Understanding Sexual Orientation
Sexual orientation is made up of three dimensions:
a) physical or emotional attraction,
b) sexual behavior, and
Youth who self-identify as “non-heterosexual” are now self-identifying at younger ages than the previous generation; although it is unclear what percentage of all sexual minority youths do so. Youth are becoming more aware of their same-sex feelings around the age of 10.
Sexual orientation is not a lifestyle choice. Access to age-appropriate and non-judgmental information will help youth to integrate their sexual orientation into their sense of self.
|Sexual Orientation||A person's affection and sexual preference.|
|Gay||A person who is physically and emotionally attracted to someone of the same sex. The word gay can refer to both males and females, but is commonly used to identify males.|
|Lesbian||A female who is attracted physically and emotionally to other females.|
|Bisexual||A person who is attracted physically and emotionally to both males and females.|
|Transgendered||A person whose gender identity, outward appearance, expression and/or anatomy does not fit into conventional expectations of male or female.|
|Heterosexual||A person who is attracted physically and emotionally to someone of the opposite sex. Also commonly referred to as straight.|
|Coming out||Often refers to “coming out of the closet” –the act of disclosing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.|
|Questioning||A person who is unsure of their sexual orientation.|
|Two-Spirited||Two-spirited is the term by which many First Nations LGBTQ people identify themselves. It is a term that can encompass an integration of alternative sexuality and/or alternative gender with Native spirituality.|
|Heterosexism||The assumption that everyone is heterosexual and that this sexual orientation is superior, Heterosexism is often expressed in more subtle forms than homophobia.|
|Homophobia||Fear and/or hatred of homosexuality in others, often exhibited by prejudice, discrimination, intimidation, or acts of violence.|
|Gender Identity||A person’s internal sense of being male or female, which may not be the same as one’s biological sex|
|Gender Variant||Refers to individuals whose expressions of gender do not conform to the dominant gender norms of masculinity and femininity.|
|Genderqueer||Used to describe individuals who perceive their gender to be neither that of a male or female but outside the gender binary.|
|Transition||The process of changing from one’s birth sex to one’s self-perceived gender. This process may involve dressing in the manner of the self-perceived gender, changing one’s name to reflect the self-perceived gender, or undergoing hormone therapy and/or sex reassignment surgery change one’s secondary sex characteristics to reflect the self-perceived gender.|
|Sex Reassignment Surgery||This is sometimes referred to as a sex change or gender reassignment surgery and is a surgical procedure to change the genitals and secondary sex characteristics for one gender to another.|
|Internalized Homophobia||A diminished sense of personal self-worth or esteem felt by an individual as a result of the experienced or presumed homophobia of others.|
|Transsexual||A person who experiences intense personal and emotional discomfort with their assigned birth gender and undergo treatment (e.g. hormones and/or surgery) to transition genders.|
|Ally||A person regardless of sexual orientation, who supports the human, civil, and sexual rights of all people.|
Sexuality is considered to be an essential and natural characteristic of all people that begins in early childhood. Many sexual minority youth have unique challenges that they must endure through their adolescent development. Labels such as gay, lesbian, and bisexual limit our understanding of all dimensions of same-sex sexuality. Experiences with stigmatization, discrimination, and prejudice often prevent youth from positively integrating their sexual feelings and may inhibit from publicly identifying as a sexual minority. Coming-out and self-identifying same-sex attraction is a lifelong process.
Homophobia in Schools
Youth may be harassed for being identified as a sexual minority based on their presumed sexual orientation or non-conformity to gender expectations. Research shows that experiences of discrimination, stigmatization violence and negative mental health outcomes impact the physical, emotional, and educational lives of sexual minority youth.
The term “that’s so gay” has become a regular term used in youth culture as a put-down to something that is bad or negative. “Faggot” and “Homo” are often used without a clear understanding of how this impacts their peers. These words are one aspect of homophobic bullying that if not addressed can lead to reinforcing hostility, intolerance and negative perceptions of sexual minorities.
What Parents Can Do
Many sexual minority youth are thriving in their school environments and are proud of who they are and their accomplishments. Youth are able to build positive and productive coping strategies, be role models, and sources of support for other sexual minority youth. Some schools in Canada are now providing safe environments. Gay/Straight Alliances provide schools with safer, more affirming places where sexual minority youth can develop socially in ways parallel to their heterosexual peers.
- Educate yourself on sexual minority issues. There are some great online resources (see below) that will assist you.
- If you child has “come-out” to you, this has taken tremendous courage. Assist them in identifying resources and where they can get support. Remember, it is about their affections and sexual preference, not a lifestyle choice so counseling or attempting to “change” their sexual orientation will not be effective.
- Confront the stereotypes and misinformation about sexual minority youth. Our myths and facts address some common stereotypes. (See below)
- Help your child to identify healthy and unhealthy behaviours that impact their mental, physical, and sexual health.
Well-informed and accepting parents can be allies in ensuring healthy development and resiliency of sexual minority youth. Parents can help youth learn techniques of recognizing and combating stigma, discrimination, and verbal abuse, and to develop coping strategies. Visit our bullying section for more information on homophobic bullying.
Common Myths & Facts
I don't know any people who identify as LGBTTQ.
FACT: You may not personally know someone who is out to you, but you probably have met someone who identifies themselves as gay, lesbian transgender, two-spirited, or queer.
Gay men are child molesters.
FACT: By far, the majority of sexual offenders are heterosexual men.
Lesbians are failed females, haven't found the right man, or want to be male.
FACT: Lesbians are simply attracted to women rather than men. Lesbians, like all women, have both feminine and masculine qualities.
Gay males are feminized, failed males and want to be female.
FACT: Gay males are simply attracted to men rather than women. Gay men, like all men, have both feminine and masculine qualities.
Bisexual and transgendered individuals just can't make up their minds.
FACT: Bisexuals are attracted to both sexes in varying degrees. Some may be attracted more to males, some more to females, and some equally to both sexes. Gender is not a deciding factor. Transgender individuals are individuals who have the physical characteristics of one gender but consider themselves to be members of another gender.
LGBT individuals are promiscuous and cannot maintain relationships.
FACT: Similar to heterosexuals; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals form a variety of relationships, lasting from one night to many years. Research on lesbian relationships suggests that, as a group, lesbians have more monogamous relationships than heterosexuals do. The Canadian Men’s Survey found that the majority of the men in same sex relationships were sexually exclusive or in monogamous relationships.
Lesbian, gay, transgendered, two-spirited, or queer individuals could change if they really wanted to.
FACT: Most studies indicate that those who are highly motivated to change their sexual orientation may change their behaviour, but not their underlying desire. In fact, it is often societal homophobia that forces people to attempt to change. More and more research suggests homosexuality has a biological or even genetic basis; sexual orientation is not a matter of choice.
Gay, lesbian, transgendered, two-spirited, or queer individuals do not make good parents.
FACT: There is no evidence that having openly lesbian or gay parents harms children; the greatest difficulty they face is homophobia in society.
Civil rights laws protect bisexuals, gay men, lesbians and transgendered individuals.
FACT: In fact, there is no Canadian Federal law protecting people who are not heterosexual from discrimination. The majority of Canadian provinces and territories, however, do state that sexual orientation is a prohibited reason for discrimination.
FACT: Name calling and put downs create a climate where discrimination is allowed and where difference of any kind is not respected.
Homosexual people spread disease.
FACT: Disease, and the spread of disease, is not limited to the gay community.
Feeling safe in school is nice, but not necessary for education to take place.
FACT: It is important that all students and staff in our school feel safe. Fear inhibits quality learning.
The LGBT community is immune to any kind of prejudice or racism.
FACT: In the LGBT community, some people are physically and verbally attacked because they are thought to be gay.
For resources, support, and help:
OUT IS OK Helpline: 1-877-OUT-IS-OK (688-1765) A toll-free, peer and crisis support line operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Alberta’s Bullying Helpline. 1-888-456-2323
Alberta Teachers Association. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. www.teachers.ab.ca
British Columbia’s Teachers’ Federation. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Issues in Schools, http://www.bctf.ca/SocialJustice.aspx?id=6106
Canadian Federation for Sexual Health. www.cfsh.ca
EGALE Canada. www.egale.ca
PFLAG Canada. www.pflag.ca
Sexuality and U. www.sexualityandu.ca
Camp fYrefly. www.fYrefly.ulberta.ca
Link Statement: Links to resources outside of the website are provided for information only and do not imply an endorsement of views, products, or services. Although our staff regularly reviews these links, we can’t be certain that they are 100% credible since their content can be changed at any time.