By Amanda Cruz
June is officially Pride month, but the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and mental health is important year-round. To close out this month we asked members of the California Legislature’s LGBTQ Caucus, Senator Scott Wiener, Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes and Assemblymember Christopher Ward, their thoughts on the importance of Pride month and how we can continue to better support LGBTQ+ mental health. Here’s what they had to say:
Q: What does pride mean to you?
“Pride is about our LGBTQ community coming together and celebrating our communities, celebrating our advances and recommitting to the fight ahead.”
“Pride is an opportunity to reflect on the trials and tribulations of the LGBTQ+ community, our triumphs, our trailblazers. We honor the LGBTQ+ people who have fought bravely, and continue to fight, for full equality throughout history, in the present, and into the future. Pride is also a time to reaffirm our sense of self and love for our community.”
“Pride has always been an opportunity for us to open up and remind everybody that we are a welcoming community for those who are exploring their own identities, that, you know, aren’t really sure where on a spectrum they identify in their gender or sexual orientation. That they can just be who they are, and they can be [themselves]. So pride is both an opportunity for every individual to be proud of their true selves and be supported by the community. It’s also an opportunity for the community to come together and realize that we’re big and we are loud and we are not going back in the closet and we support each other. And to have those community-oriented events [to] reinforce the security that people need to continue to be proud of themselves. [And] it also reminds us as a community, when we’re looking across the spectrum of individuals that make up the LGBTQ+ rainbow even beyond sexual orientation, and gender identity that we have seniors, we have black and brown members of our community we have disabled members of our community that, you know, we are as diverse as the general population and within our community, we need to honor that and lift that up.”
Q: What can we do to better support LGBTQ+ mental health?
“We need to expand access to treatment overall. And we need to make sure that we’re providing culturally competent care for LGBTQ people. And we have enough providers to provide that care.”
“We know that the social determinants of health have enormous impacts on our mental health. Supporting LGBTQ+ individuals throughout their lives, and/or during a transition, requires fostering an affirming environment.
One area that we need to improve is health care. A recent study by UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research found that although LGBT adults had similar or better rates of insurance coverage compared to straight and cisgender adults, they were more likely to experience barriers in accessing health care. The study also found that transgender adults experienced greater barriers to care in a number of areas. For instance, rates of delaying or not getting needed medical care were more than twice as high among transgender adults (33%) as cisgender adults (14%).
Another important social determinant of health is housing. In Southern California, 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+. If we do not offer the most basic necessities to our LGBTQ+ youth, how can we ever expect them to overcome any mental health challenge that they might be facing?
I was proud to secure $10 million from the 2021–22 State Budget to support TruEvolution Inc.’s Project Legacy. This first one-of-its-kind facility in Riverside County will provide Transitional Housing and wrap-around services to vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth and those living with HIV or AIDS. Project Legacy will empower our community by giving people a safe, stable place to live, and by offering a breadth of services, such as a primary care clinic, mental health counseling, and workforce development.
Expansion of mental health services to areas of the state where there are disparities is crucial. I represent western Riverside County, a region that lacks access to mental health care. While Riverside County is the fourth largest county in California, it is second to last in per capita mental health funding, according to the Riverside University Health System Department of Behavioral Health. We need to invest in regions that have historically been marginalized so that we can increase the number of practitioners and lower the financial barriers to accessing quality mental health services.”
“We are dealing with an increasing rise of hate and hateful acts on LGBTQ+ individuals in particular, transgender youth are I believe are four times more likely to have depression and suffer from other mental health concerns, than their peers. And I think that the best way that we can support the mental health of those who identify [as LGBTQ+] is to listen to them, and support them and trust their expression and address it. And we are doing that in the state of California through enhanced budget support for, LGBTQ+ specifically as well as the general population and really destigmatizing mental illness, but also affirming that we are supporting specific issues for the LGBTQ+ community with regards to our mental health programming.”
Q: What mental health policies of yours would you like to highlight?
“We’re working with Steinberg Institute on our legislation to expand the behavioral health workforce. We’ve also done some very hard work to strengthen mental health parity laws and to mandate timely access to mental health treatment by health insurance companies. And then we’re doing a lot of work around addiction and making sure that people can have access to the care that they need.”
“I am the proud author of AB 1477, which was signed into law last year, and requires licensed health care practitioners who provide prenatal, postpartum, or interpregnancy care to give expectant mothers and birthing people appropriate screening for maternal mental health (MMH) conditions. AB 1477 specifically expands the definition of “maternal mental health” to include interpregnancy care so that people who experience miscarriages or stillbirths can seek assistance or mental health care services.
Despite miscarriages and stillbirths being a common occurrence, there is still a high degree of stigma surrounding them. While these parents find themselves in an isolated grieving process, their emotional and psychological needs often go unmet by health care and mental health care providers.
Unfortunately, mental health disorders continue to be the most common pregnancy complication in the United States. One in five pregnant people in California experience depressive symptoms during or after pregnancy. These disorders hit lower-income families the hardest, affecting half of all parents living in poverty.”
“I really saw a need from my home community and across the state for masters of social work degree-holding individuals that can get out there and meet the demand that’s on our streets. Whether that is for unsheltered individuals, whether that’s in the clinic facility that is supporting many, who are trying to access Mental Health Services, whether it’s at our schools, or our colleges. There is a broad-based need for additional trained individuals to meet the demand that’s on the ground. I’m very grateful that legislative leadership and the governor agree and are highlighting that up for Workforce Development. I’m also supporting the increase of access to substance use disorder counseling right now the business and professions code only allows for trained individuals that are already certified we are trying to make sure that that is expanded as well to graduate students of those programs who can hit the ground running a little bit earlier that are going to be pretty effective out in the field. The demand again is really high [for] those that are challenged with substance use disorder and we want to put all of our resources out there as fast as possible and I have a bill it’s Assembly Bill 1860 that’s going to be able to do that.”