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If you or someone you love is experiencing mental health distress or thoughts of suicide please call or text 988 for support.
Gender identity and sexual orientation: these are complex topics that can be difficult to discuss for some people, and it can be confusing to know where to go for good information, resources and advice on these topics. These resources were developed by a young autistic adult who is part of the LGBTQI community, in order to share information, resources and insights to self-advocates, parents and families. Additional resources from other organizations are also listed, along with information on support groups and organizations where you can find more information.
Gender Identity is a person’s internal sense of being male, female, neither of these, both, or another gender (s). Everyone has a gender identity, even if it’s not something you’ve thought much about before.
The Gender Unicorn is a graphic that can be used to help you explore and identify things such as your gender identity, gender expression (how you show your gender, or how you “look”), sex assigned at birth, who you are physically attracted to (sexuality), and who you are emotionally attracted to. The Gender Unicorn can be printed and completed to help you explain to others where you fall on these different areas of gender and sexuality. Areas such as gender identity, gender expression, physical attraction and emotional attraction are a continuum with three lines. You can place where you fall on each of these lines to show where you identify yourself. To download and complete the Gender Unicorn for yourself, click the link below.
Trans Student Educational Resources, 2015. “The Gender Unicorn.” http://www.transstudent.org/gender.
Below you will find common definitions related to gender identity.
When we’re born, a doctor assigns us a sex. This has to do with our biology, chromosomes, and
Gender identity is a person’s internal concept of themselves as male, female, a blend of both or
neither. Gender identity can be the same or different from the biological sex they were assigned at birth.
Gender expression refers to the external appearance of someone’s gender identity. This is usually expressed through things like behavior, clothing, and hair.
This term refers to people whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not have any relation to sexual orientation. Transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.
These identities describe someone whose gender expression is neither male nor female, may identify as both male and female at one time, as different genders at different times, or as no gender at all. Usually, genderqueer and gender non-conforming people avoid gender-specific pronouns like “she/her” and “he/him,” and use more neutral pronouns instead like “they/them.”
This term is for people whose gender identity matches their biological sex assigned at birth.
The type of emotional, romantic or sexual attraction someone has to other people. A person’s sexual orientation is usually labeled based on the gender relationship between the people.
A woman who is attracted to other women.
In the past, only men who are attracted to men used the word “gay.” Now, it is common for “gay” to be used by anyone who is attracted to their same gender.
A term that describes someone who is attracted to more than one gender identity.
A term describing individuals who do not experience sexual attraction or do not have interest in or desire for sex.
Describes people who are attracted to all sexes or gender identities.
Little or no capacity to experience sexual attraction until a strong romantic connection is formed with someone, often within a romantic relationship.
Experiencing attraction solely (or primarily) to members of a different gender.
A person who may be processing or questioning their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This may be someone who isn’t sure what their sexual orientation is and are trying to figure it out.
Figuring out your sexual orientation can be complicated but you’re the only person who can figure out what your orientation truly is. The section below goes over some information about sexuality and sexual orientation that may be helpful if you have questions.
For more about pronouns check out this YouTube video.
Not everyone knows their sexual orientation or how to label themselves. For some people, understanding their sexual orientation can take years, or even a lifetime. Some people may try a label to see if it fits, and then change it to another one if it doesn’t. You don’t have to decide on one label, and it’s okay if someday in the future you feel differently from how you feel now.
There are different forms of attraction. When it comes to sexual orientation, it usually refers to romantic attraction (who you desire a romantic relationship with) and sexual attraction (who you want to engage in sexual activity with). Sometimes people are romantically and sexually attracted to the same groups of people. Sometimes they’re not. For example, it’s possible to want a romantic relationship with men but be sexually attracted to men, women, and nonbinary people. This sort of situation is called “mixed orientation” or “cross orientation.”
There’s no “right” way to come to terms with your orientation. However, there are a few things you can do to explore your feelings and help figure things out. Above all else, let yourself feel your feelings. It’s hard to understand your feelings if you ignore them. There’s a lot of shame and stigma around different sexual orientations in society. People who aren’t straight are often made to feel like they should repress their feelings. Remember, your orientation is valid, and your feelings are valid.
Learn about the different terms for orientations. Find out what they mean, and consider whether any of them resonate with you. Consider doing further research by reading forums, joining LGBTQIA+ support groups, and learning about these communities online. This could help you understand the terms better.
If you start identifying with a certain orientation and later feel differently, that’s okay. It’s important to remember that your orientation may change over time. Sexuality is fluid. It’s okay to say, “I’ve changed how I feel, and now I actually feel more comfortable identifying as X.” Orientation is fluid. Your orientation may change, but that doesn’t make it any less valid over time, nor does it mean you’re wrong or confused.
Homophobia is the fear, hatred, discomfort with, or mistrust of people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Similarly, transphobia is fear, hatred, discomfort with, or mistrust of people who are transgender, genderqueer, or don’t follow traditional gender norms. This resource provides information on the impacts of homophobia and transphobia.
Homophobia/transphobia can can take lots of different forms. Most commonly it’s having negative attitudes and beliefs about LGBTQ people or prejudice against them. Homophobic/transphobic people may use mean language and name-calling when they talk about lesbian and gay people. Homophobia/transphobia can cause people to bully, abuse, and inflict violence on lesbian, gay, trans, and bisexual people.
Some LGBTQ people experience discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This could cause them to be kicked out of religious institutions, companies, or to even have discrimination from the government. People also can be victims of physical and emotional abuse and violence. Examples include same-sex couples not being allowed to marry, getting legally fired just for being LGBTQ, not being allowed to rent or buy certain housing or hate crimes and violence.
Outing is the act of revealing someone else’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their permission. Sharing someone’s information about their sexual orientation or gender identity against their wishes could make that
person feel ashamed, embarrassed, and angry. It also puts them at risk for discrimination or even violence. It’s important to remember that someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity is sensitive information and it is for them to reveal to others. People who experience homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic harassment often feel alone and are afraid to tell anyone what’s happening. They should be free to share this information when they’re ready to.
Not all homophobia/transphobia is clear or obvious. Internalized homophobia/transphobia refers to people who are homophobic/transphobic while also experiencing same-sex attraction themselves. Sometimes, people may have negative attitudes and beliefs about those who experience same-sex attraction, and will think badly about themselves because of that. This may mean that they feel discomfort and disapproval with their own same-sex attractions, never accept their same-sex attractions, or never identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. People dealing with internalized homophobia/transphobia may feel the need to “prove” that they’re straight, exhibit very stereotypical behavior of straight men and women, or even bully and discriminate against openly gay people.
If you are part of the LGBTQ community and experiencing harassment, it’s important to tell someone, even if it seems scary. You may feel alone, but knowing your rights and where you can go for support can help stop the harassment or keep it from getting worse. Check out the tabs below for information on how to handle bullying/harrassment and supports available in these different settings.
Both high schools and colleges may have an anti-bullying/harassment policies and programs in place to support students. If you’re in high school you can talk to a guidance counselor or school counselor for help. Most colleges and universities offer mental health services to students who can offer support. You can also find a trusted teacher or adult in the school who is an ally to LGBTQ students, or see if your school has a Gay-Straight Alliance.
There may also be LGBTQ organizations in your community where you live that can provide support and advocacy. In Pennsylvania there are 12 chapters of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) across the state as well as 9 LGBTQ Community Centers. These places offer a wide range of services and supports to individuals. To find out more about these organizations and where they’re located check out the PA LGBTQ Organization Directory on the PA Youth Congress website: https://payouthcongress.org/directory/
Depending on where you live you may not have access to support programs in your school or community. However, you can still find help and support online. The internet is a great resource for finding communities and support in dealing with bullying, harassment and discrimination. If you need help the following online organizations can provide support:
“Coming out” is understanding your own sexual orientation or gender identity and then deciding to share it with
some, or all of the people in your life. Coming out is different for everyone and there are lots of ways to do it.
Some LGBTQ people choose to come out only to themselves, and not to anyone else. Others may come out
to friends, but not family. Only you can know what’s best for your life.
“Coming out” is understanding your own sexual orientation or gender identity and then deciding to share it with some, or all of the people in your life. Coming out is different for everyone and there are lots of ways to do it. Some LGBTQ people choose to come out only to themselves, and not to anyone else. Others may come out to friends, but not family. Only you can know what’s best for your life.
In our society, most people assume that you’re straight unless you say otherwise, which is why people come out. Coming out can be a liberating and exciting experience. It can also feel scary and overwhelming. There are many reasons you might want to come out. For example:
You don’t ever have to “come out of the closet” if you don’t want to. You may hear a lot of talk about the importance of coming out. An unfortunate side effect is that some people feel pressured to come out when they’re not ready. They may even feel like they’re being dishonest if they don’t.
Nobody should feel forced to come out before they’re ready — or at all.
Young people in search of support in their identities or help with coming out can check out
these support organizations:
The Trevor Project: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/trvr_support_center/coming-out/
TrevorLifeline 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386. Counseling is available via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678-678.
GSA Network: https://gsanetwork.org/
Q Chat Space: https://www.qchatspace.org/Learn-More
The resources below are grouped by audience and provide a wide range of information for self-advocates, families, the general community, policy makers and health care providers. There are many other great resources out there online as well, these are from some of the top organizations supporting individuals in the LGBTQI community.
The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is proud to support student organizers in schools across the country. As students, community organizers will have the power to make change in many ways in their schools and community.
GSA Network is a next-generation LGBTQ racial and gender justice organization that empowers and trains queer, trans, and allied youth leaders to advocate, organize, and mobilize an intersectional movement for safer schools and healthier communities.
The It Gets Better Project’s mission is to communicate to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth around the world that it gets better, and to create and inspire the changes needed to make it better for them.
This website provides information, education and resources covering a wide range of topics related to sexuality aimed at families, educators, and policymakers.
Established in 1908 as the Center for Population Options, Advocates for Youth champions efforts that help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health. Advocates believes it can best serve the field by boldly advocating for a more positive and realistic approach to adolescent sexual health. Advocates focuses its work on young people ages 14-25 in the U.S. and around the globe.
StopBullying.gov provides information from various government agencies on what bullying is, what cyberbullying is, who is at risk, and how you can prevent and respond to bullying.
Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, ages 13-24.
Advances freedom and justice for young LGBTQ Pennsylvanians through advocating for responsible public policy. As a youth-led organization, PYC represents citizens working toward safer schools and thriving communities across the commonwealth.
The Attic creates opportunities for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth living in the Philadelphia area to develop into healthy, independent, civic-minded adults within a safe and supportive community, and promotes the acceptance of LGBTQ youth in society.
The William Way LGBT Community Center serves the LGBT community of Philadelphia and its allies 365 days a year. From social groups, networking events, and counseling and support services to art exhibitions and cultural experiences, the Center consistently strives to provide new and innovations programs for the LGBT communities of Philadelphia.
Outlines the laws and policies that offer protection for transgender people in health care.
An organization uniting and supporting people with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer parents.
The Family Acceptance Project works to strengthen families and supporting the growth of LGBT children and youth.
Family Equality Council connects, supports and represents LGBT parents and their children.
HRC works to secure legal equality, fairness and respect for LGBTQ couples and their children.
The Human Rights Campaign Welcoming Schools project is a comprehensive approach to creating respectful and supportive elementary schools with resources and professional development to embrace family diversity, create LGBTQ-inclusive schools, prevent bias-based bullying and gender stereotyping, and support transgender and gender-expansive students.
Largest national family and ally organization made up of LGBT parents, families, friends, and straight allies. Find the PFLAG chapter nearest you by clicking the link below.
If you’ve ever wondered if you’re gay, lesbian, or bisexual, you’re not alone. Many teens ask themselves this question. It is a normal part of life. Read on to find helpful information as you discover more about yourself, your friends, and your place in the world. There also is information that may help your parents understand you better.
Growing up is a demanding and challenging task for every adolescent. One important aspect is forming one’s sexual identity. All children explore and experiment sexually as part of normal development. This sexual behavior may be with members of the same or opposite sex. For many adolescents, thinking about and/or experimenting with people of the same sex may cause concerns and anxiety. These feelings and behaviors do not necessarily mean an individual is homosexual or bisexual.
This booklet was written for families to help strengthen families and foster families with gay and transgender children and adolescents. The booklet is available in English, Spanish and Chinese.
This website provides videos, advice, and resources dedicated exclusively to helping parents understand their Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual children.
Studies show that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and (LGBT) populations, in addition to having the same basic health needs as the general population, experience health disparities and barriers related to sexual orientation* and/or gender identity or expression. Many avoid or delay care or receive inappropriate or inferior care because of perceived or real homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and discrimination by health care providers and institutions. This toolkit focus on those challenges and seeks to provide some guidelines in addressing them.
A series of resources from the Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities focused on GLBTQI issues. These resources include:
Healthy People 2010 is the prevention agenda for the Nation. It is designed to serve as a roadmap for improving the health of all people in the United States during the first decade of the 21st century. This Healthy People 2010 Companion Document contains most of the existing quantitative and qualitative research and information specific to LGBT health in the areas defined and discusses the overall health status of LGBT people. Making the best use of available data, this document describes the barriers and recommends changes that will facilitate success in overcoming them.
The mission of the Network is to create the means for members of the occupational therapy professional community who are committed to advancing the understanding of sexual orientation issues to identify, support, and mentor one another and to promote research in occupational therapy.
There is evolving evidence that children and adolescents with gender dysphoria have higher-than-expected rates of autism spectrum disorder.View Resource
A new set of guidelines aims to help clinicians recognize and treat gender dysphoria in adolescents with autism.View Resource
Some authors have concluded that gender identity disorder (GID), or gender dysphoria (GD), is more common in individuals with ASD, providing a range of potential explanations.View Resource
|LGBTQ Supports for Bullying and Harassment||This resource provides information on places to get support if you’re facing harassment.||Download file: LGBTQ Supports for Bullying and Harassment|
|Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity||This resource provides definitions for sexual orientation and gender identity terms.||Download file: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity|
|Figuring Out Your Sexual Orientation||This resources provides information for individuals who are trying to figure out their sexual orientation or identity.||Download file: Figuring Out Your Sexual Orientation|
|Homophobia||This resource provides information about homophobia, as well as different ways it may be expressed.||Download file: Homophobia|
|Coming Out||This resource provides information about "coming out" to others about your sexuality.||Download file: Coming Out|
This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.