Develop Culturally Competent Staff

Creating a staff of culturally competent providers is one of the most effective ways to provide quality care for youth who identify as LGBTQI2-S. This page is part of resource package created to help programs better serve youth who are LGBTQI2-S and homeless.

This page is part of resource package created to help programs better serve youth who are LGBTQI2-S and homeless. It was derived from the results of a Listening Tour of programs serving this population. Visit the Listening Tour Page for more information, or read the draft report: Learning from the Field: Programs Serving LGBTQI2-S Youth Experiencing Homelessness.

“I used to have my head held down in straight homes. Now I walk down the street with my head held high. It’s me. I accept myself. At Ruth Ellis, they say if you can’t love yourself, how will you love someone else? And I can believe them because they’re like me.” – youth focus group participant

Creating a staff of culturally competent providers is one of the most effective ways to provide quality care for youth who identify as LGBTQI2-S. “It’s really hard to tailor program models and strategies for LGBT youth. We look for good staff, not a model, to embody our values,” the Executive Director of The Ruth Ellis Center explained. At the Drop-In Center at Tulane, staff noted a large increase in requests for health care for transgender youth in transition. They attributed the increase to a new physician who specializes in these services. Staff noted that, “By giving our young people access to her, they’ve really opened themselves to receive the medical attention they need.” Without culturally competent providers, youth may be less likely to seek much-needed services.

Key lessons learned related to developing culturally competent staff include:

Hire staff members who reflect the program’s consumers.

Each organization emphasized that hiring staff who identify as LGBTQI2-S is important to building cultural competence. Youth on Fire explained, “Hiring staff who identify as GLBT sets a positive tone for the space. When almost half our members are queer, it is really important to have staff that identifies the same way. You can put up a poster or change the rules, but the best way to signal that you’re a safe space is to have someone on staff who is GLBT. It also helps the young people trust the rest of the staff, because acceptance is now signaled as a genuine priority.” The presence of LGBTQI2-S staff within an organization provides successful adult role models for youth who might otherwise view their situations as difficult or hopeless.

This strategy also encourages disclosure of sexual orientation. As the Director of UCAN shared, “Having staff who are LGBT is so important to help young people disclose who they are right away, instead of waiting until they are comfortable.” At the Night Ministry, a partner of UCAN, staff noted that almost half of LGBT youth often do not disclose immediately upon arrival. “I think having LGBT staff would help our clients be more comfortable right off the bat. Knowing who they are and their needs would help us make the more appropriate referrals and strategies for care earlier on.”

Recruit applicants who are open-minded and willing to learn.

While Larkin Street Youth Services is deliberate in hiring staff that reflect program consumers, they know being LGBTQI2-S does not mean that you are culturally competent. “It’s not about filling quotas—it’s about finding the right people.” They found that the key to a successful staff person is a willingness and openness to learn. When recruiting, Larkin Street states clearly that the program is focused on LGBTQ youth. Staff ask interview questions about applicants’ experiences in the LGBTQ community and comfort level working with the population. “It’s important to dive deep into these questions because [even] someone who identifies as LGBT might be working through their own issues.” All programs should include hiring questions that explore the applicant’s opinions about gender and sexual minority youth.

Foster connections with the LGBT community.

UCAN Host Home Program emphasized that there are LGBTQI2-S individuals and others who care about the needs of youth in every community. “The real problem is that agencies may not feel safe or comfortable hiring staff who are LGBT-identified. It takes courage to hire them in some communities, but that’s where it has to start. It’s one thing to be LGBT-friendly and employ culturally competent best practices. But there is a difference between having a rainbow symbol on the walls and not having an LGBT presence. Any agency serving youth needs to have real connections to the LGBT community.” Connections within the LGBT community can help providers connect young people with positive role models, particularly when agencies do not have openly LGBT members on staff. (For more information about connecting with the LGBT community, see Develop Community Partnerships)

Involve youth consumers in the recruitment process and staff training.

Larkin Street Youth Services uses a purposeful approach to hiring culturally competent staff. When hiring, staff assemble a team of providers to identify the service needs of LGBTQ youth. They also invite clients to teach and inform the program development team about needs and help screen the applicants. Training at Youth of Fire is open to all staff and members, ensuring GLBT youth voices are heard and self-identified straight youth learn about how to respectfully communicate with their GLBT peers. The Drop-In Center at Tulane engages youth in dialogue to keep up to date on language. “The youth love when we ask them questions about LGBT issues. They feel like they’re enlightening us, and it helps us feel like we are in a partnership with the young people.” (For more information about consumer involvement, see Support Consumer Integration)

Offer staff training that explores the needs of LGBTQI2-S youth.

Training is an ongoing need to improve staff knowledge and skills. Each Listening Tour program offers formal or informal training policies to improve staff capacity related to cultural competence. Many programs struggle to find the time and resources to provide staff training. La Casa Norte, a partner agency to UCAN Host Home Program, employs a teach-back method to overcome this barrier. When training opportunities arise in the city, or when a staff member is invited to visit an advocacy group serving sexual or gender minority youth, they return to the program and teach what they learned to their colleagues. “That way we always stay current.” Outside In partners with The Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC) for their training needs. The core of SMYRC’s training approach is to answer questions that staff might be afraid to ask.

Acknowledge biases and stereotypes among staff.

Many of the Listening Tour programs expressed confidence that their staff is open minded and accepting. However, the Drop-In Center at Tulane shared an issue that affects many programs. Among providers and youth, some religious perspectives view an LGBTQI2-S identity as a deficit rather than a strength. The Drop-In Center at Tulane recognized that such beliefs were detrimental to clients. Multiple staff from a conservative religious background shared that it was a shock for them to start working with transgender youth. Staff learned that the more they engaged with sexual and gender minority youth, the more they were able to connect on commonalities. Fostering these relationships helped staff leave limiting beliefs at the door. They explained that it had been an adjustment for them, but that ultimately they believe in accepting youth for who they are.

Publication Date: 
Rockville, MD, USA