If you or someone you know is considering self-harm or suicide, you can reach the Trevor Lifeline, a free and confidential service that offers trained counselors 24/7, at 1-866-488-7386.
Despite a global pandemic, LGBTQ+ people across the world celebrated Pride month virtually this June, with online concerts and livestreams as well as awareness campaigns and fundraisers. But even as the community gains acceptance and makes history in the media, the reality for children at home is much more bleak.
Forty percent of LGBTQ+ youth and more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth reported seriously considering suicide in the past year, according to a new survey by the Trevor Project, the leading national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth. Nearly half reported engaging in self harm over the past year, including more than 60 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth.
“There can often be this incongruence between seeing images in places of people who are accepted and celebrated for their identity and being in a place where you might experience bias or hate [for your identity],” said Amit Paley, CEO & Executive Director of The Trevor Project.
The 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health explores suicide and mental health, conversion therapy and change attempts, discrimination and physical harm and housing instability, among other subjects. The Trevor Project collected responses from more than 40,000 LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 over four months, from December 2019 through March 2020, in one of the largest surveys of its kind.
“Given limited research findings about LGBTQ youth, this survey is an essential resource to shine a light on the disproportionate needs of the community and inform our collective response to better support these youth,” said Amy Green, Director of Research at The Trevor Project.
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During the coronavirus pandemic, LGBTQ+ people have been more likely to have their work hours cut, an economic hardship made worse by existing housing instability and discrimination. Nearly one-third, or 29 percent, of LGBTQ+ youth have experienced homelessness, been kicked out, or run away, according to the survey.
At the same time, 86 percent of LGBTQ+ youth said that recent politics have negatively affected their wellbeing. Along with the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that have sparked protests around the country, Black LGBTQ+ youth are also coping with the deaths of Bree Black and Shaki Peters, two of at least 18 transgender people killed so far this year.
“In just four days, we have seen the deaths of at least three transgender and gender non-conforming people, including Shaki Peters. This horrific spike in violence against our community must be an urgent call to action for every single person in this nation,” said Tori Cooper, Director of Community Engagement for HRC’s Trans Justice Initiative, in a statement on July 6.
“This is the deadliest period we have on record,” Cooper said. “While we are still awaiting facts on the ground, it is clear that members of our beloved community are being killed because of who they are. Racism, toxic masculinity, misogyny and transphobia are destroying lives and taking away our loved ones. I am heartbroken. I am furious. When will our country stop killing us?”
One in 3 LGBTQ+ youth reported that they had been physically threatened or harmed in their lifetime because of their LGBTQ+ identity. And while they were not killed by law enforcement, transgender people were 7 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police compared to cisgender survivors or victims, according to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.
The report paints a dire picture of the health of LGBTQ+ youth in the United States, but it also reveals how simple acts of support can save lives. Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected, according to the survey.
“As society begins to understand more and more what it means to support and be inclusive of trans and non binary identities, I think that’s a really really important statistic for people to understand,” Paley said. “The science and the data is clear that affirming and supporting trans and non binary youth improve their mental and physical well being.”
Earlier this year, a study found that transgender adults with access to puberty blockers as teens were less likely to have suicidal thoughts. Despite this, lawmakers in South Carolina, Missouri, Oklahoma and other states have considered legislation restricting access to gender-affirming medical treatments. And even as the Supreme Court in June ruled in favor of transgender protections in the workplaces, it ruled against them in allowing the Trump administration to remove health care protections for transgender people.
“We have found, now year over year, that greater levels of support and acceptance is associated with dramatically lower rates of attempting suicide. This includes the powerful role of gender-affirming care and support for transgender and nonbinary youth. The data serve as a clarion call for us to prioritize affirming systems of support for LGBTQ youth that will benefit society for years to come,” Green said.
Access to mental health care is another challenge for LGBTQ+ youth, 46 percent of whom reported wanting psychological or emotional counseling from a mental health professional but being unable to receive it in the past year. And with 68 percent of LGBTQ+ youth — including more than 3 in 4 transgender and nonbinary youth — reporting symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in the past two weeks while the survey was being conducted, that care is more crucial now than ever.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Trevor Project is now operating its toll-free, confidential suicide hotline remotely, in addition to existing text message and chat resources. Trained counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to support any young person in crisis, but especially LGBTQ+ youth.
“You are beautiful the way that you are, you are deserving of love and respect and you are not alone,” Paley said. “We know that there is a lot going on in the world that is difficult and we want to encourage people to ask for help.”
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