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Correction: Due to an editing error, the transcript for this piece misspelled Turban's name. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.
As conservative lawmakers push anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, new data from The Trevor Project underscores the mental toll on LGBTQ+ youth. We hear from young people around the country about the challenges they face and their hopes, and John Yang speaks with Dr. Jack Turban, assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco, to learn more.
As conservative lawmakers around the country push anti-LGBT legislation, some of it aimed specifically at young people, there's new data underscoring the mental health and psychological challenges LGBT youth are trying to cope with.
The Trevor Project, which works to end suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth surveyed more than 28,000 LGBT people aged 13 to 24. 41 percent of them said they had seriously considered suicide in the previous twelve months. 56 percent said that in the past year they wanted mental health care but couldn't get it.
And nearly two out of three said that hearing people talk about proposed laws banning discussion of LGBT people in school made their mental health much worse. We spoke with LGBT young people around the country to hear their perspectives.
Ava Smith, LGBT Youth:
My name is Ava Smith. I'm 18. My pronouns are she, her, and I live in Texas.
Javier Gomez, LGBT Youth:
My name is Javier Gomez. My pronouns are he, him, his. I'm 19 years old and I am based in Miami, Florida.
Orion Boone, LGBT Youth:
My name is Orion Boone. I am 17 and I live in Florida. My pronouns are hebay.
Aydan Tariq, LGBT Youth:
I'm Aydan Tariq. I'm 15 years old. I am a bisexual teenager living in southern rural Illinois. I see these attacks. I see these language used by legislators, and it makes me very scared.
I really do worry introducing myself as. a trans man nowadays, just because there's so much animosity towards who I am. I live in a pretty purple area when it comes to politics, and I have both been openly supported and openly called slurs at my school.
I don't know who's on my side and who's not. I don't know who's going to tell me that I need to fix myself. I don't know who's going to actually help me.
I struggled a lot with mental health, and a lot of it stems from me not embracing my queerness and having a very unaffirming household.
I haven't been able to find someone who's queer, who's a therapist and who I could feel comfortable listening to.
I think a lot of people, me included, have worried about, you know, mental health professionals and just older people than us not believing what we tell them.
It was just very, very, very hard for me to get a proper diagnosis, especially with my socioeconomic background.
People will leave me in comments or leave threats of violence in my messages on social media and those kinds of things. While I try not to let them get to me, it does affect you.
Knowing that my identity is something so special that is being under attack makes me even more energized to continue fighting.
A world where LGBTQ plus people are accepted to me really just looks like love.
We wouldn't have to worry walking down the street holding the hands of our partner or wearing what we want or proudly presenting as who we are.
If everyone was accepted for who they are, there's nothing wrong that could happen. Like, I feel like that could only produce good.
I know that a world that is accepting of LGBTQ plus people is a world that is realistic. It is our world, and we need to make it up.
LGBT youth describing the challenges they're facing and their hopes. Dr. Jack Turban is one of the practitioners who listens closely to voices like that. He's assistant professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.
Among the surveyed population, suicide ideation, or thinking about suicide, was twice as high as the general high school population. Why is that?
Dr. Jack Turban, Assistant Professor, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: It seems that the greatest driver of those mental health disparities come from stigma. These kids are constantly being told that who they are is wrong or that they're less than for being LGBT, and those things take a dramatic mental health toll over time.
On top of that, a lot of these trans kids are dealing with physical gender dysphoria, which is something that we have effective treatments for but have been harder and harder to access.
You know, I think it's worth pausing for right here and ask you to explain gender dysphoria, what gender dysphoria is.
Dr. Jack Turban:
Yes, gender dysphoria refers to somebody having a gender identity. So their psychological sense of their gender, that's different from their sex assigned at birth. So what was written on their birth certificate? Essentially.
Not all trans people have the same experience. So there are people who have a different gender identity than their sex assigned at birth, and they're OK with their bodies, and they don't need medical interventions. There are other kids who need different medical interventions, like puberty blockers, gender firming hormones, et cetera.
Given the political environment we're in now, where this has become a pawn in political fights, what does that do to the young people?
There was a time when there wasn't a lot of political attention on trans youth, but it's been new the past few years that it's become really a dominant media political messaging machine attacking LGBT youth, right. They're hearing things, especially the trans youth, like, your identity is a mental illness. You are dangerous to other kids on your elementary school sports teams, or you're a sexual predator.
There's tons of data that none of that stuff is true, obviously, but the kids hear it constantly, and it seeps into their subconscious. What if I am just mentally ill? What if I am dangerous? And you can see how that kind of gaslighting can really worsen mental health, especially if they don't have anyone to talk to about it, because there are so few pediatric mental health providers available, let alone ones that are comfortable talking about LGBTQ issues.
The survey did find that transgender and nonbinary youth in particular are at higher risk for attempting suicide than their peers. What can people what can schools, what can communities do to help them?
So, at the macro level, talking to politicians, if you see a bill introduced that's attacking LGBT youth, reach out to your representatives and tell them you oppose it. Also at the micro level, we know some of the greatest predictors of good mental health for trans youth are things like parent support from peers and support from school.
So if you as a parent can just create an environment in your home where it's clear that LGBT speople are loved and accepted. Let's say you see something on the news that a bill is introduced that would attack trans youth. Say out loud to your family, wow, that's really awful. I can't imagine how hard that is for those kids. That's unfair. They deserve to be loved and supported. And it can even be just one small comment like that might stick in your child's mind. A big part of my work is working with schools to make sure they're addressing things like bullying.
So the Trevor Project study found that 53 percent of these kids were harassed in school. Making sure schools are dealing with that, making sure kids have bathrooms they're comfortable using, that they can change for gym, all these really basic things can help a lot.
You mentioned schools. Obviously, there are a lot of places or Florida leading the way on the so called don't say gay laws. Are there things teachers and administrators can do in their particular school, their particular classroom?
It's really dangerous to not have kids have access to accurate information about gender identity and sexual orientation, at least in their adolescent years. When we know that a lot of exploring happens, which is developmentally normal. Right. Kids in their teenage years explore romance, explore intimacy, and you don't want them doing that in secret because then they can do things that get them into dangerous situations.
So in the same way that you want to create environment in your home to know that LGBT people are accepted, you want there to be an environment where you can talk about gender and sexuality, and there's not going to be shame, you're not going to get in trouble. We're just going to talk about how to keep you safe and make sure that you're exploring in a way that's appropriate.
In the voices we just heard, some of them talk about the reluctance they may have felt to seek mental health care. Why do you think that's such a hard step to take?
For a lot of reasons. We even before the COVID-19 pandemic had a huge shortage of mental health providers. These LGBT kids also have to deal with this double stigma. They have to deal with the stigma of struggling with a mental health condition and the stigma of being LGBT. They have to tell their parents most of the time, if they want to access that therapy, they're going to have to tell therapist.
And if you're in a state where all you're hearing is that LGBT people are less than, it's going to be really scary to tell therapist that because you don't necessarily know what their views are going to be.
And a lot of child psychiatrists don't take insurance, so it's only the families that really can pay a few hundred dollars a session often to be able to access care.
Dr. Jack Turban from the University of California, San Francisco. Thank you very much.
Thanks for having me.
Watch the Full Episode
John Yang is the anchor of PBS News Weekend and a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. He covered the first year of the Trump administration and is currently reporting on major national issues from Washington, DC, and across the country.
Winston Wilde is a coordinating producer at PBS News Weekend.
Satvi Sunkara is a production assistant for PBS News Weekend.
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