MERRILLVILLE — More than a dozen local youth workers learned the proper names to use and how to make teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender more comfortable.

The program was sponsored by the Indiana Youth Institute and featured Natalie Lukich, a mental health therapist and the LGBTQ program coordinator with Crown Point-based Crown Counseling.

LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning.

IYI Northwest Indiana Outreach Manager Melanie Walker said a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Hoosier students who identify as LGBTQ are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

"They also are more than twice as likely to be bullied at school and more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use," she said.

"With the ever-evolving landscape surrounding sexual- and gender-minority youth, the adults who work with these young people need to understand the cultural context in which they live," Walker said.

Lukich, who hosts a weekly group meeting with LGBTQ teens and adults, said it's important to acknowledge the differences among them. She said it's important for school counselors and other youth workers to have this kind of training, so they are more sensitive to these youth and gain awareness of their cultural issues.

Lukich's presentation included information on best practices.

"Best practices say you should allow gender expression with clothing, hairstyles and activities," she said.

"Also, do not assume that just because a teen told you something, that they have shared that information with others. Sometimes, they have not told their parents. Honor the pronouns that they use when referring to themselves."

She told youth workers to look for ways to make teens feel supported and included.

Lukich said sometimes young people know what gender they are as young as 3.

"The little things that you do helps," she said. "You can assume that 10 percent of the people you talk to may be LGBTQ."

Regional Mental Health workers Lydia Hardin and Jonae King said they learned many things from the presentation which will, in turn, help their clients.

Hardin said the training will help her with the knowledge of terms and basic information to help teens.

Therapist King said she doesn't work with teens but has LGBTQ clients.

"My client told me the Q stands for queer but some people use the term negatively," she said. "My client said he prefers that term — that he proudly uses the term 'queer.' I also learned a lot about resources in the community. I can go back and tell my clients about different resources they can find in the community to further assist them."

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Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.