Being There For Them

by Richard Hutchison

Viewpoint

Those of us who have gone down the river of life for quite some time can reflect on a variety of experiences we've had. Those teenage years are somewhat like the first-time a water skier who has trouble getting launched and must keep balanced as the power keeps pulling one forward.

Unfortunately for the LGBT teen, society creates many waves that must be dealt with in addition to the usual trials of the teenager.

Adults must provide support to keep that young person balanced and moving forward--parents, school personnel, coaches, music directors, and adult leaders of youth groups. Again, unfortunately for the LGBT teen, many of those folks are not willing to accept that teen because of his/her sexuality and choose to either ignore or demonstratively exclude him/her from the group.

This rejection adds to the already difficult issues that the teen is trying to deal with in sorting out a truthful identity.

As someone whose entire career was in education, I have worked with youth in professional and community settings. I discovered that at times I was at odds with other adults who supposedly "had the kids" best interests at heart." Unfortunately that was only lip service; they weren't as understanding as they professed to be.

I tried always to be supportive of those teens struggling to discover who they were and where they were headed. I tried to give them options and offer suggestions for possible outcomes from their choices. Attending state and national conferences, I participated in sessions dealing with a variety of issues facing students.

With a focus for counseling the LGBT teen, I absorbed as much information and material as possible to help me guide students struggling either with their sexuality or the response of others to their sexuality. That experience was immensely valuable at a high school where I spent many years when the administrator asked the counseling department to accept the task of working with two young ladies who had some "issues with personal behavior."

As I asked a few questions, I realized that these two might be involved in a lesbian relationship so I volunteered to speak with them. (Discussing what might have drawn attention to them, I discovered that their behavior in the halls was offending some other students. I reminded them that school policy frowned on the same behavior from male-female couples.

After they understood that point, they toned down the behavior and students simply accepted them as a couple.) Based on my good rapport with them, I suggested to the administrator that we start a student gay/straight alliance. The response to my suggestion was that parents would probably be quite upset and we couldn't take that risk.

Realizing that there was no administrative support, I then suggested to my two lesbian friends that they spread the word that my office was a safe place to discuss any gay/lesbian issues. I had some books dealing with those issues that I prominently displayed in my office and even had a small rainbow flag.

I also had the good fortune to serve for several years as the director/consultant of a sex equity-diversity project involving students from high schools and middle schools. Conducting many workshops with students and staff members, I had the opportunity to help them explore gay/lesbian issues as a part of the total bundle of concerns facing youth as they grow and make life and career decisions.

I was also able to establish with them that our project was a safe place to discuss any topic--either in a group setting or in a confidentially private setting.

As our young people continue down the river of life, it is incumbent upon us to be there, helping them stay balanced as they attempt to sort out the options they're facing and support them as they choose who they really are. We must be there for them!

Richard Hutchison served as a counselor at a high school in a large metropolitan school district. He retired in 2002.
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