Last week, the governor of South Dakota signed the first anti-transgender bill of 2022 into law, banning trans women and girls from playing on school sports teams that match their gender identity. While it was expected, the news is nonetheless heartbreaking, as it foreshadows an incredibly tough year ahead for LGBTQ youth.
We’re less than six weeks into 2022 and already tracking more than 150 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced across the country. Most of these bills specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth’s ability to play sports, receive gender-affirming medical care, and use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Some legislation, like the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” being heard in Florida, would go as far as banning any discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom, and require teachers to out students to their parents if they disclose to someone at school that they identify as LGBTQ.
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As the largest suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth, The Trevor Project has been hearing from LGBTQ youth across our 24/7 crisis services who are expressing a wide range of emotions in response to these relentless political attacks. Many are scared and worried, and some have expressed suicidal thoughts over the laws being debated in their state.
And it’s not just the legislation on the top of young people’s minds, it’s the harmful rhetoric surrounding them. According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth, and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth, say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.
When asked specifically about policies that ban transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams, like the newly enacted law in South Dakota, 74% of trans and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 57% felt sad, 43% felt stressed and nearly 1 in 3 felt scared.
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LGBTQ youth are already placed at significantly increased risk for suicide because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized. The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, capturing the experiences of nearly 35,000 LGBTQ youth across the United States, found that 42% of respondents seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of trans and nonbinary youth. LGBTQ youth who experienced discrimination in the past year reported attempting suicide at more than twice the rate of those who did not.
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To confront this public health crisis, lawmakers should be implementing LGBTQ-inclusive policies, expanding systems of support and fostering acceptance of LGBTQ young people at every level of society, not using them as political pawns.
When you see your elected officials, who are supposed to be representing you, spend so much time debating your rights and your very existence, it’s hard not to internalize that negativity and hate. And those feelings of stigma and rejection can compound and be detrimental to a young person’s mental health and sense of self.
As we get deeper into an election year, I fear this use of vitriolic rhetoric will only get worse. I plead with lawmakers to consider the weight of their words. Young, impressionable minds are listening.
I hope lawmakers take the time to meet with transgender and nonbinary young people who would be impacted by these policies. It’s important to emphasize that these debates are so often characterized by misinformation and fearmongering because less than half of Americans personally know someone who is transgender or nonbinary.
LGBTQ youth simply want to be respected for who they are and to live their lives free from discrimination. We can all start by offering messages of support and cultivating affirming spaces in our daily life. I urge all elected officials to join our movement to end LGBTQ youth suicide and to be a part of the solution – not the problem.
Amit Paley is CEO and executive director at The Trevor Project. Follow him on Twitter: @amitpaley
If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678.