Last year, nearly half of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide, including more than half of trans youth, according to new data from The Trevor Project.
These numbers reveal a deadly mental health crisis among high school and college LGTBQ youth of all races that has been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic and recent political attacks on LGTBQ students by state lawmakers across the country. the country.
“The [Trevor Project] the study is actually on my computer screen right now to send to my colleagues,” says Florida high school teacher Michael Woods, whose state recently passed a law allowing parents to sue districts. schools for teaching an LGBTQ positive curriculum. “Especially here in Florida, with the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, which should also be called ‘Don’t Say Trans’, we have a lot of stressed kids,” he says.
The study, which involved 35,000 high school and college-aged LGBTQ youth of different races and identities, also shows how schools and colleges can help. Just over half of LGBTQ youth identified their school or college as “a space for LGBTQ affirmation” – and these students reported lower rates of suicide attempts. Even something as simple as using the correct pronouns — those that match students’ gender identity — can reduce suicidal ideation.
“Small steps can make a big difference,” says Joe Bento, a Seattle high school teacher who is also president of the Washington State chapter of GLSEN, a national organization that helps educators make schools more welcoming. for LGBTQ students.
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The pandemic: making things worse
Data from the Trevor Project shows how things have gone from bad to worse for LGBTQ youth over the past two years. In 2019, 40% of LGTBQs have seriously considered suicide; in 2021, the rate reached 45%.
And it’s even scarier among students of color. About one in five Black LGBTQ students attempted suicide last year, as did a slightly higher rate of Indigenous LGBTQ students.
Meanwhile, mental health care is scarce. Nearly half of young LGBTQ people — and more than half of Latino LGBTQ college students — told the Trevor Project that they wanted advice and didn’t get it.
The pandemic is an obvious factor, say educators. When colleges and schools moved to virtual learning, many LGBTQ students were locked in houses where their identity was hidden. (Only 1 in 3 LGBTQ youth reported having LGBTQ affirmation households.) These students may have lost access to counselors or other supports, such as a Gay-Straight Alliance or Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club. ).
“For a lot of gay students, school is their safe space,” Bento says. “For a year and a half they weren’t in that safe space.”
Now students are back on campus, in school buildings, but that doesn’t mean all is well, Bento notes. After Two Years of Isolation and Pandemic-Related Trauma, Students Desperate for Mental Health Support “When we came back, that didn’t necessarily happen,” he says. “Suddenly, this is the state of testing! And that’s it, that, that! Everything is “back to normal”, but normal was trash. »
Many students are suffering. But it’s almost always the most marginalized students who have the least access to mental health supports, Bento points out.
Legislative Attacks on LGBTQ Students
It’s not just the pandemic. Worse still for LGBTQ students, nearly 240 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year, most targeting trans people, according to an analysis by NBC News.
Many of these bills have been signed into laws that prohibit trans women and girls from participating in high school sports, prohibit trans students from using school restrooms and locker rooms that match their school identity gender and restrict LGBTQ positive school programs. For example, new Florida law allows parents to sue districts if they believe their child received inappropriate gender and sexuality instruction. The cost of litigation will be borne by the districts, which are already cutting the programs.
LGBTQ students are acutely aware of laws that seek to harm them, educators say, and they are anxious about it. “They’re just going back to the rigors of school [after the pandemic]– and now this! Woods said.
NEA and its affiliates strongly oppose these laws. This spring, NEA President Becky Pringle wrote an open letter to Florida students, published in the Sun-Sentinel newspaper. “Of from protests to walkouts, you bravely show these politicians that you are not afraid to stand up for yourself… To our students in Florida and beyond: We see you! We hear you! We are with you!”
For his part, Woods, a 29-year-old educator, is not afraid either. He wears his “We’re All Human” t-shirt and answers anxious questions from his students. But he worries about young teachers with less job security, living in more conservative areas. Many may feel like they cannot be the educators students need.
“When young people feel like they have no one to turn to or talk to…well, I know why the statistics are the way they are,” he says.
What can schools and educators do?
NEA members and their unions are working hard to get more support for students. In St. Paul, Minnesota, educators went to the brink of strike action this spring to protect the presence of mental health teams at every school in St. Paul. Other K12 unions, such as in Natrona County, Wyo, are ensuring that federal pandemic relief funds are spent to hire more school counselors and other professionals.
Recently, the Biden administration urged colleges and universities to do the same with their money.
But it is also possible for individual educators to create affirmation spaces in their offices, classrooms, buses and other spaces. “Words matter,” says Bento, who introduces himself to his students as follows: “My name is Mr. Bento. I use the pronouns he/him.
Safe Spaces posters are great for showing that you support your LGTBQ students, but may not be allowed everywhere. “In those places, you can always put something on your body, like a thong,” Bento says. (The NEA LGBTQ Caucus, of which Bento is a member, offers “Safe Person, Safe Space” cards that educators can put in their lanyards.)
Bento uses the word “partner,” instead of boyfriend or girlfriend, a subtle nod to the fact that not all relationships are alike and some students may not identify as male or female. “Think of who is not represented [in your words, in your curriculum]Bento insists.
Yes, the program counts too. (See GLSEN’s Inclusive Curriculum resource.) “Students need a curriculum that reflects who they are, they need a positive representation,” Bento says. “And not just Harvey Milk! Not just the AIDS epidemic! Where is the joy?
In fact, The Trevor Project posed the same question to LGBTQ youth: “Where do you find joy?” The answers can guide educators in creating better spaces for all students. Responses include:
- Learn about LGBTQ history
- Learn that I’m not alone and there are more people like me
- Support teachers
- Having a safe space to express gender, gender identity and sexuality
- Campus LGBTQ Clubs
- Live as their authentic self