Guidelines for Counselling LGBTQ and Questioning Students
LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) students want what all students want: to be listened to and cared about. Here are some suggestions for counsellors, when LGBTQ students need to talk. “Queer” is sometimes used to refer to LGBT and Questioning persons. This term has been reclaimed by some LGBTQs as a positive one to describe themselves, but be cautious in using it.
- Be calm. Be honest with yourself about your level of awareness of “queer” issues, your own comfort level, your own stereotypes, and your limitations. If you feel uncomfortable with the situation, discuss this with the student and suggest asking someone else to take over. Whatever your feelings, avoid any judgements about sexuality generally or about homosexuality specifically. Do some research about the issues, and about available resources.
- Be relaxed. Set a positive tone for the meeting so that the student knows that he/she has permission to talk freely with you about any concern. Acknowledge the student’s trust in you.
- Respect confidentiality. Within legal limits, assure the student that what is said will not be shared with colleagues or anyone else, including parents, unless the student has given his/her permission. You should explain the limits of confidentiality and your legal obligations around child protection and safety.
- Follow the lead of the student, by using the vocabulary he/she uses: homosexual, lesbian, FTM, bi, etc. “Queer” is being used more commonly (and is quite acceptable in certain populations), but be careful in using this term. Words like queer and dyke are now being reclaimed as positive terms, but wait to see if the student uses these words, before you do.
- Students may appear confused about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, when in fact, they are only confused about correct terminology. If you conclude that the issue involves same-sex feelings (“So, what you are concerned about is that you have feelings for other girls.”), then you can help by offering and explaining terms; the students will probably let you know which words apply to them.
- Listen carefully to feelings expressed by the student; help to clarify feelings. Use gentle questions or reflect what you have heard. Use increasingly focused questions when appropriate.
- Remember that the student may be experiencing grief reactions because of negative stereotypes. This student may have lost (or may legitimately fear losing) the connection with family and/or friends.
- Highlight the diversity in beliefs, behaviour and ways of living within the LGBTQ communities (and the important difference between sexual orientation and gender identity). Students need to know that gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans youth definitely do not all share the same experiences or feelings.
- Share with the student what community resources and support systems are available (have information pamphlets readily available). Assist the student in deciding when/how to reach out for that support. Make sure that your information is timely, not rushed because of your need to “do something.”
- Ask if there are good friends that he/she can trust and depend on. Discuss how the student’s parents might react. Be aware of cultural differences that may affect the student, their peers and their family.
- If trust and openness exist, sexual behaviour may need to be addressed. Students are often in need of clear guidance regarding safer sex practices, relationships, peer dynamics and violence prevention.