Nearly half of all LGBTQ youth and 53 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously contemplated suicide last year, according to a survey on LGBTQ youth mental health released by the Trevor Project Wednesday.
One in five young transgender and nonbinary people also reported a suicide attempt within the last year, the survey found.
The survey by the LGBTQ mental health group, which operates crisis and suicide support helplines, found that 60 percent of LGBTQ youth who sought out mental healthcare were not able to receive it.
Researchers found that the number of LGBTQ youth reporting suicidal ideations had increased for the fourth year in a row, from 39 percent since the group’s first report, in 2019, to 45 percent this year. But the Trevor Project also reported that LGBTQ youth who had a high level of support from their families were less than half as likely to attempt suicide as LGBTQ youth who had a lower level of familial support.
“When LGBTQ youth have access to safe and affirming spaces,” Trevor Project senior research scientist Dr. Myeshia Price told VICE News, “they report lower rates of suicide."
The researchers noted that LGBTQ youth “are not inherently prone to suicide risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identity but rather placed at higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society.”
The survey of nearly 34,000 LGBTQ youth aged between 13 and 24 was conducted between September and December of 2021. So far, 2022 has seen a storm of anti-LGBTQ legislation, such as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida, a ban on gender affirming care for people under the age of 19 in Alabama, and since 2021 more than a dozen states have passed laws banning transgender youth from playing on sports teams associated with their gender identity.
The wave of reactionary anti-trans legislation targeting kids is also weighing heavily on the minds of young LGBTQ people, the survey found. More than 90 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth said they worried about laws denying them access to gender-affirming care and bathrooms, while 83 percent of trans and nonbinary youth said they worried about bills banning them from playing on sports teams that match their gender.
“Transgender and nonbinary youth already report the highest rates of anxiety and depression symptoms,” Price said. “They’re aware of this legislation being put forth, and it’s definitely impacting their mental health.”
Missouri state Rep. Ian Mackey, a Democratic lawmaker whose April speech forcefully opposing a proposed sports ban in his state recently went viral, was a high school senior in 2004 when his state voted to ban gay marriage.
“I recall very vividly the effects that that had on my mental health,” Mackey told VICE News. “It stunted my development as a human being and prevented me from telling people who I was, and prevented me from coming out. I have to imagine that the anguish that these kids are going through is magnified so much more beyond that.”
Gillian Branstetter, a communications strategist at the ACLU, added that the mental health challenges LGBTQ kids face is “a consequence of that alienation.”
“A lot of these bills are seemingly designed to isolate and alienate transgender kids, to remove them from school programs, to make their identity into a dirty word,” Branstetter told VICE News.
Price noted that although suicidal ideation has continued a worrying increase, reports of suicide attempts have decreased from last year’s survey. “There’s definitely something happening there that’s protective for LGBTQ youth,” Price said.
“We’re also seeing increases in representation in the media, so youth are able to have access to these supportive measures and to see themselves reflected.” Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed said representation made them feel good about being LGBTQ.
As discriminatory policies have spread in red states, some families of LGBTQ youth have packed up and fled. In Tennessee, for example, a federal lawsuit filed last year challenging a school bathroom ban was dismissed in February as both students whose families brought the lawsuit had moved out of state.
Mackey said that he’s seeing a similar phenomenon in his state; one family who has testified against anti-LGBTQ bills three years in a row, he said, is moving out of the state this year. “Maybe that’s part of the goal of the folks who push this, is to further divide, isolate, and really to run folks out. I think they’re fine with these kids being exiled, and it’s horrible,” Mackey said.
“I've been here for four years and it’s the same families and same kids who are repeatedly forced to come down to Jefferson City, and who have the support system to put themselves out there in a public forum,” Mackey said. But such cases are uncommon: Thirty-seven percent of LGBTQ youth, including fewer than one-third of transgender and nonbinary youth, reported living in gender-affirming homes, according to the Trevor Project.
“A lot of the families we’re hearing from are supportive of trans kids, and even with the love of their parents, these kids are feeling persecuted,” Branstetter said. “I’m especially concerned about the trans kids whose parents are buying the baseless fuel to this fire.”
As opposition has grown to legislation like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, conservatives supporting bills aimed at eliminating discussion around non-cisgender and heterosexual identity have taken to smearing their opponents as “groomers.” Multiple anti-trans groups and social media figures last month accused the Trevor Project itself—which, again, runs crisis support programs for LGBTQ youth—of grooming children, according to the Los Angeles Blade and Yahoo News.
“This rhetoric is dangerous and false. LGBTQ people have been wrongly accused of preying on children for decades, and this stigma is directly tied to violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people in their everyday lives,” Price said.
“So it’s important to understand the danger behind this… It’s going to undermine the work that LGBTQ people are trying to improve mental health and well-being and save lives.”
But in spite of the smears, Price said that it’s imperative for adults to be there for some of the most vulnerable young people in America.
“For LGBTQ youth who have at least one accepting adult in their life, they’re 40 percent less likely to attempt suicide in the last year,” Price said. “And that’s important, because it suggests that all it takes is one person. And if we’re all trying to strive to be that one person for LGBTQ youth, it’s going to make such a huge difference for them in their lives.”
If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
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