While we take this year’s Pride Month as another chance to reaffirm our fierce support and protection for all types of love, it is also a time to continue to critically examine issues faced by the LGBTQ* community.
Mental Health and Discrimination
Modern sociocultural shifts have allowed for a more expansive understanding of gender and sexuality, as seen in the momentous 2015 landmark decision in which same-sex marriage was ruled legal in all 50 states. More people than ever agree on LGBTQ rights, a trend that appears to hold across political parties and age groups. However, despite increased support, LGBTQ communities are still at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, suicide, substance abuse, and other mental health problems.
LGBTQ individuals are three times more likely to experience a mental health condition than the general population. About 20-30% of LGBT individuals will abuse substances, compared to 9% of the non-LGBT population. 40% of transgender-identifying individuals have attempted suicide in their lifetime, a rate nearly nine times higher than the general attempted suicide rate in the US. In fact, suicide is one of the leading causes of death for LGBTQ youth ranging from 10 to 24 years old. These harrowing statistics point to a need for better understanding the complex barriers the LGBTQ community face with regards to mental health.
92% of LGBTQ youth report hearing negative messaging about their identity, predominantly from their school, the Internet, and their peers. Dr. Jeremy W. Luk comments, “We know that LGBQ teens face discrimination because of their sexual orientation. In addition they may experience problems with family acceptance and more frequent bullying from peers.” The combination of self-identity shame and pervasive stigma against mental illness forces LGBTQ folks to fight multiple stigmas simultaneously. In tandem, these stigmas exacerbate isolation and rejection, two factors that greatly influence mental illness.
Fear of Healthcare Systems
Many LGBTQ individuals experience an ongoing sense of distrust, fear of safety, and hesitation of healthcare engagement due to the biases of providers and healthcare systems. A 2015 study reported implicit preferences for heterosexual-identifying patients versus LG-identifying people amongst heterosexual health care providers. About 20% of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals reported facing abusive language by a healthcare professional. Moreover, approximately 8% of LGB, 27% of transgender and gender-nonconforming, and 20% of HIV+ individuals report being denied needed health care outright. These scenarios further the LGBTQ community’s negative sentiments towards healthcare and reduce access for this community. In order to provide effective care, providers and healthcare systems are held responsible for evaluating their possible biases against the LGBTQ community and implementing training programs to combat said biases.
Denial of Civil Rights
Despite improvements in civil and human rights protections for LGBTQ communities, there is still legal vulnerability related to religious exemptions, disrupting LGBTQ safety and wellbeing. Only 19 states explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Meanwhile, in 31 states, it is legal to fire an employee based on their identity as transgender or gay. In 36 states, there are no laws in place to prohibit discrimination against LGBT students. Systems of oppression like these are a key factor contributing to psychological distress and trauma, necessitating a multi-pronged approach to addressing mental health concerns of LGBTQ communities.
Thousands of people fill the streets in the month of June with LGBTQ pride and amongst them are tireless advocates, activists, legislators, and allies. The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth. GLMA, the largest and oldest asociation of LGBTQ healthcare professionals, fights for equality within healthcare settings. Transforming mental health care, The National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network advocates for healing justice grounded in social justice and liberation.
Marsha P. Johnson, an activist and drag performer, who battled severe mental illnesses and was one of the vanguards of the Stonewall Riots, once said, “As long as gay people don’t have their rights all across America, there’s no reason for celebration.” Pride has since transformed into not only a moment of rejoicing over LGBTQ identity and resilience, but also a continuation of persevering resistance and commitment to radically improving freedom of access to quality, stigma-free, physical and mental health care for all.
*LGBTQ is used in variations depending on what specific groups of people were included in the research statistics