Q&A: Nathan Belyeu of The Trevor Project on Supporting Youth as They Come Out
Research shows that more young people are choosing to come out in their teen years than in the past, but not all are met with loving arms. Family and youth workers can empower adolescents to make informed, thoughtful decisions about their coming out process with the help of "Coming Out as You!", a pocket-sized resource from The Trevor Project. Since its founding in 1998, The Trevor Project has provided crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth ages 13 to 24.
NCFY spoke with Nathan Belyeu, The Trevor Project's education director, about how family and youth workers can support LGBTQ young people during the process of coming out.
NCFY: Why did you decide to develop a guide specifically for young people considering whether or not to come out?
Belyeu: At The Trevor Project, we know that the coming out process is a particularly sensitive time. We like to look at it not as a one-time event. It’s something people do many times and in many places. Part of the coming out experience is understanding that.
Our model is really about empowering youth and giving them control over their coming out experience. This may include processing whether or not it’s the right time to come out and thinking through resources in the community if things do not go well with their families. For adolescents, those problem-solving skills are not present developmentally. A lot of these young people need tools to help them, and service providers need tools to help facilitate those conversations.
NCFY: How do you see family and youth workers using this resource?
Belyeu: I see “Coming Out as You!” as a great tool for one-on-one work. It’s designed in several ways like a workbook. It helps youth problem-solve and ask questions about support, consequences of coming out, and who to talk to if it doesn’t go well.
The guide can also help service providers talk about self-care as a challenge. What do you do to take care of yourself emotionally? There’s a foldout constellation for listing the pros and cons of coming out at a particular time, and a list of personal self-care strategies. It’s there to help young people visually map their own experience, and [as a service provider] you’re helping them think through that information.
NCFY: What if a young person isn’t ready to have that conversation yet?
Belyeu: Many of the youth that service providers encounter are in the stage of thinking about coming out and figuring out who they are. If you have tools like this visible in your office space, it can be a subtle cue that they have that conversation with you. LGBTQ youth are constantly scanning their environment, ascertaining if it’s a safe place or not. Those subtle cues--you should not underestimate their value. For LGBTQ youth that have experienced trauma, those cues are even more important.