Mentoring for LGBT Youth with Disabilities

PYD staff members Alex Freeman and Danya Holtzman recently had an article published in “Disability Issues”, a quarterly e-newsletter published by the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. Their article was titled “Mentoring for LGBT Youth with Disabilities”, and it focused on how and why mentoring benefits LGBT youth with disabilities.

You can find the original article on Page 4 of the Winter issue. The full text is also provided below:

As a dual minority, LGBT youth with disabilities are confronted with a frustrating conundrum: they do not feel fully included in either the LGBT or disability communities, yet they are at an even greater risk for bullying, prejudice, and depression than their single-minority peers.

In fact, these youth can experience prejudice from within their own identity groups. According to one source, “Often… disabled people, including adolescents, are perceived as having no sexual feelings or needs” (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Questioning Youth—Special Populations). Because of the belief that those with disabilities are asexual, many in the heterosexual and LGBT communities discount the sexual identities of youth with disabilities. This results in further alienation of LGBT youth with disabilities, this time from a group they should be able to look to for support.

In addition to all these pressures, youth may encounter challenges integrating their various identities. LGBT youth with disabilities might feel the need to choose between a disability and sexual identity, may feel anxious about identifying with yet another socially stigmatized group, or may not feel fully accepted by those same groups (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Questioning Youth—Special Populations).

This is where Mentoring comes in. While mentoring is beneficial to all youth, it can have a dramatic impact on youth pushed to the margins of society. According to the assistant attorney general, Laurie Robinson, “…through mentoring organizations, youth are provided with programs that help keep them in school, out of trouble, and most importantly, put them in direct contact with caring adults who provide crucial support and guidance.” Mentors can do wonders for a youth’s self-esteem and self-confidence, by simply being a friend who accepts them for who they are and believes in their ability to achieve their dreams. A mentor can also help prevent many dangerous and unhealthy behaviors, and can be a good person to go to for advice when other trusted adults are not available.

More specifically, youth with disabilities and LGBT youth benefit from many of the same interventions. For example, in the mentor training at Partners for Youth with Disabilities, we discuss ways in which a mentor can help their mentee with disclosure of their disability: picking the right situations, creating and practicing a script, and encouragement through the whole process. This same process can easily be applied to the “coming out” stage in the life of a young LGBT person. Likewise, bullying is a very pressing issue in both communities, so having a trusted adult there for support and encouragement is even more important for LGBT youth with disabilities.

Each year, society gradually gets more and more accepting of both the LGBT and the disability communities. Hopefully with this growth of acceptance, more attention will be paid to how we can better the lives of these youth that find themselves stuck in the middle.

Danya Holtzman is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,and she is working at PYD as an AmeriCorps Ambassador of Mentoring.

Alex Freeman is the director of the Young Entrepreneurs Project at PYD,and he is also pursuing a Master’s degree in School Psychology at Tufts University.

Works Cited

Cline, Eric. “Are We Paying Attention to the Unique Support Needs of GLBT Youth?” NCWD/Youth – The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (blog), June 21, 2011.

Healthy Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Students Project, “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Questioning Youth–Special Populations.” American Psychological Association. (2004). Lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents—Special populations. Washington DC: Author. ©2004 by the American Psychological Association.

Young, Jonathan, Ari Ne’eman, and Sara Gelser. “Briefing Paper, “Bullying and Students with Disabilities”, “National Council on Disability, March 9, 2011.

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