Nov. 15, 2021

PURE award recipient explores how LGBTQ2S+ youth are faring during the pandemic

Teens face distinct risks but they also display inspiring adaptability and fortitude
Grace Bogowicz says LGBTQ+ youth have increasingly turned to online resources for assistance during the pandemic
Grace Bogowicz says LGBTQ+ youth have increasingly turned to online resources for assistance during the pandemic

Documenting how the COVID-19 pandemic is uniquely impacting LGBTQ2S+ youth was a task Grace Bogowicz did not take lightly.

Bogowicz, an undergraduate student in the Werklund School of Education, earned a Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) summer studentship that allowed her to examine academic publications, news outlets and social media websites for insight into the risks members of this often-marginalized community are facing and the strategies they are employing to maintain wellness.

“To do this research was a great privilege. Being entrusted to make sense of all the findings that exist online and present it in a cogent manner is a great responsibility,” says Bogowicz. “I wanted to make sure I did justice to LGBTQ2S+ peoples’ experiences.” 

Risks to well-being

In looking at sources including the Journal of Homosexuality, CTV News, and the LGBT Hero Foundation, Bogowicz confirmed that LGBTQ2S+ youth are indeed being affected in distinctive ways as compared to their non-LGBTQ2S+ peers.

“Most notably, youth are at increased risk of homelessness, abuse and rejection from families and peers, experiencing reduced access to supportive physical spaces where LGBTQ2S+ identities would normally thrive, and are more susceptible to mental illness and substandard care with respect to physical well-being.”

Bogowicz adds that loneliness and isolation are common, calls to distress lines have increased significantly during the pandemic, and a number of individuals have voiced concerns about having to censor text or phone conversations while at home as a result of being surveilled by parents.

“Many LGBTQ2S+ youth do not have parents, caregivers or siblings who support and nurture their identities. Due to physical distancing requirements, many youth who used to find solace and support outside of the home no longer had this available to them.”

Self-care practices

While these ordeals were troubling to learn, Bogowicz found inspiration in the fortitude and adaptability of the adolescents.

In July, she led an online workshop at the University of Alberta’s Camp fYrefly, a leadership retreat for queer and trans youth, during which she asked participants about their experiences throughout the pandemic, strategies for sustaining well-being and suggestions for ways teachers might help improve their school experience. 

“Even amongst these dire circumstances, campers shared stories of how they coped, which included artistic endeavors like embroidery and drawing, as well as spending time in nature, for example going for walks, gardening, being by the river or spending time with pets.”

In the absence of in-person supports like Gay Straight Alliances, greater numbers of K-12 students are also turning to online outlets such as Q Chat Space and GLSEN, formerly the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

Safe learning environments

As a pre-service teacher, Bogowicz is particularly interested in the role educators play in creating safe and inclusive learning spaces. She says implementing anti-bullying policies is critical, but that simple actions can have a big impact.

“Based on my research, a piece of advice I would offer to practicing and pre-service teachers is to be a good ally and a good listener. I would also suggest putting up a pride sticker on your door, if that’s possible. Even that small act goes a long way in letting students know you’re a safe person to come to.”

Werklund School associate professor Dr. Tonya Callaghan, PhD, supervised Bogowicz and says it is fitting that an education student carried out this research.

“Grace’s study shows that teachers are uniquely positioned to concretely support queer and trans students, and they can be encouraged to do so by starting to learn about these students’ particular needs and desires. It’s especially apropos that an Education student is teaching teachers how to take affirming actions in support of queer youth during these challenging pandemic times.”

In reflecting on her PURE project, Bogowicz says she hopes her study helps LGBTQ2S+ children, teens and young adults to recognize that they are not alone, that there are many organizations and people who care about their well-being.

Bogowicz will present the research findings at the Palliser District Teachers’ Convention in February and is committed to doing her part going forward. “I hope that, as an educator, I can inspire my students to think critically about the world and to gain or to maintain perspectives of compassion.”

LGBTQ2S+ students needing support can access a number of on-campus resources, including the following: