FORUM: When (and how) should mentoring programs disclose mentors’ personal information?

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 7.28.53 AMA colleague of mine recently shared an inquiry they had received from a local program that was thinking through an issue that had bubbled up: Should they tell mentees (or mentees’ parents) that a mentor is gay? And if so, why and when?

This was a school-based program serving primarily younger elementary-age students and to this point the program hadn’t bothered mentioning this circumstance, when it occurred, because the youth weren’t thinking about these types of identity things and it wasn’t relevant at all to the program. But in this case, it was a couple that was volunteering together. The students, unaware that this was a couple, had started asking them increasingly probing questions about their lives outside of the program. The couple then asked the program to be the ones to share information about their relationship with the students, teachers, and parents.

The Director of this program noted that they have a solid non-discrimination clause, but no real policy addressing disclosure of this kind of information when making matches. They noted that they don’t really disclose any information to parents or the students (as they put it, “We don’t tell them their mentor is heterosexual either…”), but wondered if they should address this issue specifically or put the onus here on the volunteers themselves to share what they wanted.

So I thought I’d throw this question out to the readers of the Chronicle to see what you thought. I feel like this is not just a question about volunteer sexual orientation, but also about programs’ obligations to disclose any information about their mentors and how they draw those lines in policy and practice.

In this case, we have a program where there is minimal need for a lot of sharing of personal information during matching given the nature of the program and age of the youth. But this is, unfortunately, a topic that can trigger some strong reactions from parents and confusion among young mentees. Does the program have an obligation here? Or should the couple volunteering be the ones to share this information and help their mentees build understanding?

Let us know what you think in the comments below!


3 Comments on "FORUM: When (and how) should mentoring programs disclose mentors’ personal information?"

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  1. Hannah says:

    We have discussed this topic for years, and really struggled to find a solution that felt good to us. We used to disclose this information to parents/caregivers before they met the mentor, in case they weren’t comfortable with a certain sexual orientation. But, we felt that many people weren’t giving those who identify as gay/lesbian a fair chance, and were dismissing them based on trait that did not effect their ability to be quality mentor.

    So we stopped disclosing. We don’t ask people their sexual orientation. If they want to disclose it to us or to the parents/caregivers, they are more than welcome to. Everyone meets together for the first time, and has an opportunity to ask any questions of each other that they want to know. After that meeting, we check in to see what everyone thinks of the mentor/mentee/caregiver. That way people have a chance to get to know the whole person rather than making a judgement based on one trait, when they haven’t even met the person.

    It’s not perfect, but it feels better to us than the way we used to do things. We are a community based mentoring program.

  2. Kate Bronner says:

    I run a community-based mentoring program and mentees are able to go to their mentors homes or functions the mentor might be attending if they are comfortable with that and the relationship has progressed to that point. Whether the mentor identifies within the LGBT community or not, we assess the mentors desire to incorporate their mentee into their personal lives and what information is important to share. In my experience, most mentors would like their sexuality disclosed to ensure that the youth is aware and comfortable with that. I also mentor a very inquisitive little girl in a school-based program and the questions get personal so I think seeing what the mentors comfort level is with sharing personal information is prior to matching them is critical!

  3. Pat Kelln says:

    I think your program has been correct in not releasing much personal information, unless it has a direct bearing on the work to be done. I think if sexual orientation is to be disclosed in addition to sharing those who are gay, sexual orientation (heterosexual, bi-sexual etc. of all should be shared in order to not further discriminate against those who are not. Any type of personal information sharing should never be done for one group only. Discrimination often starts with the segregation, singling out one group from the others-i.e the Japanese during WWII, Jews during the holocaust etc. Personal information of this nature should be shared with the parents first to ensure they are in agreement and prepared to answer questions that may arise.I think this goes for all personal information, if you share about one you should share about all.
    There must be ways this couple can answer the questions without sharing their sexual orientation.

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