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Gay Teens
Youth Issues to be aware of and recommendations for
professionals: Lynn Andrews

1. Do not treat the adolescent's feelings as "just a stage.' Explore the client's fears and reasons for thinking of her / himself as a gay or lesbian. Offer clear reassurance that preference either way is O.K. Make it very clear that the client's confidentiality will be protected

2. Do not discourage the client from using labels like gay or lesbian. It can cause feelings of invalidity or doubt about the councillors understanding and supportiveness. Most counsellors would never think of telling a client not to call herself or himself straight. Recognize, however that labels may seem absolute and frightening to the client. Allow her/ him to focus, if s/he prefers, on feelings, behaviours and thoughts which are personally comfortable and affirming. Some clients may need to explore for themselves what their lifestyle will be before accepting a label which is highly charged and often intimidating. This may happen quickly or it may take a number of years

3. The professional will have to be prepared to answer many questions about homosexuality and the gay and lesbian community. Because peer support is so critical in this age group, referring clients to the nearest gay youth group or coming out support group is usually very helpful. Where a gay youth group does not exist, consider the possibility of beginning one with the support of the nearest lesbian or gay service organization.

4. Remember that cross gender behaviour or failure to conform does not indicate sexual preference. A child who's been called `queer" or `tomboyish` for years may or may not be gay or lesbian.

5. Assertiveness training and social skills training can be quite useful with adolescents experiencing a lot of anxiety about being gay or lesbian. The counsellor can help a youth to develop realistic expectations and a sense of control in order to function in a gay hostile world.

6. It is important that a client have a good measure of self- acceptance and confidence before coming out to parents and family members. Explore this possibility very carefully and find out how realistic the client`s expectations about coming out are. There is often an exuberance, a need to tell everyone and share excitement at the discovery of one`s gayness, a new lover, or the discovery of a whole new community and range of experiences. The client must be prepared to put her/himself in a high-risk position which is not always advisable when the client is very dependent financially and emotionally on her or his parents.

7. The professional can be prepared to act as a buffer between the child and parents or child and school system. S/he also may have to act as a resource for parents and family members. the client will need extra support during the family`s most negative reaction period.

8. When coming out to friends, the client will need to distinguish between friends who are worth hanging in there with and those whom no amount of patience and education will sway. The youth will need to learn that other people`s negative responses and homophobia are their own responsibility and no fault of the client.

It is important to encourage sensitivity in placement situations. A child who is out or admittedly gay or lesbian runs a much higher risk of abuse than other children in some placements such as group homes, detention centres, training centres, etc.

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