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Thursday, February 24 • 11:00am - 12:45pm
30D An epidemic of family violence and isolation: Implications of COVID-19 on LGBTQ+ youth and what teachers can do about it

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As an emerging undergraduate researcher under the supervision of Dr. Tonya Callaghan (Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary), my research goal is to uncover how lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ+) youth have been particularly affected during the series of lockdowns and restrictions of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left destruction in its wake, with effects on people that include job loss, decimation of the economy, and increased isolation and loneliness. One sector of society that is often underserved when discussing the ravages of COVID-19 is youth.

Canada’s youth have been greatly affected during this time, switching between online and in-person schooling, losing extra-curricular clubs, and missing out on most social events. A smaller and important subsection of youth who are particularly struggling are LGBTQ+ young adults. Historically, these adolescents already live on the margins of society, where homophobia and intolerance abound. The LGBTQ+ populace has had to fight for even basic human rights.

Youth occupy a special place in society where they are not quite adults and who are in the ongoing process of forming and reforming their identities. Although some youth are fortunate enough to live with supportive parents and/or siblings, the reality is that many do not. Watson et al. (2019) established that while family relations have improved over time between heterosexual youth and their parents, sexual minority youth are faring even worse than twenty years ago in areas such as connectedness and familial support. This is a shocking revelation. Furthermore, the instances of family violence related to LGBTQ+ youth often go unnoticed. Research suggests that among LGBTQ+ youth, only one-third experience parental acceptance, with an additional one-third experiencing parental rejection, and the final one-third not disclosing their LGBTQ+ identity until they are adults (Katz-Wise et al., 2015, as cited in Green et al., 2020). These young people frequently experience violence and abuse at home.

Unfortunately, a classic and prevalent form of abuse is the power parents can wield over their children by sending them to conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is a discredited practice whereby some agent attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity (The Trevor Project, n.d.). Conversion therapy is most often delivered in the form of “talk therapy,” performed by professionals, faith-based organizations, or life coaches (Trevor Project, n.d.). Not only is conversion therapy ineffective, it is also extremely damaging to the mental health of the recipient. It was only nine months ago that the Government of Canada began to enact changes to legislation in order to end conversion therapy (Bill C6, 2021). The fact that this practice is still legal even now provides a context for the homophobic culture in which we live.

In March 2020, as a measure to contain the spread of COVID-19, shelter-in-place orders were enacted and many schools switched to an online delivery format. As a result of these changes, the realities of many LGBTQ+ youth became increasingly dire. In this presentation, I will share the research I have conducted in Canada and abroad using interpretive methodology, which consists of analyzing and interpreting texts such as peer-reviewed articles and public forums where issues such as isolation and violence were discussed by youth. In addition, I searched for and analyzed mainstream media accounts reporting on LGBTQ+ youths’ experiences of a lack of family support and loneliness. It should come as no surprise that LGBTQ+ youth are keenly feeling the effects of continued isolation.

In their survey of LGBTQ+ youth and adults in the United Kingdom, LGBT Hero (2020) found that young people were experiencing alarmingly high levels of loneliness: 67% of youth under 18 said they were lonely “very often” or “every day” (Key findings, second heading). Levels of anxiety were also extremely high. The same survey found that 50% of respondents felt anxious “every day” or “very often” (Anxiety subsection). Another alarming statistic is the number of young adults who experience housing insecurity because they are at risk of being kicked out of the family home. The LGBT Hero survey (2020) found that 12% of 18-24 year olds described feeling at risk for becoming homeless, the highest of any age group in the survey (Housing subsection).

In addition to the deleterious mental health consequences of COVID-19, LGBTQ+ youth are facing physical risks too. Researchers at the University of Toronto have identified that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to have immune-compromising medical conditions, rate themselves as ill, and are less likely to seek medical help when they need it (Osman, 2020). In the United Kingdom, a survey conducted by the organization OutLife reported that during the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 40% of LGBTQ+ people have missed medical appointments, including 50% of trans people as compared to 35% of cis people (Outlife, 2020, as cited in Philips, 2021). Furthermore, LGBTQ+ people experience higher incidences of discrimination within medical settings (Lambda Legal, 2010, as cited in Green et al., 2020) and consequently may experience heightened anxiety if needing to access healthcare for COVID-19 related concerns (Green at al., 2020).

Prior to the pandemic, many LBGTQ+ youth were already struggling with their mental health and over this past year and a half, their vulnerability was exacerbated. Long-term mental health repercussions, long-term stress, and inability to express authentic identities are all potential outcomes for the young LGBTQ+ people living in a homophobic and transphobic culture. In fact, compared to their cisgender, heterosexual peers, sexual and gender minority (SGM) people are considerably more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance use issues, in addition to less social and family support (Ryan et al., 2010; Baams et al., 2018, as cited in Kamal et al., 2021).

Considering that teachers hold great power to prevent homophobia in schools, how can they act as allies to gender minority youth?

Given the dire situation that LGBTQ+ youth are facing during the pandemic, what can teachers do to help? How might teachers become allies in the struggle born by LGBTQ+ youth? Teachers hold great power to prevent homophobia in schools and they also hold great privilege to act as allies to SGM youth.

Teachers are in the unique position of mentorship; all schools will have SGM children and it is crucial for their survival that teachers and administrators be educated in how to best support them. LGBTQ+ youth “who have one or more accepting adults are 40% less likely to attempt suicide” (The Trevor Project, 2019c, as cited in Green et al., 2020). There are clear measures that can be enacted to transform harmful situations in order to make LGBTQ+ youth feel accepted, valued, and less isolated.

Schools have the potential to be places of safety and connection for sexual minority youth. Sometimes, schools are the only spaces where youth can feel comfortable inhabiting their true identities. Schools must have a clear anti-bullying and harassment policy regarding LGBTQ+ treatment and they must ensure that teachers are familiar with these practices (GLSEN, n.d.). Much research supports the deliberate and conscientious application of inclusive curriculum. This includes identifying important LGBTQ+ people in history as well as using inclusive language when using examples in any school subject (GLSEN, n.d.). Moreover, the presence of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools has been linked to significantly lowering the risk for depression and increasing general mental well-being in participants (Toomey et al., 2011, as cited in Green et al., 2020). These extracurricular clubs are sites where youth can explore their identities while simultaneously exploring social justice issues and advocacy.

GSAs of

avatar for Grace Bogowicz

Grace Bogowicz

Grace Bogowicz is currently a pre-service teacher entering her last year of an education degree at the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. As a lifelong learner, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in Women and Gender Studies from the University of Alberta, a diploma... Read More →
avatar for Tonya Callaghan

Tonya Callaghan

Dr. Tonya Callaghan is an Associate Professor with the University of Calgary Werklund School of Education. She taught secondary English for over ten years in Canadian and international schools, in rural and urban settings, and in Catholic and non-Catholic systems. Her second single-authored... Read More →

Wayne Lorenz (Moderator)

PDTCA Board Member

Thursday February 24, 2022 11:00am - 12:45pm MST
Zoom Room 69