Trying to survive a global pandemic is not new to the LGBTQ+ community. For some, the AIDS epidemic feels like it occurred only yesterday. Now, the whole world finds itself facing another threat to our health, safety, and feelings of connection. As we all gather resources and provide support, LGBTQ+ youth have their own set of unique challenges when it comes to coping with COVID-19 and its related impacts.
All Tennessee school districts closed K-12 schools by March 20, and they will continue to remain closed through the end of the school year. As a school counselor based in Nashville, I have been connecting with my students by text, phone, and email to provide support. Much of the support that I’ve provided has been related to their academics: getting them started on credit recovery and especially helping my seniors understand new emergency graduation requirements implemented by Tennessee’s board of education.
Some of the conversations, however, reveal that some of my students now have more family expectations placed on them. They’re helping to take care of their younger siblings, they’re taking on more chores, and they’re helping to run their family’s business, all while engaging in distance learning and preparing for Advanced Placement exams. Other conversations reveal that my students feel lonely, separated from their peers. Some of my LGBTQ+ students are stuck in homes where their identities are continuously invalidated.
These school closures led to interrupted learning for all students, but, for some LGBTQ+ students, they also lost access to the only environment where they felt affirmed. Similarly, most community organizations that facilitate in-person support groups have had to transition their services online. For LGBTQ+ youth who were not already connected to online communities, they may be particularly vulnerable to disconnection and unsafe home environments. That vulnerability is magnified for youth who do not have internet access or other ways to connect with affirming communities.
But, some of the challenges that LGBTQ+ youth face are not unique to them and are widely experienced. They have been laid off or furloughed at their jobs. They have been affected by the tornadoes that came through Middle Tennessee and Chattanooga. They experience homelessness, hunger, and a myriad of other challenges. Indeed, many of my students live with families that affirm their identities, but they continue to experience other obstacles that have been exacerbated by COVID-19.
LGBTQ+ students need our support. Of course, support might look a little different from what we’re accustomed to, due to the constraints of COVID-19 and safer-at-home orders. Even though some of the opportunities listed might not directly focus their efforts on LGBTQ+ youth, our young people hold multiple identities and experiences.
The following list represents different opportunities to assist LGBTQ+ students. Some of these options are more easily done if there is a young LGBTQ+ person in your life. It is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a great starting place. Better yet, if you know a young person in your life, ask them what they need, because we all need something different.
Volunteer your time (safely!)
Hands On Nashville continues to organize disaster relief efforts for neighborhoods impacted by the tornado. Second Harvest Heartland is facilitating food distribution for all families whose students attend Metro Nashville Public Schools. These are also great places to donate if you have the means.
If you’re able to financially contribute, perhaps the easiest thing you can do is donate money to a mutual fund or local organization that is continuing to serve LGBTQ+ youth. This might be the easiest way to ensure that your support is going directly to this community. Mutual funds act as a funnel to place money directly into affected people’s hands, while money to nonprofit organizations is usually going to support programming and other services that will support targeted communities. The queer-centered online publication, them, has offered a list of crowdsourced funding opportunities and mutual aid funds. A few local nonprofits to support include GLSEN Tennessee, Oasis Center, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee, though there are countless others.
Turn on the TV or suggest a book
We can all feel a little less alone when we see ourselves represented in media, and youth are no exception. In fact, it’s even more crucial to their social-emotional development that they see themselves reflected in society. Thankfully, there are more and more characters of diverse gender and sexual identities appearing in books, TV shows, and movies. Consider recommending a book to young people in your life, or sit down and watch a movie with them. Then, discuss what they’ve read or watched to help them make meaning of these representations.
Help them de-stress
The stress of this situation is affecting all of us, and children may be feeling especially uncertain and susceptible to others’ panic or stress. Try practicing some mindfulness exercises with your young people. Grounding activities can be particularly helpful, such as the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. There are many kinds of strategies and coping skills that can help. The key is to find one that works and to practice it until it feels routine.
More and more young people are finding ways to connect online, through social media and other online forums. Some online spaces are designed to be multi-generational. These are great avenues for conversation and sharing resources, stories, and sympathy.
Share and signal boost
When in doubt, and as I often tell my students, sharing is caring. You may not necessarily know any young people, but other people in your life might. Sharing resources or information with your friends, colleagues, or acquaintances can be just as helpful. Online, high rates of sharing links and information can cause topics to trend and draw more attention to available resources. A general Nashville COVID-19 Response Fund is one great resource to share that can support of families and students needs.
Will French is a high school counselor in Nashville. He graduated from Vanderbilt University with his master's degree in Human Development Counseling and from Macalester College with his bachelor's in English and Theater. He also spends his time volunteering with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and GLSEN TN.
Cover Photo by Malcolm Garret (instagram.com/malcolmgarret) via Pexels