Report Finds New Generation of ‘Gender-Expansive’ Teens

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LGBT FlagFacebook announced last week it was giving users another gender selection beyond male and female, just as the Human Rights Campaign released a report on new ways teenagers view gender.

Many young people see themselves outside of conventional identities, said the report released Thursday by the Washington, D.C. –based advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.. The report also said gender-expansive teenagers often feel marginalized and excluded.

Facebook created a custom gender selection on its user profile page, allowing users to write a descriptive word for their gender and allowing them to choose the pronoun they prefer for themselves.

“We want you to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self,” Facebook posted on its Diversity page.

Ten percent of the 10,000 LGBT youth ages 13-17 surveyed by the Human Rights Campaign defined themselves in words such as “genderqueer,”  “gender fluid,” and “androgynous,” rather than "male" or "female."

“We were surprised that a lot of young people wrote a different term for gender [on the survey form],” said Ellen Kahn, who directs the HRC Family Project.

Gender-expanding identities are often not recognized by dominant institutions, the report said, and organizations are not meeting the needs of the young people they see themselves as serving.

Only 30 percent of the gender-expansive survey respondents reported feeling accepted among their peers. Forty percent reported being frequently excluded. Thirty-seven percent said they were often verbally harassed and called names.

Less than 10 percent reported their community as being “very accepting.” Twenty percent said their community was “very unaccepting.”

The survey asked teens to rate their participation in various activities. Gender-expansive young people participated in online LGBT communities, afterschool activities and LGBT organizations at school, but only one-third took part very often. Far fewer took part in sports, religious groups or organizations such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the YMCA, the survey found.

Only 8 percent reported their churches and places of worship as being “very accepting.”

The report, “Supporting and Caring For Our Gender-Expansive Youth,” suggested ways of creating a safer and more supportive environment.

Educate yourself, create safe spaces for young people and advocate for more gender-inclusive environments, the report urged.

Educators must stop kids from name-calling and other verbal harassment. Teachers were asked to use inclusive language (rather than addressing a class as “boys and girls,” for example) and to group kids in ways that don’t rely on gender.

“Read some of the stories from the youth themselves,” Kahn said.

“Let young people tell you who they are,” she said. “With this generation, you really want to get to know young people rather than just categorize them.”

Teens that come into an agency or other organization might be without important parental support. “You might be a critical person [for them],” she said.


Photo by Guillaume Paumier | Flickr