Service Provider Views on Issues and Needs for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth

Article excerpt

Abstract: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth require appropriate, effective, and accessible sexual health services. Sexual minority youth living in large urban, multicultural cities have a complex range of service needs. As part of the Toronto Teen Survey, focus groups were conducted with 80 service providers from 55 agencies in the Greater Toronto Area to elicit their input concerning the changing service needs of LGBT youth, their increasing complexity as a client group, and obstacles to working effectively with them. Issues that arose in the focus groups included addressing the needs of LGBT youth across a large city that includes suburban areas, the need to address the specific service needs of transgender youth, and the intersection of racial and ethno-cultural diversity with sexual orientation. Service provider recommendations focused on the need for improved education and training and policy change at the agency level.


The present study used data from the Toronto Teen Survey's (TTS) service provider focus groups to investigate current issues, needs, and challenges facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth in Toronto. We did so with a focus on the social and demographic changes that have taken place since the first author left the sector in 1998 (Travers & Paoletti, 1999). The greater acceptance of LGBT people in Canadian society is in part evident by the increasing visibility of LGBT characters and actors in mainstream media, and popular television shows (Gross, 2001). During this same period, the Canadian government enacted the Civil Marriage Act on July 20, 2005 making Canada the fourth country in the world (at that time) to legalize same-sex marriage. Canada is widely known as a leader in LGBT rights; Toronto was a site of early feminist and gay liberation movements and consequently continues to possess a highly visible and increasingly diverse LGBT community and social infrastructure (Smith, 2005). As such, the city is a principal centre for LGBT migration from both within and outside of Canada, and is a common destination for youth seeking to escape homophobia from families, communities, or

religious institutions (Travers, Scanlon, Carolo, & O'Brien, 2004). Consequently, youth bring a greater complexity of service needs that reflect changing demographics and greater visibility. In this study, we ask whether, in the the last decade, these increasing needs have evinced a corresponding increase in appropriate services and support for LGTB youth. What becomes apparent is that while much has changed, more has stayed the same. Despite the increasing acceptance of LGBT people in society, and the growing visibility of LGBT youth, such gains have not necessarily translated into appropriate, effective, and accessible services to meet their needs.


Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth (LGBT) are characterized as engaging in higher-risk taking behaviours, and having complex health and psychosocial needs. Specifically, they are said to initiate sexual relationships at an earlier age (Saewyc et al., 2006), have more sexual experiences (Goodenow, Netherland, & Szalacha, 2002; Rosario, Meyer-Bahlburg, Hunter, & Gwadz, 1999; Saewyc et al., 2006), and are more likely to use drugs and alcohol which may interfere with safer sex practices (Newcomb, Clerkin, & Mustanski, 2010). LGBT youth are disproportionately burdened by familial and peer rejection, academic underachievement, violence, substance use, depression, emotional distress, and suicidal ideation (Almeida, Johnson, Corliss, Molnar, & Azrael, 2009; Gilliam, 2002; Scott, Pringle, & Lumsdaine, 2004). Compounded by a dearth of social supports and resources, these youth constitute a disproportionate number of all runaway, homeless, and street-involved young people (Smith et al., 2007). Unfortunately, the focus on specific negative health outcomes for LGBT youth may be detracting from research on service needs in the LGBT community (Addis, Davies, Greene, MacBride-Stewart, & Shepherd, 2009). …