“The Importance of LGBTQ+ Peer Support”
On Monday, Dec. 14, Tesharia Folkes, a licensed clinical social worker and facilitator for the Visuality LGBT+ youth support group and Chris Nunez, president of Visuality, discuss a new LGBT+ weekly virtual peer support group funded by Kids’ Minds Matter. Below are some key takeaways and resources from the segment.
1. What is Visuality: A LGBTQ support center and pride center without walls. We provide services to anyone who reaches out to us.
2. Why was the LGBT+ support group started? Chris: There is a need. We saw an increase in need because of the pandemic. It has been noted there have been increased in youth hospitalizations, and higher for LGBTQ groups. Research has shown they have higher suicide ideation. We are excited to provide this peer support group. We had the first meeting last Saturday with wonderful participation. LGBTQ youth are more than 4 times as likely as their peers to consider suicide. Teens are at home and may not be able to express themselves as fluidly as they like. Tesharia: We definitely see that. School may be their outlet, and when that level of connection is removed, our teens report feeling isolated, which is not a good feeling for anyone’s mental health. There have been layers and layers of stress that these teens have had to navigate during this year alone, and in general. For many, they are simply sitting with their stress and become overwhelmed. This service is needed. I hope that the community gets behind this initiative and mental health resources as a whole. If never before, this pandemic has shown us how important mental health is.
3. What was the main topic of discussion for the first meeting? Tesharia: Main topic that was discussed by the teens was the lack of support, particularly because of the pandemic. Teens are at home more with many of them not being ”out” to their immediate family – which has caused some depression and anxiety. Teens mentioned this support group is so timely. What does that look like when you are stuck at home with family, not being able to be your full self? And what it means to your mental health? Chris: Many people don’t realize what being in an environment where you are unable to express yourself as you like, it can be particularly difficult.
4. How is a LGBTQ+ support group beneficial? Tesharia: Everybody wants to belong. That’s a core value. We need that feeling. Where is my community? My tribe. Where do I feel the safest? Can I be myself? This is a support group, not a therapy group. As the facilitator, I’m there to intervene if necessary. The teens maintain a safe space for each other.
5. How can you sign up for the LGBTQ+ peer support group? Chris: You can go to VisualityFlorida.org. Reach out to our email: VisualityFloridaINC@gmail.com. Everything is confidential. You are in a secured Zoom, private chat that is sent out only to participants that are vetted through an intake process with references checked. Meetings are on Saturdays at 3 p.m.
6. What’s the benefit of peer support groups? Chris: Peer support groups in my own life has helped me. When I was young, I suffered from mental illness and I’ve had support. I have found peer support groups are helpful in getting me through some troubles. At first, you may not feel comfortable asking questions. It felt safe. I felt there was privacy in a group setting. It wasn’t just me with an adult figure. There were other people in the room. I was able to fade into the background and just listen at first. It was most effective in helping me realize that this could be as slow, fast, or supportive as needed. It was at my level. Tesharia: with peer support, we know we are not being judged. We are with like-minded people, and we can learn from each other. There are ways of receiving support that you may not be able to get in a one-on-one session.
7. Quote from Brandi G, mom of an 11-year-old Southwest Florida LGBTQ son: “Giving our LGBTQ+ youth a support system that can help address medical and mental health issues would be a huge benefit to Southwest Florida. As a parent, I would welcome a place for my child to meet other LGBTQ youth and have a place to feel fully supported and understood in a safe and judgement-free environment. Families of LGBTQ youth could also use support. We are helping our kids first. To find support, we are confined to one-on-one support with family doctors and therapists. I think for our youth, more social support would be a big win.”
- Anti-Violence Project Hotline: (212) 714-1141
- LGBT National Hotline: (888) 843-4564
- LGBT National Youth Talkline
- LGBT National Senior Hotline: (888) 234-7243
- Q Chat Space
- Trans Lifeline
- Trevor Project
Local SWFL Resources & Support
- Abuse Counseling and Treatment (ACT)
- Gay Social Network of SWFL
- GET Network Foundation
- Hope Hospice
- LGBT Community Fund of SWFL
- NAMI LEE
- Naples Pride Center
- PFLAG Fort Myers
- PRIDE Cape Coral
- Rainbow Pages
- SWFL Harmony Chamber of Commerce
- SWFL Pride
Advocacy Groups and Organizations
- Equality Florida
- Lambda Legal
- SAGE USA
- Trans Youth Equality Center
- Trans Youth Family Allies
Medical and Mental Health Resources
- McGregor Clinic
- AHF Medical Care
- Elite DNA
- Planned Parenthood
- Kids’ Minds Matter
- Christopher Santini, MSW, LCSW: (646) 679-7498
- William A. Moulton, III, MA. Ed: (239) 224-2305
- Omar Rieche, MD, PA
- Dr. Laura Counseling
QUESTIONS FROM VIEWERS
Q: What can a teen expect at one of these virtual support group meetings?
A: Tesharia: One of the first things that they can expect is confidentiality. We are all bound to confidentiality. They can expect to feel safe from the judgement and stressors of the outside world, as well as a confidential virtual space to discuss challenging topics that are specific to where they are and what they are experiencing, all with peers. Anything that is shared (within reason, if there are safety concerns, we do need to take steps).
We are asking our teens to carry a variety of stressors during this global pandemic including virtual learning, social isolation, anxiety, bullying, hateful/homophobic language, racial divide, fear of abandonment/retaliation for “coming out”, when to come out, and how. This support group is aimed at giving some sense of peace and solace to teens whose worlds may be filled with chaos. Group discussions will be based on what the teens decide and facilitated by a licensed mental health professional. One of my goals is to make sure it’s not me injecting my agenda. Also, it’s fun! I start with an icebreaker to lessen some anxiety. Those are some things teens can expect. They are an hour long. They really find their people and community, particularly during COVID-19.
Chris: In a peer support group, you are with people who are of like mind. You are going to be networking, establishing connections. Hopefully when we are not in a COVID-19 world, these things will become more fluid and tangible.
Q: Can young people in other states participate in the group?
A: Chris: Currently, we are providing services to the five-county area: Charlotte, Lee, Collier, Hendry and Glades counties. But if you want to connect for someone outside of the area, contact me directly and I will make sure they can receive services and no one who needs help is turned away.
Q: Can you provide tips on how to support and help LGBTQ+ teens during this challenging time?
A: Chris: I think the biggest thing is to not ask questions. A lot of people like to ask questions. It’s none of your business. It’s cut and dry like that. It’s none of your business who they find sexually attractive, what gender pronoun they want to call themselves. Let them come forward with that to you. Let them come forward with their “I” statements as time progresses and they feel safe. “I feel this…” “I feel sexually attracted to…” “I feel most comfortable using the gender pronoun…” When you are a queer individual or identifying with the LGBTQ community, and you are asked a question about that’s generally taboo in this society to talk about, you are putting them on a hot plate. You are forcing them to generate an answer, and they are going to generate the answer that makes them feel most safe and makes them feel like they are not going to be discarded or ostracized. That’s what I have done in the past.
Tesharia: Any time that teens feel comfortable, they will share. You won’t need to pry or coerce. The information will come out. Let them know and feel that you are a safe space and ally. Use nonjudgmental terms. Create a safe space and the foundation will be set for them to communicate how they feel. Learn about what these pronouns mean. Use the language that is less judgmental.
There are some signs to look out for that show teens may need mental health help: If you see a shift in their temperament, for example becoming more reserved and isolated and less connected. If you notice that they have a lack of interest in things that used to intrigue them. Those are signs that something is going on and they may need help and support. Also, as parents, we may feel bad not knowing how to help them or not being the person who can help them. Sometimes it needs to be another person. Being supportive includes knowing who to consult if they need to talk to someone else.
Q: Are you meeting in person or virtually?
A: Chris: We are meeting virtually. You can go to VisualityFlorida.org. Reach out to our email that come personally to me: VisualityFloridaINC@gmail.com. Everything is confidential. You are in a secured, Zoom, private chat that is sent out only to participants that are vetted through an intake process with references checked. Meetings are on Saturdays at 3 p.m. I will reach back out and send the intake form. Then I get you on the roster to participate in the Zoom calls. Our goal is to meet in person after the COVID-19 pandemic is more resolved. I think the teens responded well to the virtual meetings. We are going to stick to virtual until it is safe to meet in person.
Q: How can people support Visuality and the LGBTQ+ support group your created?
A: Chris: You can support Visuality by sharing the video and information. The more people who are aware of the needs of our youth, the more it will help. You can identify yourself with your gender pronouns with your email signature. You can log onto VisualityFlorida.org and you can click on the top right button to donate through PayPal. We are a 501-c3 nonprofit organization, and we can get you tax information.
Q: How can I support LGBTQ+ youth?
A: Tesharia: For me, I have found that the best way to help our LGBTQ youth is to seek out education and understanding. A person can educate themselves through a variety of channels from books, to videos, podcasts and other media. One way that I educated myself was by attending virtual workshops with Equality Florida, a nonprofit organization assisting the LGBTQ community. They offer a variety of free training. I also ask a lot of questions! Specifically, questions about verbiage and how to be more inclusive in my language. As Chris mentioned, another way to give support is to show that you are an ally and a safe person. An example would be leading conversations with your personal pronouns, or using them in your email signatures, zoom account names, and other electronic/virtual spaces.
About Kids’ Minds Matter
The goal of Kids’ Minds Matter is to raise awareness about the need for pediatric mental and behavioral health care services and to raise the funds required to make these services available in the region through Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and Lee Health. An estimated 46,000 Southwest Florida children are impacted by mental and behavioral health disorders like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, psychosis, substance abuse, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. As part of the region’s strategic solution to the children’s mental and behavioral health epidemic in Southwest Florida, Kids’ Minds Matter is dedicated to fostering partnerships that support existing services, identifying and filling gaps in the continuum of care, and innovating new treatments.
Philanthropic support for Kids’ Minds Matter has allowed Lee Health and Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida to: implement a tiered model of care that clinically aligns community, inpatient and outpatient care; hire additional psychiatrists, child advocates and other mental health professionals; offer Mental Health First Aid training to local pediatricians, emergency service providers and others who work directly with children; renovate an outpatient center in Fort Myers where a child’s needs can be addressed in a therapeutic setting; and launch a first-of-its-kind Pediatric Digital Cognitive Behavioral Health diagnostic and treatment protocols interlaced with Tele-Psychology support to treat anxiety, depression and trauma. Most recently, Kids’ Minds Matter introduced mental health care navigators into Lee and Collier County schools who will help families find resources and care to address their child’s mental healthcare needs.
The “Mental Health Mondays” segments are a public forum, designed for open discussions that benefit a large audience, and to provide real-time resources and advice from pediatric mental health professionals and advocates. The information shared on this platform is intended for general public consumption and not intended for individual treatment. The views, advice, and resources shared by each guest speaker are solely their own and are not endorsed by Lee Health, Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and Kids’ Minds Matter. Kids’ Minds Matter is dedicated to raising awareness and essential funding to enhance pediatric mental & behavioral health programs, services and access to care in Southwest Florida. To learn more about Kids’ Minds Matter, visit KidsMindsMatter.com.