Mentoring for LGBTQI-GNC Youth

September 2016

This review examines research on mentoring for youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and gender nonconforming (LGBTQI-GNC). It is organized around four topics: a) the documented effectiveness of mentoring for LGBTQI-GNC youth; b) the extent to which mentor, youth, and program characteristics influence effectiveness; c) the processes that may link mentoring to outcomes in LGBTQI-GNC youth; and d) the extent to which efforts to provide mentoring for LGBTQI-GNC youth have reached and engaged these youth, been implemented with high quality, and been adopted and sustained by host organizations and settings. At present, few empirical studies have been conducted to address any of the above questions. However, a growing body of literature has identified patterns of risks faced by LGBTQI-GNC youth and points also to the types of support that may be most closely associated with facilitating positive outcomes in this population. This research, alongside early insights from available research on mentoring for LGBTQI-GNC youth, points to the following preliminary (i.e., in large part, not directly tested), but noteworthy possibilities:

  • In-person mentoring relationships may serve an important protective role for LGBTQI-GNC youth, helping them to confront challenges such as lack of acceptance from peers and parents; however, available research is too limited to offer more than tentative and very preliminary support for this possibility.
  • Informal mentoring relationships with adults may promote positive educational outcomes among LGBTQI-GNC youth.
  • Some subpopulations of LGBTQI-GNC youth—including youth of color, gender nonconforming youth, transgender youth, youth at earlier phases of identity development, and systems involved youth—may experience intersections of risks that hinder their development of trust, which is seen as the foundation of high-quality, effective mentoring relationships.
  • ——Mentors that take youth-centered approaches inclusive of the experiences and needs of LGBTQI-GNC youth may foster greater benefits.
  • Ensuring the quality of mentoring relationships for LGBTQI-GNC may necessitate the use of mentor-youth matching criteria that are inclusive of—but not limited to—shared sexual orientation and gender identity/expression between youth and mentors.
  • Mentors appear well-positioned to offer ongoing support that can attune to the needs of youth as they navigate through phases of exploring, accepting, and sharing their identity with others.
  • Mentors who take advocacy roles may be able to offer emotional, informational, and interpersonal support for LGBTQI-GNC youth in ways that provide protection from risks associated with stigma and victimization.
  • Youth serving agencies with inclusive programming and safe climates appear to offer additional levels of protection for LGBTQI-GNC youth against risks such as suicide.
  • LGBTQI-GNC youth are greatly underserved by youth mentoring programs, with few formal mentoring programs established that provide inclusive mentoring services responsive to specific needs of LGBTQI-GNC youth.
  • Barriers to services, existing at the youth, staff, and program level, may impede access to high-quality mentoring relationships.
  • A number of promising practices and program models offer insight for ways to strengthen mentoring services for LGBTQI-GNC populations.

The above considerations offer insight into the potential of mentoring relationships and programs to respond to the unique challenges, risks, and needs of LGBTQI-GNC youth. However, because of the scarcity of research specifically answering questions posed by this review, evidence-based conclusions cannot be reached at this time. Within the context of these explicitly stated limitations, this review concludes with an initial series of recommendations and suggestions for practice.

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