By Maya Pottiger | Word In Black
(WIB) – Though DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s iconic anthem “Summertime” heralds that school’s out and it’s time — as Will Smith raps — to “sit back and unwind,” the end of the school year isn’t good news for everyone. For LGBTQ kids, being home for the summer can be complicated.
Maybe the student isn’t “out” at home. Maybe the student isn’t out at all. Maybe they don’t live in a supportive or safe environment. Maybe school — and the community they’ve built there with friends and staff members — is the most affirming place for them.
Instead of looking forward to sleeping in late or family vacations or eating ice cream poolside, summer can mean three months of isolation — which can take a toll on both their mental and emotional wellbeing.
And, students living at the intersection of “multiple marginalized identities,” like being Black and queer, are often left out of the conversation.
“When we’re talking about what affirmation looks like, what safety and security looks like, for Black LGBTQ young people, in particular, there are many reasons why many of us do not feel seen or heard,” says Preston Mitchum, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. “We can really do a lot to stop that.”
Navigating Legislation That Rolls Back LGBTQ Rights
Americans are increasingly identifying as LGBTQ, according to a 2022 Gallup poll. In fact, the rate has doubled from a decade ago, with 7.1% of adults being LGBTQ in 2021 compared to 3.5 in 2012. And, among generation brackets, Gen Z is part of the community at the highest rate, with roughly 21% saying they are LGBTQ, compared to 10.5% of Millennials and only 4.2% of Generation X.
Though the rate of identification has steadily been increasing, the satisfaction rate of LGBTQ acceptance has wavered over the years, according to historic Gallup data.
This could be related to how it feels like the country is starting to move backward despite the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing marriage equality in 2015.
Since March of this year, we have seen three major anti-LGBTQ policies, including the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida and anti-trans legislation in Texas. Most recently, Florida governor Ron DeSantis asked the state’s medical board to essentially ban any transition care for transgender youth.
These bills are taking a toll on LGBTQ youths’ mental health. In its 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, the Trevor Project found that 93% of transgender and nonbinary youth are worried about state or local laws denying trans people access to gender-affirming medical care. And 91% have worried about these laws denying them bathroom access. Plus, after the widespread controversy around trans swimmer Lia Thomas, 83% have worried about being denied the ability to play sports.
In the same news cycle, states were trying to ban schools from teaching critical race theory, creating an intersectional attack.
“As a Black queer person who grew up in the Midwest with familiar roots in the South, I personally understand the devastating impact of having our stories, our cultures, our identities erased from the classroom,” Mitchum says.
When we’re talking about what affirmation looks like, what safety and security looks like, for Black LGBTQ young people in particular, there are many reasons why many of us do not feel seen or heard.PRESTON MITCHUM, THE TREVOR PROJECT DIRECTOR OF ADVOCACY AND GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS
Despite high-profile trans people like Laverne Cox, Angelica Ross, and Brian Michael Smith, about half of respondents in GLAAD’s 2021 Accelerating Acceptance report said that transgender and nonbinary people are new or unfamiliar to them. But more non-LGBTQ people agreed that genders aren’t limited to male and female in 2021 compared to 2022, jumping from 38% agreeing to 43%.
Although the general public has a greater understanding of gender being a spectrum, that’s not always translating to what youth experience. The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found only one in three transgender and nonbinary youth found their homes affirming, proving society still has a long way to go.
In a statement to Word In Black, a spokesperson from GLSEN, a national education organization dedicated to ensuring safe and inclusive schools for all students, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, said anti-LGBTQ extremists are targeting “our most vulnerable trans students and students of color,” and that “these curriculum censorship bills are aligned with bans on discussions of race and racial justice, and only further shame and harass Black queer students, who are already some of our most persecuted and marginalized youth.”
“The current extremist ‘Don’t Say Gay’ attacks on LGBTQ+ youth are connected to anti-CRT attacks on Black children and other students of color,” the statement says. “All Black students, including Black queer youth, deserve to have safe, affirming school environments where they can learn and grow free of fear or harassment.”
The Unique Impact on Black LGBTQ Youth
“When we talk about queerness and we talk about race, it’s hard to separate the two when you walk around at that intersectionality,” says Kelle’ Martin, executive director of allgo, an organization for queer people of color based in Austin, Texas.
In its 2022 national survey, the Trevor Project found that there was an increase in LGBTQ youth who considered suicide, from 42% in 2021 up to 45%, but the rate of those who actually attempted it stayed the same at 14%. The report also found that Black LGBTQ youth experienced anxiety symptoms at about the same rate compared to 2021, but those who reported feeling depressive symptoms dropped by nearly 10%.
While there isn’t one reason these rates are higher among LGBTQ youth, Mitchum says, the Minority Stress Model could provide some insight. The theory suggests that LGBTQ people face unique and hateful stressors — like homophobia, discrimination, or prejudice — which lead to negative mental health outcomes.
“This, combined with the Black LGBTQ youth experience of racism, among other things — police violence, homelessness, and housing insecurity, among others — can compound to cause even higher disparities,” Mitchum says. “And that is exactly what we’ve seen.”
Nearly 70% of Black LGBTQ youth reported discrimination based on their race or ethnicity in The Trevor Project’s 2021 survey, compared to 60% of Asian LGBTQ youth. Overall, half of LGBTQ youth of color reported facing discrimination based on their race or ethnicity.
“When you throw race in the equation, demographically, our youth are the most vulnerable, so they’re the most likely to be affected,” Martin says. “Homophobia, heteronormativity — when you see all those things affect those communities in question, just know that it’s even worse for our Black queer and trans kids.”
Schools Need Summer Support for LGBTQ Students
Black students heavily rely on the mental health resources provided by their schools. And both LGBTQ and transgender or nonbinary youth overwhelmingly find school to be a more affirming space than home, with more than 50% of both groups saying school is an affirming space.
These are more uplifting results than the joint 2020 GLSEN and NBJC report, which found that 52% of Black LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and 31% because of their race or ethnicity. It also found that nearly a third of Black LGBTQ students reported missing at least one day of school in the last month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
“Schools must do a better job at investing in supportive educator networks,” the GLSEN statement says. “Supportive adults in schools can help provide guidance and resources to students throughout the school year and as they prepare for summer break.”
Martin, who spent six years as an educator in Texas, says it’s important for school staff to keep connections with “kids that are of concern.”
“Make sure they know that there are people in their corner,” Martin says. “It just takes one time for that trust to be broken between the students and their trusted adults. They won’t open up anymore. So you want to keep that communication open, and you want to create an environment that enables them to learn and be vulnerable but also feel safe.”
LGBTQ+ clubs, advisors, and counselors can create workshops, discussion groups, and other ways for students to connect virtually and in person to continue getting support during the summer, Victoria Kirby York, deputy executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, wrote in a statement to Word In Black.
“School leaders can also help build cultural competency and parent support programs for those who want to ensure their child thrives,” Kirby York wrote.
Access to organizations and spaces where your sexual orientation and gender identity are valued and affirmed as profoundly as your race is precious.VICTORIA KIRBY YORK, NATIONAL BLACK JUSTICE COALITION DEPUTY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Schools should also continuously learn what it means to create a safe space for students and stay updated on research instead of relying on what they know, Martin says. The Trevor Project encourages districts to have a model policy for suicide prevention, especially one that has LGBTQ inclusive curriculum.
Most importantly, Mitchum says LGBTQ programs and organizations should extend past the school year. Whether it’s Gender and Sexuality Alliances or other LGBTQ activities, they should continue in-person or virtually during the summer months.
“Summer school courses are regularly offered at many schools. Sports teams often continue practicing,” Mitchum says. “What we’re really encouraging is to not allow some of the programs that are seen as the in-school support to stop just because the summer is taking place.”
Here’s Where to Find Community and Help This Summer
Fortunately, there are many ways to stay connected with the LGBTQ community or find mental health resources during the summer months — especially since June is Pride Month. Students can attend in-person and virtual events nationwide celebrating pride (check out the map below). Or, if students need something more discreet, Martin says look for LGBTQ organizations that host yoga classes or discussion series that enable people to meet and get connected.
“Try to seek out those types of spaces,” Martin says. “You can always reach out.”
Through its Lavender Book platform, NBJC is creating a database of spaces around the country that are welcoming to the Black queer, Black trans, and Black gender non-binary communities. People can both search for spaces based on a variety of criteria and can also submit places for others to discover.
“Access to organizations and spaces where your sexual orientation and gender identity are valued and affirmed as profoundly as your race is precious,” the National Black Justice Coalition’s Kirby York said in the statement.
Here are free mental health resources:
- The Trevor Project is available 24/7 over phone, text, or chat, and also offers an online space for LGBTQ youth to connect with each other.
- GLSEN has online resources available year-round, and their Gender and Sexuality Alliances and local GLSEN chapters stay connected during the summer months to act as a support network.
- The suicide and crisis lifeline changes to 988 on July 16. The Trevor Project fully invested in the new lifeline to ensure there are LGBTQ specialized services. Not only are there culturally competent resources, but an LGBTQ person facing a crisis could be transferred to the Trevor Project, which will then help connect them to care.