Monday, July 24, 2023

Defending LGBTQ+ Youth: Voices Beyond the Bubble Part 1


By Sam Piha

Recent attacks, in political rhetoric and state house legislation, are targeting LGBTQ+ young people. When it comes to LBGTQ+ issues, those of us in California live in somewhat of a progressive bubble. To learn more, we interviewed leaders residing outside of California to hear their views on the current political attacks.

Why are the political attacks on LGBTQ+ youth happening now? 

“Attacks on LGBTQ+ youth are nothing new, but the sheer number of bills introduced this year that are designed to remove rights and protections for LGBTQ+ people is staggering. As of May 1st, 2023, the ACLU is tracking 469 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in the country since January, a record which more than doubles the number of bills introduced in all of 2022. The Equality Federation puts the total number at over 500. The good news is that advocates, much like our team at Equality NC, worked together to defeat nearly 90% of the harmful bills considered in 2022. 

These bills are based on mis/dis/malinformation and mischaracterization of transgender and LGBTQ+ people. Many of the bills introduced include bill text which is based on false information about fairness, societal dangers, and fear-based tactics to attack the most marginalized of our community. As we've seen the number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills increase since 2018, we've seen steady trends in attempts to strip rights away from LGBTQ+ youth and adults, such as prohibiting access to gender-affirming care for transgender youth and young adults, banning transgender students from playing on sports teams, forcing school educators and state employees to “out” LGBTQ youth, and limiting topics in school curriculum relating to race, equity, gender, LGBTQ+ topics, and systemic inequities and oppression.” – Brennan Lewis, North Carolina

What impact do you think the current political attacks are having on the LGBTQ+ youth community and the programs that serve them? 

“The impact happening now is that our trans youth who have been under gender-affirming care have been dropped from their doctors. We are hearing that a lot of doctors are worried about losing their licenses even though it's legal for youth who have been grandfathered in. This loss of treatment has been devastating four our youth and families.” – Rex Barnes, Florida

“Young people are scared. And angry. Especially trans, nonbinary, and gender expansive youth who have to witness nearly daily attacks on their rights to affirming medical care, and participation in athletic programs. More broadly, LGBTQ+ youth are actively being told they are not welcome in their home and school communities as their full and authentic selves - this is gravely impacting their mental and emotional health.” – Nat Duran, Illinois

 “Youth in the LGBTQ+ community are likely feeling unsafe and uncertain about the people in the community around them, unsure about how people are going to treat them. Even if they have safe spaces and trusted people they go to, others in those settings could create uncertain environments where youth don’t feel safe and supported. This vulnerability can lead youth to disengage from programs that are there to support them. Living daily with the stress and anxiety of knowing that other people in and around your own community are legislating against you or forming policy that is intended to limit your ability to live your life securely and equally just because of who you are, can be devastating and a continuous source of depression and pain. Young people and the programs that support them can feel targeted and experience unresolvable anger and hopelessness.

Additionally, LGBTQ+ youth are dealing with a heightened prevalence of mental health concerns, further exacerbated by the pandemic, and compounded now by an uptick in targeted attacks toward their community. According to the Trevor Project (2022), 73% of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety, 58% experienced symptoms of depression, and 45% considered suicide in the past year. These experiences can make it both more difficult for youth to participate successfully in programming, as well as for staff to meet their needs as their experiences may be more than the program is equipped to address. Programs may face challenges in areas where policies and legislation discriminating against LGBTQ+ communities threaten to impact funding and even what can be taught or discussed within programming.” – Patricia McGuiness, Massachusetts

“LGBTQ+ youth across the country are significantly impacted by the introduction of anti-LGBTQ legislation. According to the results of a national survey of LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 24, released on May 1st by the Trevor Project, almost two thirds of respondents reported that "hearing about potential state or local laws banning people from discussing LGBTQ people at school (also known as 'Don't Say Gay') made their mental health a lot worse." Mental health impacts on transgender youth are exacerbated by high numbers of bills specifically targeting gender-affirming care, participation of transgender youth athletes in school sports teams, and protections for LGBTQ youth in K-12 schools.

For organizations and educators serving LGBTQ young people, it can be difficult to navigate the rapidly changing policy landscape. In states like Florida, where the state Board of Education approved a ban on classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in all grades, some LGBTQ teachers and allies have moved out of state or left the profession entirely amidst confusion and backlash caused by the policy. 21% of the LGBTQ population in the U.S. lives in a state that censors discussions of LGBTQ people or issues in schools (known as “Don’t Say Gay” policies), and more states are considering similar bills this legislative session.” – Brennan Lewis, North Carolina

(Note: A complete list of bios can be found at the end of part 2.) 

To see additional tools to ensure a sense of safety for all youth, see our Youth Development Guide 2.0 here. Also, we’ve developed a series of LIAS Blogs and a new briefing paper on supporting LGBTQ youth. Feel free to share these resources with your network.

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