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  • Writer's pictureMeg Smith

The Realities of Mental Health in the LGBTQ+ Community


Workforce Development Coordinator, Center for Trauma Care in Schools

June is PRIDE month for the LGBTQ+ community. The month was chosen to commemorate the events of June 28th, 1969 when gay, lesbian, and transgender patrons of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in New York city, led by a Black trans woman, Marsha P. Johnson and Latina-American trans woman, Silvia Rivera, fought back against the oppression and violence the community had long experienced. The events at the Stonewall Inn are seen as the seminal moment in the movement for visibility and civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community.

This NBC news report details hundreds of bills that have been put forth in state legislatures that target LGBTQ+ individuals and families. Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign states in the interview that the bills “attempt to erase transgender people and attempt to make LGBTQ+ people second-class citizens.” Many of the bills center on transgender minors. They include barring and criminalizing transition care for trans minors, trans sports bans, religious refusal bills and bills that relate to trans people’s access to bathrooms and locker rooms.

The Trevor Project survey outlines the challenges for the 35,000 LGBTQ+ youth who completed the survey as well as the benefit of LGBTQ-affirming spaces for youth:

42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

● Half of all LGBTQ youth of color reported discrimination based on their race/ethnicity in the past year, including 67% of Black LGBTQ youth and 60% of Asian/Pacific Islander LGBTQ youth.

● More than 80% of LGBTQ youth stated that COVID-19 made their living situation more stressful — and only 1 in 3 LGBTQ youth found their home to be LGBTQ-affirming.

Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all the people they lived with attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected by anyone with whom they lived. Transgender and nonbinary youth who were able to change their name and/or gender marker on legal documents, such as driver’s licenses and birth certificates, reported lower rates of attempting suicide.

The Gay Lesbian Straight Educators Network (GLSEN) has documented the unique challenges of LGBTQ+ students face and identified interventions that can improve school climate with the National School Climate Survey. The 2019 National School Climate Survey

highlighted that

59% of LGBTQ+ students viewed school as a hostile environment where anti-LGBTQ+ language is heard and victimization and harassment is experienced.

45% avoided bathrooms and 44% avoided locker rooms

52% heard homophobic remarks from their teachers or other school staff

67% of students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression from teachers

● Less than 14% reported that school staff intervened when overhearing these remarks.

61% of students who did report an incident said that nothing was done in response to the incident or were told to ignore it.

The effects of victimization experienced by students led to missing school, lower grade point average, no post-secondary pursuits, higher disciplinary action and lowered self-esteem.

The GLSEN survey and the Trevor Project both point to the impact of parents/guardians and teachers who affirm LGBTQ+ youth. Students whose schools had LGBTQ+ related resources such as Gay Sexuality Alliances (GSAs), inclusive curricular resources and policies and practices, and supportive educators who receive ongoing professional development can positively affect LGBTQ+ students’ school experience.

There are encouraging signs of positive change. US Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, has announced that his department intends to apply Title IX protections to LGBTQ+ students. Title IX is a 1972 law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools. The new policy is based on a US Supreme Court ruling in 2020 that the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protect workers against discrimination in the workplace. Secretary Cardona’s decision to extend those civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ and Transgender students in US schools is an important next step in the march toward full equality.

For the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) Pride month campaign, the theme focused on lifting up the experiences and voices of trans youth. You can follow on NCTSN’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn to celebrate the resilience of the youth and those providing affirming care. Resources from network partners and affiliates are included in each post.


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