Story at a glance
- LGBTQ+ youth, especially transgender and gender-nonconforming youth, are at higher risk of suicide than their peers.
- Almost one-third of Indigenous LGBTQ+ people reported attempting suicide in the past year, according to a new survey by the Trevor Project.
- Amid an onslaught of anti-transgender legislation and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, LGBTQ+ youth are struggling to access the mental health help they need.
If you or someone you know are having thoughts about 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.
As lawmakers question the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming youth in state legislatures across the country amid an ongoing pandemic, a new survey by the Trevor Project reveals this already vulnerable population is hanging on by a thread.
“You can see this as wave upon wave, just building and building, until for a lot of LGBTQ youth it just feels like it’s too much,” said Sam Brinton, the vice president of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project.
More than 9 out of 10 LGBTQ+ youth said recent politics negatively affected their mental health, according to the survey by the suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization, while more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth and 42 percent of all LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year .
Almost one-third, or 31 percent, of Indigenous LGBTQ+ youth reported attempting suicide, followed by 21 percent each of Black and multiracial LGBTQ youth, 18 percent of Latino LGBTQ= youth — all greater than the 12 percent of white, Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ youth.
Meanwhile, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately affected LGBTQ+ Americans, has deprived many youth of employment, safe spaces and even made their living situation more stressful for more than 80 percent of respondents. Only 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ youth said their home was LGBTQ-affirming, although the survey found that youth whose pronouns were respected and were allowed to change their legal markers were less likely to attempt suicide.
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Across the country, gender-affirming spaces are under attack. As state legislatures began a new session this year, anti-transgender legislation has been introduced in dozens of states across the country. Several measures have already been passed in Arkansas, South Dakota, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia — although lawmakers have been hard pressed to even name examples of transgender youth in their states these bills allegedly claim to protect.
“To all the lawmakers considering anti-transgender bills across the [country] — we urge you to take a hard look at this evidence and take time out of your day to actually meet with the transgender and nonbinary youth who would be harmed by your misguided proposals. Affirming a young person in their gender identity is strongly associated with lower suicide risk. That’s why we should be expanding systems of support and implementing more inclusive policies, not denying trans youth access to affirming spaces and care,” said Amit Paley, the CEO and Executive Director of the Trevor Project, in a statement.
Experts warned of a spike in teen suicides that some providers have already seen in Arkansas, which passed a bill effectively banning gender-affirming medical care for children earlier this year. Research shows that access to gender-affirming care can play a major role in the mental health of trans youth, who are at high risk for suicide as well as violence. In 2020, the number of anti-trans hate crimes soared, and more transgender Americans were violently killed than any year previously on record. This year is on track to surpass that record, with seven transgender women of color killed in April. These numbers are likely even higher than reported, as many crimes against transgender people go unreported or misreported.
“The Trevor Project is the largest suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth, but even we do not know how many LGBTQ youth die by suicide each year because that data is simply not collected systematically,” said Amy Green, vice president of research at the Trevor Project, in a statement.
With its third annual National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, the Trevor Project is seeking to change this by speaking with more than 30,000 LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 living in the United States. Almost half, 45 percent, were LGBTQ youth of color, and 38 percent were transgender or nonbinary. Within the LGBTQ+ community, these marginalized identities are disproportionately harmed by discrimination, violence and even the coronavirus pandemic.
Half of all LGBTQ+ youth of color reported discrimination based on their race or ethnicity in the past year, according to the survey, including 67 percent of Black LGBTQ youth and 60 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ youth. These populations are also more likely to be unemployed or living with food insecurity — both risk factors for suicide — as well as be subjected to conversion therapy, which made LGBTQ+ youth more than twice as likely as those who were not subjected to the practice.
Just 20 states across the country have legally banned conversion therapy, which the medical community has largely denounced. Transgender and nonbinary youth reported being subjected to conversion therapy at twice the rate of cisgender LGBQT+ youth, according to the survey, as well as more than 1 out of 5 Indigenous LGBTQ youth.
“We’re still funding conversion therapy through medicaid, through foster care systems, through homeless shelters. We need to make sure that this conversion therapy experience ends this generation, that we no longer have instances of this harm, because I’m really tired of hearing that people are still going through what I went through and I’m going to keep working to make sure that that ends now,” said Brinton, a survivor of conversion therapy.
So what can you do? First, Brinton said, you can validate the concerns of LGBTQ+ youth in your life, who are dealing with a lot of stressors no matter what state they live in. Secondly, remember “allyship is not a noun it is a verb,” they said, requiring action to create open and safe spaces. Finally, let LGBTQ+ kids be kids.
“It is exhausting to consistently be having to talk about your rights being voted on by others and so sometimes creating that moment of, ‘I’m here to listen if that’s what you want to talk about, but we can also just talk about how hard algebra was today,’” said Brinton.
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