Now That Trump Has Won We Must Reassure LGBT Youth That Our Movement Is Resilient and We Are Not Alone

 
 
Responding to the Impending Trump-Induced LGBT Health Crisis

The prospect of a Trump presidency has aptly been described as a “mental health crisis” waiting to happen.

Even before the campaign began in earnest, LGBT health advocate D.A. Stewart warned that “A Trump presidency would not only be dark and disturbing for LGBT Americans, it could very well mean taking several steps backward in our general health as a community, undoing years of public health strides in inclusive care for underserved populations in our country.”

Not surprisingly, in the days immediately following the election, there was a dramatic spike in calls to organizations and support groups that serve the mental health needs of the LGBT community.

The Trevor Project and TransLifeLine, organizations that provide suicide hot lines for LGBT youth and the Trans community, respectively, reported a record number of calls from people concerned about the election results. Similarly, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, an organization founded in 2005, logged an unprecedented number of calls from LGBT individuals coping with feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and a sense of betrayal.

Screen_Shot_2016-11-27_at_12.36.55_PM.jpg"We started getting increased call volume at about 10 p.m. on election night, and it hasn't slowed down at all," Gretta Martela, director of Trans Line told Mother Jones on Nov. 11, and added: "In fact, it's on the rise still."

Steve Mendelsohn, deputy executive director of the Trevor Project, said queer youth who contacted his hotline are "telling us that they're feeling anxious and scared…They talk about things that came up during the election campaign. So a fear that perhaps gay marriage will be reversed. Or that conversion therapy will be promoted. Or that their insurance might be taken away."

The Trevor Project is currently training many more volunteers to help field the increasing volume of calls, Mendelsohn said.

The Crisis Text Line, a support network that people in distress can contact for help via text message, also reported a record number of messages.  The Crisis Text Line said in a press release that "The words 'election' and 'scared' are the top two things being mentioned" and "the most common association with 'scared' was 'LGBTQ.' "

The increase in calls to these groups could have been predicted. We have long known that LGBT youth are at significantly greater risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors than heterosexual youth. Gay and lesbian adults also report a history of more suicidal ideation and attempts than their heterosexual counterparts. Transgender people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are also at greater risk for suicidal thoughts and attempts.

In addition to the general risk factors for suicide, such as depression and substance abuse, LGBT people also face additional stressors, such as discrimination and hate speech, as well as bullying and spiritual terrorism, that put us at an increased risk for suicidal behavior.

Indeed, a 2002 study by psychologists Bill Jesdale and Sally Zierler found a direct correlation between LGBT rights and the rate of suicide in adolescents. The study discovered that states that had enacted laws protecting LGBT citizens experienced a statistically significant decrease in their adolescent suicide rates. The study offered hope that by creating a more accepting climate for LGBT people, the rate of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among this population could be decreased.

A corollary of the Jesdale-Zierler findings is also likely true. When the rights of LGBT people are under attack, then suicidal thoughts and behaviors will occur at an increased frequency.

Hence, we must be especially vigilant when our rights are assaulted by politicians and hateful religious figures. Lives are literally at stake.

During this holiday period, when people in general are particularly subject to depression, we especially need to  reassure LGBT youth that our movement is a resilient one.

We have experienced setbacks before. In 1986, for example, the United States Supreme Court delivered a devastating blow when, in a 5-4 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, it upheld laws that criminalized homosexual activity even in private.

In response, the gay rights legal movement turned its attention to state courts, and over the next fifteen years achieved a string of important victories as state courts either struck down sodomy laws or indicated that they could not be enforced against consenting adults whose conduct was private and non-commercial.

Although there were losses in the state courts, many of the lawsuits ended in victory for the LGBT plaintiffs who challenged the laws, and a few states during the 1990s legislatively repealed them, so that by 2003, when the issue again reached the Supreme Court, barely a dozen states retained actively enforceable sodomy laws on their statute books, and in only four states were those laws solely targeted at same-sex conduct.

In 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court summarily reversed Bowers v. Hardwick in an expansive ruling that has been pivotal to the legal and social progress that we have made since.Â

Similarly, in our epic quest for marriage equality, there were many defeats in court and at the ballot box before the tide turned in our favor, first in a few state courts, then in public opinion and in more state and federal courts and, finally, in the Supreme Court itself.

Even during the long nightmare of the George W. Bush administration, when we were scapegoated and our rights cynically used as a wedge issue to motivate the religious right to vote Republican, we not only persevered but made significant advances.

The specter of a Trump-Pence administration has no doubt shadowed our Thanksgiving celebrations, but we must not allow the disappointing election to cause us to forget the many successes we have achieved and the many blessings for which we should be grateful.

Screen_Shot_2016-11-27_at_12.30.52_PM.jpgWe need to emphasize that the 2016 election was not a referendum on LGBT issues and that Trump and Pence received no mandate to erode LGBT rights.

Moreover, we must remember that we are now better prepared than ever to resist the attacks on our rights that will come from a Trump-Pence administration stocked with homophobic politicians.

The election of Trump has encouraged and emboldened bigots and haters throughout the country, but we need to remember that we have unprecedented levels of support. We are not alone in our fight for equal rights and dignity.

We must keep our faith in Dr. Martin Luther King's maxim that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Rather than surrender to despair, we must redouble our commitment to action.

Part of that commitment to action must be an increased vigilance in protecting the most vulnerable members of our society, including LGBT youth.

We must increase our contributions to such organizations as the Trevor Project, the TransLifeLine, and the Ali Forney Center, as well as to our advocacy organizations such as the NGLTF, the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, GLAD, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, GLAAD, and many others.

We must also remind young people that “It Gets Better.”

The “It Gets Better Project” grew out of a mental health crisis in 2010, when the nation was rocked by a series of well-publicized bullying scandals and by the suicides of a number of LGBT teens.

Alarmed by the suicide of Billy Lucas, a Greensburg, Indiana teenager who had been mercilessly bullied, Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller founded the project as a channel on YouTube that features videos of LGBT adults and allies reassuring young people that, however awful their predicament might seem at the time, "it gets better."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QqOpUPX1PA

"I realized," Savage told a New York Times reporter, "that with things like YouTube and social media, we can talk directly to these kids. We can make an end run around the schools that don't protect them, from parents who want to keep gay kids isolated and churches that tell them that they are sinful or disordered."

The first video in the series featured Savage and Miller, who were both bullied in high school, explaining how fulfilling life became after they left high school, met each other, and began their family.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IcVyvg2Qlo

Soon after its launch, the series went viral on the Internet and grew to include tens of thousands of videos.

In the video below, made in October 2010 to benefit the Trevor Project, Broadway stars reassure young people in an original song written by Jay Kuo & Blair Shepard.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeKI8biAglU

Perhaps the most powerful "It Gets Better" musical video is the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus's rendition of Stephen Schwartz's "Testimony."

Schwartz's 2012 composition features the voices of individuals in pain, but his work envisions triumph as suffering individuals come to find solace in communion with others. It acknowledges the heartbreaking anguish many gay people feel in a homophobic society, but it also joyfully celebrates the rewards of self-acceptance and the happiness that can be found by living life honestly.

If you just "hang in" and "hang on" and accept yourself, the song advises, you can experience "the joy of living with authenticity."

Schwartz, who has written such hit musicals as Godspell (1971), Pippin (1972), and Wicked (2003), collaborated with Savage as he set to music the heartfelt testimony of contributors to the "It Gets Better" project. The result is an extraordinarily moving work that is beautifully performed by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XZRNL9ZnyM

If you're an LGBTQ person and need someone to talk to, these groups are ready to help:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-237-8255 (TALK)

Crisis Text Line: Text “GO” to 741741

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386

Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

GLBT National Youth Talk: 1-800-246-7743

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Image by Ted Eytan via Flickr and a CC licenseÂ

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