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How Pandemic Has Affected Mental Health Of LGBTQ Youth In The U.S.


Forty percent of young LGBTQ individuals have considered suicide in the last year. The numbers go up when it comes to young trans and nonbinary people. Half said they had considered suicide. That's according to a new survey from The Trevor Project, a survey that was conducted just as the pandemic broke out, when many young people were considering whether to move back in with families who didn't support them. Johnathan Feldhouse and Madison Hall (ph) say their parents haven't always been accepting of who they are.

JOHNATHAN FELDHOUSE: With COVID happening so rapidly, it's a huge adjustment for trans people, too, to just go home and have to be a different person.

MADISON HALL: It's definitely the longest period of time I've both been with my parents and lived with my parents since coming out.

FELDHOUSE: Going from being immersed into an environment where I could be myself and I could be Johnathan and then have to go home and have to completely lie about myself and have to adjust my own pronouns to fit the needs of my parents, to adjust my own name - people don't really like to talk about that adjustment.

HALL: It's a lot easier to be me, dress how I want, makeup, talk, et cetera with a group of friends sometimes rather than sitting with Mom and Dad who, you know, knew me the first 20-plus years of my life.

CHANG: Amit Paley is the CEO of The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ people under the age of 25.


AMIT PALEY: Thank you so much for having me.

CHANG: I'm wondering if we can just start with that tape we heard right now. Can you just tell me your thoughts listening to them?

PALEY: To me, it's a reminder of how many LGBTQ young people in this country are living in really unfair and difficult circumstances and facing incredible challenges and discrimination. And we know that when we're talking about trans and nonbinary young people, they face even greater challenges in terms of discrimination that they experience. For many young people in this time of COVID who'd been forced to go back home from college, who are stuck at home with unsupportive families, it's a really, really difficult time. And it's exacerbating a lot of the challenges that they are experienced and have been experiencing before.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, this most recent data was collected from December 2019 to the very end of March of this year, just as the pandemic began to upend all of our lives. You've spoken a little bit about this already, but can you specifically talk about how the lives of LGBTQ youths have changed during this pandemic?

PALEY: LGBTQ young people have been dramatically impacted by this pandemic. For those who are in college, many of them came out for the first time when they were at university and away from home. And they've been forced to go back home and make a really difficult decision. Do they come out to their families and experience what might be unaffirming (ph), unsupportive or even abusive type of behavior, or do they decide they need to go back into the closet, which can be extremely dangerous and painful for young people?

And then at the K-12 level, we have a lot of young people who their only source of support might have been that one supportive guidance counselor or teacher. And now they're trapped at home. They're physically cut off from their sources of support, and they're feeling isolated and alone. And that's very, very scary and challenging for so many LGBTQ youth.

CHANG: Can I ask, though - was there anything that gave you hope in this survey?

PALEY: There were things that gave us hope because we also saw the trans and nonbinary young people who said that their pronouns were respected by all or most people in their lives - they attempted suicide at half the rate of trans and nonbinary young people who did not have their pronouns respected.

CHANG: I mean, on the importance of having supportive, loving adults in these young people's lives, I want to play you a bit of tape now. This is from a young person named Reese (ph).

REESE: Living at home with my parents during this has been pretty positive. It's really helpful to have them around for most of the time. They remind me to take my medicine and my testosterone shot.

CHANG: This kind of situation where someone is actually supported by their parents - do you feel that this is becoming more common?

PALEY: Well, we hear all the time from LGBTQ young people who are sharing stories of people who are supporting them. There is a long way still to go, and we know that LGBTQ people in this country still face discrimination, still face hatred and violence. But I think people, as they learn more about LGBTQ people - they will be more supportive. They will be more accepting. And that, we think, will save lives.

CHANG: Amit Paley is the CEO of The Trevor Project.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

PALEY: It was a pleasure to be with you.

CHANG: And if you are a young LGBTQ person in crisis and are feeling suicidal or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, you can call the Trevor lifeline now at 1-866-488-7386.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.