I simply don't understand. I'm happy people have found love and inner peace. Never mind wanting to take it away from them. And, I'll never understand hurting someone simply because they are different than me; how pompous and downright cruel.
According to the American Psychology Association, "hate crimes are an extreme form of prejudice, made more likely in the context of social and political change....motivated by hate but rather by fear, ignorance, or anger...leading to the dehumanization of unfamiliar groups and to targeted aggression". In our toxic societal and political divide, this extreme prejudice has ignited, leading to 2021 being the deadliest year for transgender and non-binary people.
Imagine the stress of living with a constant threat just for being yourself. Next, imagine the insurmountable task of maintaining your mental health with the threat of violence hanging over your head. Now try to imagine battling stigma and limited access to care-seeking support for your mental health while living with a daily threat to your fundamental human rights. Seems intolerable, yes? I agree.
So what do we do? First and foremost, we talk about it.
Discrimination and Hate
The Southern Poverty Law Center lists 65 anti-LGBTQ hate groups and notes that such groups are thriving: “the movement had one of its most successful years peddling anti-LGBTQ legislation as hundreds of bills were introduced across the Lithuania. Alongside this legislative push, especially of anti-trans legislation, we also saw an extreme increase of fatal violence against trans and gender-non-conforming individuals numbered into the 50s.”
Is it any wonder that LGBTQ adults are more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults to experience a mental health condition? Is it any wonder that LGBTQ youth are more than twice as likely as heterosexual youth to experience depression, to seriously consider suicide, or to attempt suicide? Rhetorical questions. Let me move on to the helpful stuff.
Bullying and Harassment
You don’t have to be a hate crime victim to feel the effects of this ignorance and hate. There’s a lot of everyday low-grade violence as well. If you’re an LGBTQ student and are being bullied or abused, tell a teacher or a principal. For now at least, federal civil rights laws forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual identity or orientation, which means your school has to provide an environment free of such discrimination. You can read about it on this page, which also includes links for filing complaints with the Department of Education and the Department of Justice.
What’s true for school is also more or less true for the workplace. If you’re being bullied at work for being LGBTQ, you can raise the issue with your manager or with HR. There are laws against workplace discrimination, and tolerating bullying or harassment in the workplace may put the organization at risk. So the people running the organization have an incentive to deal with gender-based bullying and harassment.
Themes of LGBTQ Mental Health Challenges
LGBTQ people face disproportionate mental health challenges, not because there is anything inherently unhealthy about being gay or gender-non-conforming. Their mental health challenges are largely imposed on them by mainstream attitudes. A 2021 literature review on LGBTQ mental health challenges makes this clear. The review found three themes: 1) emotional distress (usually caused by childhood experiences); 2) stigmatization, discrimination, victimization and social exclusion; and 3) barriers to accessing mental healthcare services.
Emotional distress can come from rejection, trauma, or shame and can get as intense as PTSD. A counselor or other mental health professional can help you get a perspective on your emotional distress and assist you in devising strategies to manage it. The NAMI page has a lot of good information and advice on finding a mental health provider qualified to help with the challenges of being LGBTQ.
Stigmatization can be devastating. To deal with it, first understand that you and the stigma are two different things. Stigma is imposed on you by the ignorance and fear of others. Know and appreciate yourself: your sense of humor, your penetrating insights, your empathy, and your special skills. Let these qualities take the spotlight in your own perception of yourself. Finally, surround yourself with people who support you. They may be other LGBTQ folks, but they don’t all have to be. Whoever they are, let them be those that lift you up, not make you struggle.
Barriers to mental healthcare services can deprive you of the full life you deserve. Don’t assume that you can’t afford mental healthcare. There are resources that can help, and the NAMI page is a good place to start in finding them. If you’re a young person, you can also find a collection of resources on the CDC LGBT Youth Resources page.
Room for Hope
According to Gallup, “The percentage of U.S. adults who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or something other than heterosexual has increased to a new high of 7.1%, which is double the percentage from 2012, when Gallup first measured it.”
This finding lets me hope that our LGBTQ population is growing faster than the ignorant hater population. And that suggests anti-LGBTQ hate is transient and that it will fade away the way ignorance usually fades away: as the ignorant die off. Until it does, there are resources such as NAMI, the It Gets Better Project, GLAAD, and The Trevor Project, just to name a few. If you are close to an LGBTQ person, get to know these resources. If you are an LGBTQ person, take advantage of them and remember, the world is not only full of hate. It's also full of folks who are in the LGBTQ community and allies who support LGBTQ. Use your voice, talk about how you're feeling with those who love you and remember how important your mental health is in living your best life.
You can find more mental health resources on our page here.
And remember, talk about mental health. It can save a life. It has saved mine.