By Shawna Rosenzweig, Chief Strategy Officer, Camp Fire National Headquarters

Shawna Rosenzweig Chief Strategy Officer Camp Fire National Headquarters

This election season, it’s hard to miss all the negative campaign ads, mudslinging and scare tactics on tv and online. Some people chock it up to “just politics,” but I know from my own experience as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community, as well as working in youth development for nearly two decades, that politics have real consequences on the lives of young people—many of whom aren’t old enough to vote themselves. When youth are under attack with no recourse at the polls, it’s up to caring adults to support them. I want to acknowledge that young people from other historically excluded identities, specifically Black, Asian, Latino/a/x/e, Indigenous, and immigrants, are also targeted and experiencing the same dangerous mental health impacts.

The Trevor Project reports that “in 2022 alone, nearly 300 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in 39 states.” Many of the bills target young people. The measures restrict or criminalize health care for trans youth, bar access to appropriate facilities such as restrooms, restrict trans students’ full participation in school and sports, permit religiously-motivated discrimination against trans people and make it more difficult to get identification documents with their name and gender. 

These public debates have a profoundly negative effect on youth mental health. According to The Trevor Project, “this year, 85% of transgender & nonbinary and 66% of LGBTQ young people said recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.” As a queer leader of a national youth development organization, I feel compelled to do better for our kids. And I need you to be actively involved, too, whether you are a parent or guardian, an educator, a youth worker or just someone who cares.

Move From “It’s Political” to “It’s Personal”

Identities are personal but are often politicized to create fear, especially during election years. One way to be a supportive adult to LGBTQ2S+ youth is to educate yourself about the pressures and prejudices they are facing. It can be tempting to think that society is becoming more accepting overall but “45% of LGBTQ youth have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year and nearly 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth have attempted suicide,” so we know that there is still a lot of work to be done. Staying in tune with LGBTQ2S+ advocacy organizations and with LGBTQ2S+ youth organizations can keep you informed about the progress and opportunities for building a more inclusive world. 

When it comes to elections, inform yourself about candidates and ballot measures. Do your homework to know how LGBTQ2S+ youth will be affected by specific politicians and legislation. Stay engaged at the local level as well as in state and federal elections. Listen to the stories of kids and teens who just want to live their lives authentically and free from harm. 

Create Welcoming Spaces for LGBTQ2S+ Youth

During election season and beyond, supportive adults have opportunities to make spaces where youth can be themselves, find belonging and get involved in a meaningful way. In my work at Camp Fire, that looks like connecting youth to the outdoors, to others, and to themselves. This is our vision:

We envision a world where all young people thrive and have equitable opportunities for self-discovery, community connection, and engagement with nature.

Creating equitable opportunities that meet youth where they are involves intentional investment in young people who have been historically excluded, including those who identify as LGBTQ2S+. It means honoring the power of young people with meaningful participation in decision-making. It also means nurturing equitable developmental relationships.

Shawna Rosenzweig, Chief Strategy Officer, Camp Fire National Headquarters speaking at NAA convention

Speaking at the 2022 National Afterschool Association convention

Nurture Developmental Relationships

It’s important—and hopeful—to know that youth can be positively influenced by adults both in and outside of their families. “No matter the source of hardship, the single most common factor for children who end up doing well is having the support of at least one stable and committed relationship with a parent, caregiver, or other adult,” reads Harvard’s The Science of Resilience. In the case of LGBTQ2S+ youth, The Trevor Project’s research has shown that “even one accepting adult can decrease an LGBTQ young person’s risk of suicide by up to 40%.” You matter to youth.

One way that Camp Fire is investing in high-impact intergenerational relationships is by working with the Search Institute’s framework for developmental relationships. Developmental relationships are relationships that help people discover who they are, develop the skills they need to live with agency, and connect and give back to others. The Search Institute’s framework for developmental relationships includes five components of a powerfully positive connection:

  1. Express care—Show me that I matter to you.
  2. Challenge growth—Push me to keep getting better.
  3. Provide support—Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.
  4. Share power—Treat me with respect and give me a say.
  5. Expand possibilities—Connect me with people and places that broaden my world.

Think about how you can engage in the framework in your role(s) with youth. Get more ideas from the Search Institute for building developmental relationships.

Keep the Conversation Going

Being supportive means showing up consistently and being open when youth are ready to talk. Remember that listening is more important than having all the answers.