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Giving young LGBTI people a chance

Giving young LGBTI people a chance

‘When I was at school I told a couple of friends that I was bisexual and word got out and the whole school thought instantly I was a lesbian. I got horrifically bullied by the majority of the pupils in my year. The school, well they did nothing about it! Ever since I’ve struggled with my confidence and suffered anxiety and depression.’

That was the story of one lesbian young woman from the West Midlands of England taking part in the Youth Chances research project.

The project, by UK equality and diversity charity Metro, looked at service provision and policy for 16-25 year old lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people across England.

We have conducted three national surveys: one of organizations delivering services to young people, one of those responsible for commissioning services to young people and one of 16 to 25-year-olds themselves.

The survey of young people is record-breaking with over 7,000 respondents sharing their experiences.

It is not only the unprecedented size of the sample that makes the evidence so important. It also invited respondents who identified as heterosexual and non-trans, allowing comparison with the wider population.

Moving forward, Youth Chances also has the chance to study how young LGBTI people’s experiences can change and develop over time.

The reports highlight four areas where LGBTI young people fare significantly worse than their heterosexual non-trans peers.

The most alarming of these areas is mental health with LGBTI respondents reporting higher rates of depression, self-harm and suicide ideation. The Youth Chances survey found that 44% of LGBTI young people have ever thought about suicide, compared to 26% of heterosexual non-trans young people.

The higher reported levels in the LGBTI group shows the personal impact of challenges young people face from other people’s treatment of their sexuality and gender.

Lots of challenges are identified by young people around their general safety and their school experiences. They are particularly pronounced for transgender young people.

Hate crime in respect of sexuality and gender is common with nearly three quarters (74%) of LGBTI young people experiencing name-calling and nearly a quarter (45%) experiencing physical assault. Such abuse is also reported by the heterosexual non-trans respondents, showing the relevance of this issue to all young people.

At school, nearly two thirds of LGBTI respondents (65%) think their school supported its pupils badly in respect of sexuality or gender identity.

One lesbian young woman from the southeast commented: ‘My school had no posters, no helplines and no sex education for LGBTQ. There were loads of posters for bullying, but no information for anyone who was considered to be gay or LGBTQ.’

Schools are a key target for better knowledge and understanding to prevent problems arising in the first place.

Transgender young people consistently report worse experiences than other groups. A worryingly high 73% of LGBTI young people agree that discrimination against LGB people is still common, whilst 90% of LGBTI young people agree discrimination against trans people is still common.

Faced with such high levels of prejudice, the need to support and improve the experiences of all LGBTI young people and trans young people in particular, is imperative.

Having evidenced these four areas of most concern, Youth Chances is committed to making a difference to the lives of young people, by maximizing the potential of such robust data. The remaining 18 months of the project is focused on work to support the implementation of improved services to improve the experience of growing up LGBTI in England.

Whilst the opportunities for young people in England today are so much better than for previous generations and for those in other parts of the world, Youth Chances findings expose the need to avoid complacency when it comes to social justice. Whilst we all celebrated the recent passing of the equal marriage legislation, this ‘state of the nation’ report shows LGBTI young people continue to encounter problems and, in some cases, real dangers.

We welcome the collaboration of all people who want to work with Youth Chances as a platform to campaign for change. We know that our evidence will strengthen initiatives to tackle the challenges faced by children and young people.

We identified some excellent examples of good practice and suggestions for improvement. One gay young man from the northwest described his university: ‘There’s an LGBT society, the Student Union has an LGBT week, the counseling services are notably great and are apparently really helpful for dealing with stuff like sexuality based issues, there are posters everywhere; basically… offers a really great inclusive environment and seems to strive to maintain it.’

The constructive suggestions from young people that we collected in the survey will contribute to our work to develop recommendations, convening public seminars to bring together key figures in policy and practice. We will also be publishing papers in academic journals to formalize our reporting and sharing data analysis for different regions and demographic factors to better understand the intersections within the LGBTI population. Our next steps are detailed further on our website.

We were so impressed by the brave openness and calm of Tom Daley in his recent coming out video and further delighted with the positive support he attracted. We hope one day coming out will not be news at all.

Dan Baker manages the Youth Chances Project at Metro.