4-H Helping LGBTQ+ Youth to Thrive

June is Pride month, so it’s a good time to discuss supporting LGBTQ+ youth. 4-H has made a commitment to our LGBTQ + youth community for all-inclusive clubs and activities. Across our nation, LGBTQ+ youth have vastly different experiences. Many young people feel unsafe in school, their communities, and sometimes their own homes. 4-H has promised to help all youth fully thrive in our 4-H community. Our programs help employees, volunteers, group leaders, and parents learn how to ensure a space of inclusion, belonging and safety that follows our 4-H thriving model.

Let’s get familiar with the diverse cultures within LGBTQ+. For starters, LGBTQ+ is an initialism used as an umbrella term for people who are L – Lesbian, G – Gay, B – bisexual, T – transgender, and/or Q - queer. The + indicates there is a wide range of other identities, orientations, and gender expressions including Two-Spirit, Non-Binary, Asexual, Aromantic, and Genderfluid to name a few (Stonewall, 2023). That may feel like a lot – because it is a lot; humanity is a lot. There are eight billion of us on Earth all experiencing different lives. We are diverse in how we think, look, feel, and communicate. It follows there are differences in our genders and orientations.

There are also intersections between unique cultures, social ecosystems, economic backgrounds, and histories. For example, issues of racism—which may amplify when combined with anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination—affect LGBTQ+ youth of color (Daley et al., 2007; Schmitz et al., 2019). Issues of gender-neutral bathrooms are more consequential for transgender, intersex, and nonbinary youth than cisgender lesbian, gay, or bisexual youth.

LGBTQ+ youth are not all the same and the competencies required to serve them may vary based on the needs of specific youth or youth populations. An equity lens allows us to understand the specific conditions we 4-H practitioners must consider when planning our programs.

Let’s get specific to after school opportunities. Programs that explicitly accept youth in the LGBTQ+ community are very limited. Yet research has shown that youth are coming out at a younger age than ever before. “A report by the Williams Institute estimates about 9.5% of youth ages 13-17 in the U.S., or about 1.9 million youth, identify as LGBTQ+”.

Youth who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community are at higher risk of being bullied or victimized - within schools or out of school activities based on their gender and sexuality. Those kinds of experiences can lead to mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10-14, and the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ+) young people are at significantly increased risk (The Trevor Project, 2024).

Those facts are difficult to hear, but there is good news. 4-H is an all-inclusive non-judgmental out of school program that is welcoming to all. “One Study confirmed that gay males participated in 4-H for many years with positive outcomes even though they may not have recognized their sexual orientation until later in life” (Howard et al, 2021).

This is key - when we create safe environments free from bias, then youth from all backgrounds and orientations can thrive.

What can we do? Be present and keep an open mind. Caring adults who affirm youths’ identities and provide support and assistance navigating difficult circumstances can make the difference between life and death for LGBTQ+ youth. Youth development programs are in a unique position to provide equitable spaces and other opportunities for LGBTQ+ youth. It is essential for LGBTQ+ youth to find safe and affirming spaces in which they can present who they are authentically, without fear of retribution, and create supportive relationships (Talburt, 2004).

How do we plan? Consider the groups with whom you are partnering – do they create safe spaces and reflect the diversity of our community? Who needs to be part of the conversation or is missing from it when considering new programs or partners? Do partner policies and practices specifically value, protect, and name LGBTQ+ diversity?
Growing up is tough. We can make it easier. As professionals in 4-H programing it is our duty to support an all-inclusive system that youth can count on for protection and guidance.

Continue your learning journey with this Fact Sheet on LGBTQ+ Youth

For the complete newsletter, use the link below to download the PDF version.

Sam Mitchell 2024, Clover Clips Newsletter, Volume 32, Issue 6, June 2024, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno, Newsletters

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