A few years ago, I was working with a group of teenagers, talking about consent, safer sex and healthy relationships. I remember being so impressed by their intelligence and their ability to speak openly about sexuality, without the shame or embarrassment that is so often present in these conversations for youth.
This had to be a sign that things were changing, right? I thought I must be witnessing a shift in culture with this new generation. Maybe they would be just a little better off, a little healthier than I was at their age.
I continued through the morning, basking in the glow of these young people and their emotional maturity. When we took a break for lunch, I joined them at the table, sat back, and listened in on the conversations that were developing among them. I was not prepared for what I was about to hear. Outside of the structured workshops and lessons about relationships, these young people felt comfortable revealing the reality of their experiences.
I heard stories of jealousy so intense that one teen was no longer allowed to hang out with any of her friends. I listened while one young man explained to the group that it was definitely not OK for a boy to hit a girl, but it was normal for a boy to hit another boy when dating. I tried to provide as much guidance as I could, but I left that day feeling so sad to see abuse become normalized at such a young age.
Dating violence is a problem that affects the next generation of young LGBTQ people, just as it did my generation and the generation that came before me. And we know that LBGTQ youth face many additional barriers and challenges when experiencing abuse than their straight, cisgender counterparts.
Young people, especially those who are not out yet, may feel like they have nowhere to turn for help. No one should have to make the choice between staying in an abusive relationship or getting outed and kicked out of your house. Unfortunately, that is the reality that is faced by so many young members of our community.
And this isn’t something that just goes away once they grow up and graduate from high school, assuming they are lucky enough to be able to safely attend school.
Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence, according to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2001 (JAMA). So, what do we really mean when we tell young LBTQ people that “it gets better”?
If our goal as a community is really to make things better for young people today and in future years, we need to include dating violence response and prevention in our plans. That is why this February, in honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, KCAVP is challenging the adult members of the LGBTQ community to spread the word about the seriousness of dating violence. Here are some ideas:
• Talk to a teenager in your life about what a healthy relationship looks like.
• Encourage your school district to teach comprehensive sex education that is inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
• Volunteer at a drop-in center.
• For young folks who don’t have a supportive family, be a part of their chosen family.
• Listen and provide support when you hear young people expressing fear about their partner or shame about abuse they are experiencing.
And if you or someone you know has experienced any type of violence, please call KCAVP at 816-561-0550.
Victoria Pickering is the education and outreach coordinator for the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project. KCAVP’s vision is to end all types of violence in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.