Understanding our community: LGBTQ+
This post kicks off a series about understanding community. As volunteers, our hearts are in the right place, and we get involved because we care and want to impact the world for the better. But we need to ensure that we treat all people with dignity and respect—the people we’re serving, our fellow volunteers, and our nonprofit leaders. We will have a series of posts on this, starting with the LGBTQ+ community.
To create more inclusive nonprofits, it is important for all of us to be aware of the unique struggles the LGBTQ+ community faces so that we can be better people and better volunteers. While racial equality is front and center right now, we know that viewing equality through an intersectional lens is key. That means that we cannot separate the experiences of marginalized communities (e.g., Black, trans, women, indigenous, etc.) because the forms of oppression for these communities are all linked and mutually dependent. And in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests, we must remember that LGBTQ+ rights (and Pride) grew from the Stonewall riots in the ’60s. So, happy Pride month! Even though it looks a little different out there this June, we see you; we love you, and we appreciate you.
Understanding the basics: what does LGBTQ+ mean?
So let’s start with the basics. What does LGBTQ+ even mean, and why are there so many letters?
L – Lesbian: Someone who identifies as a woman and is attracted only to other women.
G – Gay: Someone who identifies as a man and is attracted only to other men.
B – Bisexual: Someone who is attracted to more than one gender.
T – Transgender: Someone who identifies as a gender different than the one they were born with. (Note: this person may be pre- or post-surgery/hormone therapy, but please refrain from asking where they are in the process as this is deeply personal.)
Q – Queer/Questioning: Queer can be an umbrella term for the LGBT community, but the Q can also stand for Questioning for those still in the process of exploring their identity.
+: Includes the many other aspects of the gender/sexuality scale. This could include intersex (born with reproductive anatomy that doesn’t fit male or female), asexual (who doesn’t experience sexual attraction), nonbinary (doesn’t adhere to gender norms and may prefer different pronouns than she/he), pansexual (attraction to people not based on their sex or gender identity), and others.
It’s important to understand that gender and sexuality are a spectrum. Maybe you are 100% straight, but most people aren’t. If you’re curious to see where you fall, you can use the Kinsey Scale test to see.
LGBTQ+ rights are human rights
Soooo, you may be thinking, but why is this important? Why is this a humanitarian issue? Why should I care?
Because no matter how you identify or who you love, you are a person who deserves respect, and because:
- Nearly 1 in 20 Americans (~5%) identify as LGBTQ+, including over 8% of millennials. (Note: the 2020 census counted this for the first time ever, so we will likely have updated and more accurate numbers soon!)
- LGBTQ+ youth are twice as likely as their peers to say they’ve been physically assaulted.
- Queer teens who experience rejection from their families are 8.4x more likely than average to report having attempted suicide and are nearly 6x more likely to report high levels of depression than queer teens with low to no family rejection.
- Between 25-50% of homeless youth identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum and were kicked out of their homes due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- 17% of LGBTQ+ adults reported periods in their life where they didn’t have housing—more than double the general population.
What to know about the LGBTQ+ community when volunteering
People may introduce themselves to you and include their pronouns, or the nonprofit coordinator may ask for everyone’s pronouns. Why is this important? To most cisgender (identity with the same gender on your birth certificate) people, this may not seem important because others probably get your pronouns right automatically. For people in the LGBTQ+ community, pronouns are an important form of identity.
What does it mean if someone tells me their pronouns or asks for mine?
She/Her/Hers: Feminine pronouns for those who identify as women
He/Him/His: Masculine pronouns for those who identify as men
They/Them/Theirs: Non-gendered pronouns for those who identify as nonbinary
What is “misgendering,” and why does it matter?
A person is misgendered if they are referred to as the wrong gender or with the wrong gender pronouns. Say you are a woman, and someone calls you “him”—that would be misgendering. To those of us who have never struggled with our gender identity, this can seem unimportant, but to people who have undergone a lot of negativity or violence due to the gender they identify with, this can be very hurtful.
If you misgender someone and they correct you, it’s okay! We all make mistakes. Just apologize, and figure out how to avoid making that mistake again. You can try repeating their pronouns to yourself throughout the conversation to make it stick in your brain.
Using the right pronouns is a really impactful and easy way to make LGBTQ+ people feel understood, seen, and respected. Who wouldn’t want that from the people we interact with?
Don’t pry—take your curiosity to the internet
Please do not ask LGBTQ+ people about their sex lives or genitalia. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t ask the same question to a straight person you just met, don’t ask it to your newfound gay/lesbian/trans friend. If you are curious about these things, consult the internet. We’ve got a lot of resources compiled at the bottom of this article, you can start there. Plus, it is not an LGBTQ+ person’s job to educate you—don’t put the burden on them, as these conversations can be emotionally exhausting, and you can find out anything you want to know on good ol’ Google.
LGBTQ+ community representation and inclusivity in nonprofit organizations
This is for nonprofit leaders and seasoned volunteers. How can we be making our spaces more inclusive?
- Create a zero-tolerance policy for disrespectful behavior towards LGBTQ+ people that interact with your organization (as clients or volunteers)
- Give gender-neutral assignments whenever possible (no “boys line up on one side, girls line up on the other”)
- Avoid gendered phrases like “ladies and gentlemen” when “friends,” “folks,” or “people” will work just as well.
- Listen and learn without judgment, and be willing to help, however you can.
- Be open—remember that everyone is a human being that deserves love and respect.
- Don’t assume you know who is queer and who isn’t. Research has shown that in a group of 20-30 students, a few people are likely gay or lesbian. Most nonprofit leaders, educators, and business leaders don’t have this mindset and automatically assume that everyone in a group is heterosexual. However, by making this assumption, people treat LGBTQ+ folks as if they are invisible. Just by reframing your mindset, there is a positive shift towards inclusivity.
- Don’t make generalizations or treat LGBTQ+ people as stereotypes or representatives of everyone else who shares their sexual orientation or gender identity. People are all unique, and this is only one part (albeit a big one) of their lived experience.
Resources for the LGBTQ+ community
- The Family Acceptance Project
- Are you an askable parent?
- Coming Out: Information for Parents of LGBT Teens
- Kid’s Health on Sexual Orientation
Questioning or coming out:
- Find a safe place by texting “safe” and your current location (city/state/zip) to 4HELP (44357)
- Navigating personal safety while taking action as an LGBTQ+ young person
Nonprofits to support:
- Human Rights Campaign
- The LGBT National Help Center
- The Trevor Project
- Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PLFAG)
- Safe Schools Coalition
- It Gets Better Project
Queer voices to tune in to:
Ted talks we love:
- The Myth of the Gay Agenda – Lz Granderson
- Why we need gender-neutral bathrooms – Ivan Coyote
- How I’m bringing queer pride to my rural village – Katlego Kolanyane-Kesupile
- The danger of hiding who you are – Morgana Bailey
- A message to gay teens – it gets better – Joel Burns
P.S. If you have more resources you think we should include or think that we can do better in how we talk about inclusivity as it pertains to our LGBTQ+ friends, please reach out to our team: firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you know of an LGBTQ+ led nonprofit that could use free tech, invite them to POINT!
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