By Terry Friedrichs, Ph.D., Ed.D.
In the wake of the Orlando shootings and other public traumas, numerous June and July SENGVine authors have offered thoughtful, helpful perspectives on how we, as caring parents, educators, and other adults, can deal with our gifted children. I am grateful to all these authors’ humanity and solid suggestions. I would like to build briefly, from one sexual-minority person’s vantage point, on three of these perspectives: those of Bachtel (June), Barnes (July), and Jackson (July). Specifically, I would like to mention how we might respond to gifted sexual- and gender-minority youths’ initial hyperarousal containment, to their school-related characteristics regarding trauma, and to their embracing of humanity when their fellow lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) persons are attacked. Although my comments are provided from my personal and primary research perspective — that of a LGBT community member — I hope that they can also provide some insight and some encouragement toward action for both LGBT and straight adults. Specifically, I hope that I can offer some helpful ideas on moderating youth reactions that seem too powerful or not strong enough, on tapping productively into the ongoing characteristics of gifted sexual- and gender-minority students, and on encouraging these youths’ drives toward helping other LGBT people.
Dealing with Immediate Hyperarousal and Containment
In the hours and even the days after a violent public tragedy such as that in Orlando, gifted sexual-minority students may react to experiences with elevated breathing and with challenges in dealing with emotions. Barnes notes that many highly-sensitive gifted youth, in the wake of such a tragedy, may experience physical hyperarousal and construction of feelings (among other symptoms). Gifted sexual and gender minorities may especially experience these feelings, since they personally may have known people who were involved in injurious attacks. They also may be highly aware of the dark history of many similar LGBT murders in America. As Barnes suggests, caring adults should encourage gifted sexual- and gender-minority youth to emote, so that these youth may get their feelings out. Adults may find this effort at encouragement particularly difficult, though it is particularly necessary, since emoting publicly after violent oppression taps into many gifted LGBT youths’ unhelpful penchant for “pushing feelings below the surface.”
Ongoing Characteristics of Gifted LGBT Youth
The days after an immediate trauma may produce further challenges for gifted sexual and gender minorities. Bachtel indicates that many gifted students in trauma may have challenges in experiencing feelings, in concentrating and organizing, and even in engaging in self-affirming behavior. It is important to note that many LGBT students (both gifted and non-gifted) have experienced these challenges for many years in school, due to the verbal and physical harassment. When shootings such as those in Orlando occur, it is important for those individuals close to gifted sexual and gender minorities to understand that these events may be doubly painful for some of these students: they may feel attacked both as individuals and as members of the sexual- and gender-minority community. In this situation, caring adults can provide these youth with specific, LGBT-related information on which to focus and with which to live. Adults may especially provide these youth with stimulating news about both people and events supportive of LGBT students. Parents and educators may also focus the student on what youth behavior is being requested, and on what student opportunities exist for enjoyable and self-affirming behavior.
Susan Jackson quotes Einstein (1954) as suggesting that, in tragedies as well as in everyday life, we citizens should go beyond our usual behaviors and expand our circle of compassion to embrace all living things. Many gifted sexual- and gender-minority youth are known for their compassion, in spite of having experienced a lack of compassion themselves. When tragedies such as the Orlando killings occur, this core of youth compassion may be challenged. However, even in the days after these most-challenging events, some gifted LGBT youth may benefit from planning to help those in the sexual- and gender-minority community. Specific, helpful activities may include, but not be limited to, starting a Gay-Straight Alliance, advocating for Safe Schools Acts, or fighting for equal rights.
Thus, gifted LGBT students may benefit in the days, months, and years after public anti-LGBT violence, from adults’ active understanding of these youths’ dual status as being traumatized individuals and as being attacked group members. Caring parents and educators can provide positive news about sexual and gender minorities, can clarify requests for gifted LGBT students, and can suggest stimulating experiences for these youth in LGBT art and music.
And, when the time is right, adults can even encourage some of these youth to lighten up a world that has been darkened for themselves and others like them, through these students’ spreading of knowledge, community, and equal rights to the LGBT world and beyond.
About the Author
Terry Friedrichs, Ph.D., Ed.D., is the Director of Friedrichs Education in suburban St. Paul, MN, where he tests, tutors, researches, advocates for, and finds appropriate schools for, gifted LGBT students (as well as highly-gifted and twice-exceptional youth). With gifted sexual and gender minorities, he has also served as a high school and college LGBT-and-Allied group leader, as a school consultant, and as a legislative advocate for almost four decades. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.