Mentoring relationships have the potential to serve an important role for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and gender nonconforming (LGBTQI-GNC) youth, but research suggests this population is currently underserved by the mentoring field. At present, very few mentoring programs provide targeted support responding to the needs of LGBTQI-GNC youthi. Although current programming is limited, policy-makers and foundations are beginning to create funding opportunities to identify inclusive practices for and expand mentoring services to LGBTQI-GNC youth. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released solicitations to fund mentoring programs for underserved youth populations, including LGBTQI-GNC youth, in recent funding cycles. National nonprofits and policy-makers are also strengthening their commitment to serving LGBTQI-GNC youth by prioritizing the need for innovative new partnerships, research, and resources supporting this population: Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is piloting a new LGBTQ training and sharing policy/practice improvement resources with affiliates, and OJJDP recently released the OJJDP Listening Session Report: Creating and Sustaining Fair and Beneficial Environments for LGBTQ Youth.
In theory, mentoring programs and the intentional relationships they provide can be valuable to LGBTQI-GNC youth in helping address the array of challenges this group can face, including heightened levels of psychological distress, bullying, conflict at home, and verbal and physical harassment. LGBTQI-GNC youth are also disproportionally represented in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, and are estimated to comprise up to 40% of all youth who are experiencing homelessnessii. Given the broad challenges facing this population, mentoring has been suggested as a pathway that can help equip young people to mitigate difficult experiences and lower risks.
What does the research say about mentoring for LGBTQI-GNC youth?
In 2016, the National Mentoring Resource Center released a review of the research base related to mentoring LGBTQI-GNC youth. This review examined the relevant research on the effectiveness, mechanisms of influence, and the implementation of efforts to date to use mentoring to improve the lives of LGBTQI-GNC youth. The review noted that although few empirical studies have directly examined mentoring for LGBTQI-GNC youth, a growing body of literature does identify patterns of risks faced by LGBTQI-GNC youth and point to the types of support that may be most closely associated with facilitating positive outcomes for this population. This literature, along with early insights from research specifically on mentoring of LGBTQI-GNC youth, suggests several keys to offering mentoring to these youth, including:
- 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.
- Barriers to services, existing at the youth, staff, and program level, may impede access to high-quality mentoring relationships.
The review is accompanied by recommendations for how practitioners could enhance their programmatic practices for taking into account available research. It was suggested that practitioners:
- Recognize the differences between the acronym’s subgroups and learn how to provide different forms of support based on each group’s unique needs and challenges.
- Make sure recruitment materials, trainings and program culture are welcoming, informative and reflective of the youth being served.
- Consider recruiting mentors with lived experience in this area, including other groups of individuals who have faced discrimination and marginalization.
- Set confidentiality policies to address information-sharing around the topic of sexual orientation in a way that respects mentees’ and mentors’ privacy.
- Advocate for LGBTQI-GNC youth in your community and the family.
Beyond these highlights, this review offers a wealth of research-based information and actionable ideas for those looking to begin to serve LGBTQI-GNC youth more intentionally in their programs or, if they are already doing so, to strengthen existing practices.
What does the NMRC offer on mentoring for LGBTQI-GNC youth?
Broad Evidence Reviews
- As referenced above, the NMRC Research Board has conducted an evidence review entitled Mentoring Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, and Gender Nonconforming Youth that examines the research on mentoring for youth who identify as LGBTQI-GNC.
Reviews of Relevant Practices
- Mentors of young people who identify as LGBTQI-GNC may be called upon to advocate for their mentees to promote their inclusion in various systems and spaces. Read the practice review of Support for Mentor Advocacy and insights for practitioners.
- Insights from the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America LGBTQ Youth Mentoring Initiative, by Christian Rummell, Ed.D., American Institutes for Research
- THRIVE Prepares Future Educators with LGBTQIA Competency, by Vanessa Davis and Eric D’Ambrogi, THRIVE of Southwest PA
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)’s Investments in Mentoring
for LGBTQI-GNC Youth
- OJJDP has released solicitations to fund mentoring programs for underserved youth populations, including LGBTQI-GNC youth, in recent funding cycles.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) is a FY2017 OJJDP grantee that has launched a pilot program, in partnership with HRC, Lifeworks and AIR, that will bring LGBTQ training and policy/practice improvement resources to many of its affiliates across the country. Learn more about this initiative here.
Select Additional Reading
- Ensuring Access to Mentoring Programs for LGBTQ Youth (The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, 2014)
- Guide for Understanding, Supporting, and Affirming LGBTQI2-S Children, Youth, and Families (American Institutes for Research, 2014)
- Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students (U.S. Department of Education, 2016)
- How Can Mentors Serve as Advocates for GLBTQ Youth? (The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring, 2016)
- 10 LGBTQ Resources for Mentors (The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring, 2014)
- Critical Mentoring: A Practical Guide (2017) by Torie Weiston-Serdan explores key considerations for mentoring practitioners to assist them in delivering programming that is affirming of the intersecting facets of youth identity, including race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender identity.
i Garringer, M., McQuillin, S., & McDaniel, H. (2017). Examining youth mentoring services across America: Findings from the 2016 National Mentoring Program Survey. Boston, MA: MENTOR: They National Mentoring Partnership.
ii Ray, N. (2006). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth: An epidemic of homelessness. New York, NY: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Coalition for the Homeless. Retrieved from http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/HomelessYouth.pdf