Growing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric causing rise in suicides, advocates say

U.S.

Controversy over the teen’s speech comes amid Florida’s recent passage of the Parental Rights in Education law, or what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. (Photo courtesy: Project Pride)

(NewsNation) — A combination of factors, from isolation during the pandemic to growing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and extremism in politics, is leading to poorer mental health outcomes for young people in the LGBTQ community, new data from the Trevor Project shows.

“I think the pandemic is certainly a factor,” said Ellen Kahn, senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign. “But when we talk to folks in our community, across the board — Southern states, Northern states, red states, blue states, purple, rural, urban — there is a sense that there is kind of a renewed attack on our community,” she said.

In the past year, more than 250 bills were introduced in state legislatures targeting the LGBTQ community, of which 24 have passed so far.

In an opinion supporting the Supreme Court’s decision to remove federal protections for abortion access, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that the court should also reconsider other due process cases — including the legalization of same-sex marriage and the prevention of states from outlawing consensual gay sex.

The result has been a trend of declining mental health among LGBTQ teens and adults. Data released by the Trevor Project last month reveals nearly half of all LGBTQ young people thought about or tried to commit suicide in 2021 and nearly one in five transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide.

If you or someone you know needs help, resources or someone to talk to, you can find it at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or by calling 1-800-273-8255. People are available to talk to 24×7.

“We recently administered a state of LGBTQ health national survey that polled providers on this specific question on mental health, which found that 71% of our LGBTQ providers reported mental health as the key unmet need for this community,” said Scott Bertani, the director of advocacy for HealthHIV and chief of the National Coalition for LGBTQ Health.

Kahn said the Human Rights Campaign has tried for years to shine a light on the declining mental health trends of members of the LGBTQ community.

“We’ve been able to really isolate the data that shows, consistently, for years, that LGBTQ youth — BIPOC and white, across the board — have higher rates of mental health, distress and suicidal ideation. We’ve been sounding alarm bells for a long time to say this is not OK,” she said.

President Joe Biden has worked to stymie what his administration calls discriminatory legislative attacks on the LGBTQ community by Republican-controlled states.

“All of you in this room know better than anyone that these attacks are real and consequential for real families,” Biden said, signing an executive order to bolster programs better addressing the issue of suicide among LGBTQ children and seek to make adoptions easier for LGBTQ parents and children.

Data from the Trevor Project’s annual national surveys from the past three years shows a growing number of LGBTQ teen respondents are reporting seriously considering suicide — 40% in 2020, 42% in 2021 and 45% in 2022.

Psychiatrist Dr. Carl Fleisher explained that heightened exposure to anti-LGBTQ rhetoric was adding to negative mental health outcomes for young people.

“Nowadays, where kids are more media savvy and just kind of getting a lot of attention in media, that kind of thing is going to have an effect,” Fleisher said.

Biden’s action creates a federal working group to promote educational policies for states and school districts that encourage inclusive learning environments for LGBTQ children.

“Trans kids know, that there are people out to get them. If you go on social media, and you have celebrities, politicians and pundits mocking the heck out of trans kids and saying this is made up, that’s a lot for a 13-, 15-, 17-year-old to manage. Kids cannot manage cruelty,” Kahn said.

Ultimately, Kahn said it was a team effort to elevate solutions.

“Everybody can find a way to try to address some of these issues in any way,” she said. “Be a mentor or volunteer at an after-school program or find some way to be a resource to young people who might be struggling.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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