*This section was created as a collaboration between GLAAD, the Trevor Project, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights
As digital natives, Gen Z (those born from 1997 to 2002) Americans have grown up in an interconnected world, providing them with access to hundreds of online communities and support groups unavailable to previous generations. The power of the internet has given LGBTQ youth the means to fully explore and embrace their sexual orientations and/or gender identities. They are also growing up in a culture that has become increasingly accepting of LGBTQ people, even though significant hurdles still exist. LGBTQ youth still experience family rejection, homeless, and minority stress, leading to poor health outcomes, including suicidality. And anti-LGBTQ activists and lawmakers continue to target and attack transgender youth specifically. The Trevor Project found that 75% of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity at least once in their lifetimes as of 2021.
Gen Z is the most LGBTQ generation yet. About 21% of Gen Z adults (those ages 18-24) identify as LGBTQ, according to 2021 Gallup polling data. Among all Americans, 7.1% say they are LGBTQ, (up from 3.5% in 2012.) Among Millennials (born 1981-1996), 10.5% say they are LGBTQ, and the percentage gets smaller and smaller among older generations.
While many LGBTQ youth use the term queer to describe themselves and/or the broader community, as always, ask interview subjects what words they use to describe themselves.
Consider the full implications of interviewing LGBTQ youth and proceed accordingly. While LGBTQ youth are increasingly comfortable being out as their authentic selves, journalists should take extra precautions to ensure they and their parents or guardians are aware of the consequences of being out in the media and of potential impact to their privacy now and in the future. Journalists should also avoid exacerbating or triggering conflict between LGBTQ youth and their families and should not interview minors whose parents are unsupportive or are not aware of their child’s LGBTQ identity unless they can ensure the youth’s anonymity. Consider interviewing LGBTQ youth and their parents who have already been out in the media, or have publicly appeared at legislative hearings and press conferences, rather than continually seeking new people to interview who have never spoken publicly before. GLAAD can connect media with out LGBTQ youth and young adults. You can also offer to use only first names or not include a hometown to further protect privacy. Read more in this guide for parents of trans and gender-expansive youth navigating being public in the media, which could also be a useful resource for journalists.
Highlight LGBTQ Black, Indigenous, and other youth of color. LGBTQ youth of color, especially Black and Indigenous LGBTQ youth, often face additional discrimination due to their intersectional identities, and media visibility is lacking compared to coverage of their white LGBTQ peers. Half of all LGBTQ youth of color experienced discrimination based on their race/ethnicity in the past year, along with higher rates of suicide attempts compared to white LGBTQ youth, a 2021 Trevor Project survey found.
In addition to being the most diverse generation yet in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity, Gen Z is also the most racially and ethnically diverse generation to ever exist, according to Pew Research Center data. Twenty-five percent of youth in Gen Z are Latinx, 14% are Black, 6% are Asian Pacific Islander, and 5% are multiracial. It follows then that when covering LGBTQ youth, interview subjects should be representative of their generation’s overall racial and ethnic makeup.
Gen Z can also find themselves in the unique position of being out online, but closeted in real-life. Because only 1 in 3 LGBTQ youth live in LGBTQ-affirming homes, according to 2021 Trevor Project survey data, this leaves many of them — 69% of LGBTQ youth overall, and 71% of transgender and nonbinary youth — to find affirming spaces elsewhere, including online. Journalists should keep this in mind when searching for interview subjects on social media and ensure permission is obtained before spotlighting a post from a LGBTQ young person.
GLAAD’s Social Media Safety Index offers an extensive overview of some of the many issues facing LGBTQ social media users, including LGBTQ youth. The May 2021 report concluded that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok are effectively unsafe for LGBTQ users across categories ranging from algorithms and AI to content moderation and data privacy.
LGBTQ youth face challenges at school. 59% of LGBTQ students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, 42% because of their gender expression, and 37% because of their gender, according to GLSEN’s annual National School Climate Survey. In that survey, LGBTQ students overwhelmingly reported hearing anti-LGBTQ remarks at school, whether from peers or teachers/school staff. Eighty-three percent of LGBTQ students also reported being harassed or assaulted at school, including physical, verbal, sexual, and cyberbullying. LGBTQ youth can find acceptance at school through affirming school clubs like Gender & Sexuality Alliances (GSAs). (Note: GSAs were originally Gay-Straight Alliances, and have since shifted to be called Gender & Sexuality Alliances.) In addition, according to GLSEN’s survey, attending a school with an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum is related to less-hostile school experiences and increased feelings of connectedness to the school community for LGBTQ students. Inclusive curriculum includes representations of LGBTQ health, people, history, and events.
LGBTQ youth are disproportionately affected by homelessness. LGBTQ youth have a 120% higher risk of experiencing homelessness than non-LGBTQ youth, the University of Chicago found in 2017. According to the Trevor Project’s annual survey, only one-in-three LGBTQ youth reported living in LGBTQ-affirming homes, which could be an underlying cause behind the high rate of homelessness. Transgender and nonbinary youth of color experience homelessness at much higher rates than their white peers. For some LGBTQ youth who are able to secure housing, food insecurity poses an additional ongoing threat — 30% reported experiencing food insecurity in the past month, including half of all Indigenous LGBTQ youth.
LGBTQ youth disproportionately attempt suicide. 20% of non-heterosexual high school students reported a suicide attempt in the past year in 2017, compared with 5.9% of straight classmates, according to the American Association of Pediatrics. Still, almost half of LGBTQ youth face significant barriers to mental health services — a staggering 48% told The Trevor Project they wanted counseling but were unable to secure it in the past year.
Journalists should be especially cognizant of the effect of hate crime coverage on LGBTQ youth, as mental distress among LGBTQ people is higher in states with widely publicized incidents of discrimination, an American Medical Association study found. Of note, Associated Press style now emphasizes avoiding the phrase “committed suicide,” as it implies criminality and further stigmatizes those experiencing suicidal thoughts. An alternative: died by suicide. There are best practices for reporting on suicide, which are outlined at ReportingOnSuicide.org.
Transgender youth face unique and specific challenges. Youth who are transgender often understand at a very young age that their gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth. (We typically understand our gender much earlier than we figure out our sexual orientation. It is important to note, however, that transgender people may come to understand their own gender at any age. It does not make a person more or less transgender if they figure it out at 5, 15, or 65 years old.) Youth who are transgender have very different needs and face different issues than cisgender lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, and journalists should understand how these experiences are different. For example, young people and their families, with the help of medical professionals and caregivers, may use prescription medication to pause a transgender child’s puberty to prevent them from experiencing traumatic and unwanted changes to their bodies, and give them more time to figure out if they eventually want to take hormone replacement therapy and go through a puberty that matches their true gender identity. This is a complicated and expensive process that insurance companies often refuse to cover. This is just one of the many steps a transgender child or teenager may consider as they bring every aspect of their lives into congruence with their gender identity. In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement supporting gender-affirming care for trans youth, as well as clear clinical guidance for parents and providers on how to support trans youth.
When writing about transgender youth, journalists should understand that their experiences are different from cisgender LGB youth. Even with supportive and affirming parents, and access to informed care providers, trans youth face tremendous challenges. Sadly, many transgender youth do not have a supportive environment, and therefore suffer extremely high levels of minority stress. A 2018 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 50.8% of teenage transgender boys reported attempting suicide, while 29.9% of transgender female teens said they attempted suicide. Among non-binary youth, 41.8% of respondents stated that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives. Multiple studies have shown that having even one supportive and affirming adult in their lives can reduce mental health issues and suicidality significantly for transgender youth.
To learn more about how families and caregivers support trans and nonbinary youth, read this guide from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians, and the Human Rights Campaign. When reporting on the issues faced by transgender youth and their families, seek out medical organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics or the organizations below. Talk to experts who have experience working with this population.
Transgender youth are being targeted for political purposes. After the 2015 Supreme Court decision granting full marriage equality to same-sex couples, anti-LGBTQ activists began to stoke moral panic and turn out socially conservative voters by targeting transgender people, especially transgender youth. After attempting to restrict bathroom use by transgender people (for example, North Carolina’s HB2 in 2016), anti-LGBTQ activists turned to using transgender youth to achieve their goals. In February, 2021, the Alliance Defending Freedom (designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) and the Heritage Foundation, in coalition with other anti-trans activist groups, released their so-called “Promise to America’s Children.” This document is the blueprint for the more than 100 anti-trans bills introduced in legislatures across the country that would limit or deny transgender youth access to healthcare and/or their ability to participate in school sports. Politicians in more than 30 states spouted unscientific, false, and damaging claims about trans youth, making an already transphobic culture even more hostile. Ten states passed bills banning trans youth from playing sports, though temporary injunctions are blocking enforcement of the Idaho and West Virginia bans. Arkansas also passed a bill banning gender-affirming medical care for trans youth. In July 2021, the Arkansas law was temporarily blocked from implementation by a judge after the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the state. Even when the bills do not pass the legislature, weeks of dangerous rhetoric and the necessity of asking trans youth to testify in a hostile environment takes a toll on trans youth and their families. (For more information about healthcare for trans youth see LGBTQ Healthcare)
Please reach out to the below organizations — or GLAAD (firstname.lastname@example.org) — to learn more and connect with spokespeople: