Search:

Feeling “Safe and Understood”: The Power of Communities for LGBTQIA+ Young People

As we come to the end of Pride Month 2024, our partners at BeeProud are sharing insights and sneak previews of their initial findings and advice for those working with young LGBTQIA+ people.

BeeProud is a project which has built on #BeeWell findings and explored the experiences of LGBTQIA+* young people aged 16-19 living in Greater Manchester. Young LGBTQIA+ people from Greater Manchester responded to a questionnaire asking them questions about their identity, their local area, their experiences of education, and other things. In this blog, we share some initial findings from the project around the power of communities.

“I find comfort in my community of friends who are understanding of how I feel and are constantly there to support me”

Young people shared the importance of having close communities of people they felt safe with, and who they could share their experiences with. The need to share was around important things like understanding their own identities and coming out, but also about simple everyday “daily life in general”. It was important that these people “understood” their personal LGBTQIA+ identities and that young people were “accepted without having to explain”. They talked about the importance of “strong connections” and of “being surrounded by others with common goals, interests, ideas, and outlooks on life and being comfortable to reach out and talk about almost anything in life.”

“I find community mostly with my group of friends who are also part of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. We kinda understand what each other is going through and it’s comforting to have that kind of support. We’re like a little family in a way”

For many young people, their closest communities, which were often described as “like family” were made up of other LGBTQIA+ people. Although some talked about supportive allies in family members and friends, this was always with the caveat that they didn’t understand in quite the same way as other LGBTQIA+ people did. These LGBTQIA+ communities were sometimes found in person, but also online through things like fandom and other online spaces. While some young people talked about difficulties in finding these communities, others felt that there were good services “specifically for young LGBTQIA+ folks,” in Manchester, that helped to foster community, mentioning local groups and the Proud Trust. One of the main positives of having LGBTQIA+ specific groups around them was that they could, “forget that LGBTQIA+ people were the minority.” The sense of belonging and also mutual understanding that came with these communities was seen as essential for their positive wellbeing.

“Having visible role models in our schools and communities shows that we can succeed and be happy as our true selves”

Young people also told us about the importance of role models in their lives, both those in the media and on social media, and in places like their schools. They shared the importance of “visible” and “openly queer” teachers and other adults, not only to “reduce the stigma and provide a supportive environment” for them but also because seeing these visible role models provided a sense of hope that they too, “can succeed and be happy as [their] true selves”

“Being young and LGBTQIA+ most of all meant being queer in school and navigating that. Teachers were very uncertain of what to do”

For anyone working with young people, fostering and maintaining these support networks and celebrating role models is one of the best ways to help ensure that young LGBTQIA+ individuals in Greater Manchester and beyond feel seen, understood, and valued.

This can be achieved through ensuring there is training for staff, embedding inclusion into policy, setting up and supporting LGBTQIA+ student groups, highlighting LGBTQIA+ role models and celebrating LGBTQIA+ identities. Pride month provides the perfect opportunity to assess current practices and make either a start or a change (although this is important to do all year round too). For schools, colleges and youth organisations, the Manchester based Proud Trust is a great source for training and support around this: (https://www.theproudtrust.org/schools-and-training/)

“Being part of the LGBTQIA+ community has helped me become more opinionated on the current world”

Although this post highlights some positives for LGBTQIA+ young people it is important to mention that being young and LGBTQIA+ in the UK is, at the present time, harder than it has ever been within young people’s living memories. This is especially true for trans young people whose identities are being publicly questioned and whose avenues for medical support have been removed. Schools and youth organisations are struggling with mixed advice and conflicting guidance which can further complicate support for young people.

In the face of this, it’s crucial that those working with young people stand steadfast in their support and prioritise the needs and wellbeing of LGBTQIA+ youth by creating safe, inclusive, and affirming spaces. By doing so, we not only uphold their right to feel seen and valued but also foster a more compassionate and understanding community for everyone. Now, more than ever, these young people need our unwavering support and advocacy.

*LGBTQIA+ is being used here as a shorthand umbrella term for anyone whose identity falls outside of heteronormative and cisgender identities and we acknowledge that the acronym does not resonate with or ‘fit’ all young people