By Michelle Talsma Everson, July 2020 issue.
“Since the ‘stay-at-home’ order was enacted in Arizona on March 15, the percentage of calls we are receiving from youths struggling with issues related to being LGBTQ+ has doubled compared to this time last year,” shares Nikki Kontz, LMSW, clinical director at Teen Lifeline, a nonprofit that strives to prevent teen suicide in Arizona.
While many restrictive measures have been lifted, Arizona LGBTQ+ youth are still — for the most part — at home as their usual escapes such as school are still closed. Fortunately, many are sheltering in place with supportive families but — sadly — some are not.
We talked to LGBTQ+ youth about their quarantine experiences, both good and bad, and the experts on resources they can access when needed.
When Home is a Safe Space
Charlotte, 16, is originally from Indiana but spent quarantine (mid-March through late May) with her mom, her mom’s boyfriend and her five biological siblings. She identifies as queer, and while she feels a lot of support at home, sheltering in place was still a bizarre experience.
“The quarantine experience has been very strange for me,” she shares. “Typically, I live with my father back in Indiana almost all the time with the occasional visit, and we flew out to Arizona only about a week before shelter-in-place orders were put in place in Indiana. It’s all just felt like some strange, parallel universe. Not only am I trapped inside, but also I’m in an environment I’m not used to, surrounded by people I only see a couple times a year. I have new hobbies such as metalworking and playing the spoons, but that’s just typical quarantine boredom.”
“I feel very supported as an LGBTQ+ youth in my home, and I would feel the exact same if I were back in Indiana,” she adds. “I’m very lucky to have parents that have always been incredibly supportive of me being queer and have never tried to stifle my self-expression.”
Still, while she considers herself fortunate, she realizes that’s not always the case.
“For me, being an LGBTQ+ youth during this pandemic has been no different than any heterosexual youth. I am so incredibly blessed to be in an environment where I feel safe and comfortable being myself. But just because I’ve had a positive experience doesn’t mean everyone has,” Charlotte says. “I have a friend that has been holed up in her room the whole time due to her family’s hatred toward her girlfriend and her sexuality. She has never felt safe in her home and it has been incredibly hard not having the escapes she did before. While I wish every home was like mine, supportive of my gender expression and sexuality, that’s simply not the case and it’s important to recognize how many parents still stifle their children from being their most genuine selves.”
Cat, age 15, identifies as bisexual. Her parents are divorced, and she lives with both 50 percent of the time. She says that feels supported in her two homes and that quarantine didn’t change life much for her except switching to online school.
“I have been listening to music and watching a lot of movies,” she says. “I feel supported but I do chat with friends. I like alone time. They [her parents] support my sexuality and my relationship with my pan-romantic/asexual partner who is transgender.”
When Being at Home is Hard
Lani is 21 and pansexual. She spent the first part of quarantine living with her parents and four younger siblings but has since moved into an apartment with one of her sisters.
“Quarantine has been ‘eh,’” she shares. “I’m an extrovert so not being able to go out has been hard. I’ve missed all of my friends. We’ve been doing things like video calls but it just hasn’t been the same. I’ve been quarantining since about mid-March so it’s been a long time. I’ve recently started a new job, which has allowed me to have some face-to-face interactions with people, but it’s just not the same.”
At home, Lani had to tone down her self-expression and hide who she is.
“At my parents house I definitely don’t feel supported,” she shares. “I have a very strict Mormon mother so I don’t even talk about it with her. I’m out to everyone else other than my parents so having to live at home for that short amount of time was draining. It felt like I had to shove myself back in the closet.”
To cope, she regularly sees a therapist and seeks out support from close friends.
“Having to hide who you are is very draining,” Lani says. “Being able to leave home was one of the few opportunities that some LGBTQIA+ youth have to truly be who they are. Quarantine, while important for all of our well-being, does have many negative side effects. If you have LGBTQIA+ friends or family who are in a non-supportive living situation, please reach out to them if you can.”
Ethan, age 12, identifies as gay. During quarantine, he has been home with his parents and two of his siblings. Now that online school is over, he spends time gardening and taking care of his tortoise.
“My parents are conservative Christians so they do not support the LGBTQIA+ community,” he says. “However, all of my siblings are queer or allies.”
He shares that he deals with quarantine and boring summer days by keeping active.
“I can’t act feminine or watch shows with queer actors,” Ethan says. “I just keep busy so I don’t lay in bed all day. I cook, garden, or go on runs. I am very lucky that my parents are very outward on their homophobia and transphobia.”
Somewhere In The Middle
Apollo is a young adult (22) and uses he/him and they/them pronouns. He identifies as bisexual and transgender and has been quarantined with his two moms.
“My home situation is a little odd,” he explains. “My moms support half of my identity. They’re fine with me being bisexual but not trans. We have a house full of rainbow flags, but I still have to pretend to be someone I’m not. The hypocrisy makes it hard to deal with.”
“Quarantine has been interesting; I work in a grocery store, so I’ve still been working,” he adds. “I had to work more hours, which made it harder to finish school. I also have a couple learning disabilities, which makes remote learning really hard for me. With all the changes I had a really hard time finishing out the semester; it had a negative impact on my mental health because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish. Since school ended for the summer it’s gotten a little easier and I’ve had more time to do the things I enjoy like painting, reading, video games, and sewing.”
Hope and How to Help
“[The nonprofit] one·n·ten has been huge in keeping me sane, being able to do the online groups and be myself, even if it’s just for an hour, makes everything else a little more bearable,” Apollo explains. “The Youth Advisory Council even threw me a surprise birthday party via Zoom so I got to celebrate my birthday as myself for the first time.”
“Feelings of isolation by LGBTQ+ young people did not start with the quarantine, but it has increased due to quarantine,” explains Clayton Davenport, director of development & marketing at one·n·ten. “According to our 2019 data, 59 percent of the youth who attended one or more programs at one·n·ten reported being completely out to their family. But for those individuals who don’t feel supported at home, please consider attending one of our online digital programs taking place Monday through Friday. We are here for you! Although we have paused our in-person programs, we remain committed to offering a safe, supportive space online for LGBTQ+ young people to convene.”
“You’re not alone,” assures Kontz, who shares that Teen Lifeline is a great phone or text resource for youth. “There are resources you can reach out to that will let you remain anonymous and safe. And, you don’t have to have your parents’ permission. If you’re struggling, call or text Teen Lifeline for a place to find help and hope. We can also work to connect you other to resources and support that can help you remotely or in-person.”
Shannon Black of Free Mom Hugs Arizona, a local nonprofit, wants LGBTQ+ youth to know that they matter — and would like allies and LGBTQ+ adults to know that they can make a difference.
“They [LGBTQ+ youth] are unconditionally loved, celebrated, and affirmed,” Black says. “Stay strong and faithful to who you are and know that there is an army of allies who love you. For allies, show that you are an ally however you can. Be an ally every day and make sure that you are a safe space. Take time to learn what it means to be an ally and ask questions when you don’t know.”
Elena Joy Thurston of the Pride and Joy Foundation recently asked members of her growing online community what can be done to support LGBTQ+ youth quarantined with unsupportive family members.
“The overall message was to let the youth know they weren’t alone, that there are adults out there wanting to support them just as they are, as well as a reminder that they are perfectly born and worthy of love and respect,” she says.
For those looking to help LGBTQ+ youth during the COVID-19 pandemic, Thurston has this advice: “One of the most effective ways to support queer youth is to do your own work. Ask yourself how and when you developed your own ideas of sexuality? What do you know versus what do you assume regarding homosexuality and homophobia? What were you taught about it versus what do you actually believe? Once you’ve done your own work, unpacking and understanding your own sexuality story, you will be so much better equipped to support queer youth in a truly authentic way.”
Resources for LGBTQ+ Youth
one•n•ten is a nonprofit 501c3 organization committed to serving and assisting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ+) youth and young adults ages 11 to 24. The nonprofit provides LGBTQ+ young people a safe space where they can feel supported. Visit onenten.org to learn more.
The Teen Lifeline hotline is anonymous, confidential and free. Teens can call or text Teen Lifeline 24/7/365 at 602-248-TEEN (8336). The hotline is staffed by teen peer counselors from 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. daily. Trained, adult counselors are available at all other times.
The Pride and Joy Foundation teaches LGBTQ+ families to develop self-awareness, which they feel is the most direct path to unity and safety. They have a discussion community for queer youth, queer parents, and straight parents of queer youth, among other resources. Learn more at prideandjoyfoundation.com.
Free Mom Hugs Arizona offers support, love and affirmation to the LGBTQ+ community. If needed, they try to help connect people with local resources. Learn more at facebook.com/FreeMomHugsArizona or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.