By Katie Dineen
“Being black already makes life hard…adding being gay on top [of] that is extremely difficult.” A student quote from a 2018 Human Rights Campaign report highlights the struggles LGBTQ+ youth of color face. Discrimination and mental health conditions are inextricably linked and without people that understand and offer support, LGBTQ+ youth of color are left alone.
LGBTQ+ youth of color often confront bias on the basis of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity. They are a vulnerable part of the LGBTQ+ community and experience higher rates of poor mental health compared to their white peers. However, specialized mental health care is limited and LGBTQ+ youth are often lumped together, despite their very different experiences. As we think about ways to better support LGBTQ+ mental health we have to take into account the diverse and underrepresented lives of the community.
A Lack of Care
Among LGBTQ+ youth of color, there is often mistrust caused by experiences of racism and homophobia in the medical community, leaving LGBTQ+ youth of color wary of mental health care providers that don’t understand their stories. The fear of not being able to find a care provider who understands their culture is prevalent among LGBTQ+ youth. 60% of LBGTQ+ youth want mental health care but are unable to access it. Many barriers leave LGBTQ+ youth without effective support, as they navigate a system not designed for them.
A lack of specialized mental health care discourages LGBTQ+ youth of color from seeking help, as access to LGBTQ+ counselors of color or programs remains limited. Barriers to treatment also include concerns about cost, parental permission, and transportation. Socioeconomic disparities exacerbate these challenges for LGBTQ+ people of color, such as higher uninsurance rates. As 28% of LGBTQ+ adults of color have no health insurance coverage, mental health care is out of reach.
A Lack of Knowledge
The experiences of LGBTQ+ youth of color and the impact of racism and homophobia on mental health are not yet fully understood. Research about the experience of Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual people of color is even more limited. Without these experiences being shared and uplifted, LGBTQ+ youth of color are often left feeling isolated and without someone to talk to.
The Trevor Project works to fill these gaps in knowledge so LGBTQ+ mental health can be better cared for. “It’s essential to emphasize that we still do not have known counts or registries of the LGBTQ youth population — and comprehensive, intersectional data on LGBTQ youth mental health outcomes remain limited,” said Amit Paley, the CEO and Executive Director of the nonprofit. With more knowledge comes more support. To address the needs of LGBTQ+ youth of color, anti-racist and LGBTQ+ specific programs must be created and widely accessible.
Building Safe Spaces
The intersectional identities that contribute to the poor mental health of LGBTQ+ youth, also make it possible for them to connect with many people and find comfort in one another. Identity-affirming spaces lower the risk of mental illness and help LGBTQ+ youth of color learn about their mental health. Access to spaces at school, work, home, or in the community where LGBTQ+ youth are able to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, have their pronouns respected, and find support in others similar to them result in lower rates of suicide.
When LGBTQ+ youth of color have access to mental health care providers with similar identities and experiences as them, trust can be built. By promoting acceptance and validating people’s gender identity, sexuality, and experiences with discrimination we can build a comprehensive mental health system that meets the LGBTQ+ community’s needs.