1. Ensure that all clergy and staff who work with youth are trained in adolescent growth and development and adolescent sexuality, and that this training includes sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
2. Offer faith-based, age-appropriate sexuality education to youth in your congregation. Our Whole Lives, created by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ, is a nationally recognized program appropriate for many faith traditions. Information on how to get started, including a schedule of instructor trainings, is available online. Many other denominations have developed curricula for use with congregants of all ages, from pre-school through adulthood; the Religious Institute maintains a current annotated bibliography.
3. Make the congregation aware that clergy and youth leaders are prepared to offer support and counsel to young people who are struggling with questions about sexual orientation or gender identity, or who are having trouble at home or experiencing harassment in school.
4. Create and enforce a zero-tolerance policy for homophobic remarks or behavior in all youth group activities.
5. Don’t be too quick to label an adolescent as lesbian, gay, heterosexual or bisexual. Discerning sexual orientation is a key part of adolescent development. As many as a quarter of adolescents are uncertain of their sexual orientation at age 13, a figure that drops to 5 percent by age 17.
6. Connect with organizations such as Advocates for Youth, GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) and COLAGE to learn more about the pastoral needs of LGBT youth and stay current on youth issues. The Human Rights Campaign’s “Generation Equality” maintains a directory of LGBT campus groups, a database of scholarships for LGBT students and allies and other resources.
7. Launch a peer education program around sexuality, including sexual orientation and gender identity. With proper training, high school students can provide important information to younger adolescents and help to counter the homophobia they may witness in school.
8. Reach out to your local LGBT community center or advocacy group to find out about the services they provide for LGBT youth and develop a referral network for youth services.
9. Consider what your congregation can do to support – or help launch – a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) in your local high school, or to address a pressing social problem, such as homelessness among LGBT youth. The documentary “Breaking the Silence: LGBTQ Foster Youth Tell Their Stories,” from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, is another resource for congregational study.
10. Explore the need in your congregation for a support group for LGBT and questioning youth and their families.