Supportive environments for LGBTQ+ youth are crucial and Oasis Center is shifting to online interventions to meet the need. Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

With the school year cut short and end-of-the-year celebrations cancelled due to social distancing requirements, LGBTQ+ teens have had fewer opportunities to connect with peers in supportive spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robert A. Marx, assistant professor of child and adolescent development at San Jose State University, said LGBTQ+ students may feel like they are left without anywhere to turn for help during these uncertain times. 

“With COVID-19, LGBTQ+ young people may be sharing close quarters with unsupportive family members, potentially putting them at even greater risk for higher rates of anxiety, depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation,” Marx said. 

In fact, the Trevor Project’s 2019 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health showed that 39 percent of LGBTQ+ youth surveyed said they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months. 

Supportive environments for LGBTQ+ teens are crucial and Oasis Center in Nashville, which offers a wide range of services for young people, is shifting to online interventions to meet the need.

“Many of our young people are socially isolated to begin with, and [social distancing] has added a new layer of isolation and a greater need for a productive community outlet for all of our young people,” said Oasis Center Program Coordinator Joseph Clark. “Our online groups offer a safety net for youth to openly express how they are feeling, engage in facilitated conversation, participate in group activities, and authentically connect with their LGBTQ+ peers.”

In March, Clark began shifting the center’s LGBTQ+ youth empowerment programs and in-person counseling and support services to the realtime chat platform Discord. Young people connect and talk about how they are feeling and create their own secure, private channels based on different interests and hobbies, from gaming to movies. 

Clark moderates the channels to be sure the environment is safe, and to keep an eye out for those who may be struggling or in crisis. He provides prompts and activities and even is hosting a book club upon the students’ request.

“Creating and maintaining an online space for young people to connect with each other has provided them the opportunity to disconnect from what may be happening in their immediate worlds at home,” Clark said.

Clark is moving the center’s ‘Just Camp’ summer session for middle schoolers to Discord starting June 8. Campers can expect a book club, art classes, LGBTQ+ movie watch parties, gardening lessons and more. All supplies needed for camp activities will be mailed to campers’ homes. Any middle schooler who identifies as LGBTQ+ is welcome to join. Details can be found on the Oasis Center’s Instagram page.

Related Article: Find out how you can Support LGBTQIA+ Youth During COVID-19

National advocacy organizations also are stepping up to let LGBTQ+ teens know they are not alone.

The Tennessee chapter of GLSEN is hosting an online Rainbow Tassel ceremony June 6 for graduating LGBTQ+ students, and its annual Diversity Prom will be held online June 26. 

“Virtual events can help to create a sense of community, celebration, fun and diversity for young people who are coping with less than ideal circumstances,” Marx said. “They may be even more important for LGBTQ+ students, as they may be some of the only opportunities that queer youth have to socialize in an inclusive and supportive environment, to express themselves authentically, and to have a little bit of fun as they manage their increasingly stressful lives.”

The Oasis Center, The Trevor Project and the Trans Lifeline Peer Support Hotline all offer 24-7 emotional support and crisis interventions to people in need.

This article has been supported by a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project for COVID-19 coverage.