LGBTQ teens grapple with gender identity
Adolescence is a time of many challenges but for the 1.3 million children who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual, it can be especially difficult. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest national LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) civil rights organization, four in 10 LGBTQ youth, or nearly 42 percent, say the community in which they live is not accepting of LGBTQ people.
“These children are at a crossroads,” says Tyree Winters, DO, a pediatrician for Goryeb Children’s Hospital. “They fear that people will find out about them before they truly understand and accept themselves.”
Dr. Winters says that children become aware of gender roles and identity from three to 12 years of age. It is not uncommon for 75 percent of children to have some type of gender identity dysphoria, or behaviors that do not conform to the cultural perceptions of their biological sex and gender identity. In addition, gender identity does not necessarily determine one’s sexual orientation.”
“We can have many variations and that can be a bit difficult, not only for the parent, but also for the child to understand,” says Dr. Winters. “At Atlantic Health System, we create an environment where we remove all biases and preconceived notions of what it means to be LGBTQ, and then we can start the conversation.”
LGBTQ adolescents are very vulnerable, according to Dr. Winters. “We see higher levels of depression, anxiety, and suicide ideations in youth who identify with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual. They are more prone to try illegal substances and have higher risk factors for sexually transmitted diseases.”
Dr. Winters recommends that parents have open conversations that are unbiased, as well as connecting with support groups. This allows the child to become comfortable with his or her own orientation.
“It’s important to understand that this is not a disease and their child is not damaged,” says Dr. Winters. “How do you think a child would feel to have their parents reject them or not feel love from their parents?”