their rights and feel comfortable advocating for themselves."

Maranda - Washington, DC

Safe Spaces

It is important for youth-serving organizations to be allies to LGBTQ youth by creating a climate that welcomes them. This may include hosting trainings for staff on personal bias, posting Safe Space stickers, and adapting program materials to be inclusive of LGBTQ youth. Safe Spaces are:

  • supportive, safe, and welcoming environments for LGBTQ youth
  • free of anti-LGBTQ name-calling, bullying, or harassment as well as anti-LGBTQ bias
  • designed for LGBTQ youth to feel safer and more included in the services offered by an organization, often resulting in more positive and successful experiences

An example of a Safe Space in the school setting is a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). GLSEN's 2015 National School Climate Survey (NSCS) found that LGBTQ students who attended schools with a GSA experienced lower levels of victimization, reported a greater number of supportive school staff and accepting peers, and were less likely to hear negative or homophobic remarks than LGBTQ students who attended schools without a GSA.

Youth HIV Facts

LGBTQ students at schools with a GSA felt more connected to their school community than students without a GSA.
GLSEN 2015 National School Climate Survey
Toolkit Resource

This Adolescent Health Initiative Spark training on cultural responsiveness contains presentation slides and activities for health centers.

Page last updated: April 2018