TW: LGBTQIA+ Suicide, Homophobia
June is my favorite month of the summer season because almost every day, my social media feed is filled with a colorful collage of pictures and inspirational sentiments from the many out and proud members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
While it would be ideal if all of the members of this community could participate in the joyous celebrations that June has to offer, it is unfortunately not a reality. Even in 2022, many queer people are unable to live entirely out of the closet because they fear that they will not be accepted for who they are.
A 2019 study at Yale University concluded that 83 percent of those who identified as queer conceal their sexual orientation from most people they know. The study also found that this could negatively affect several aspects of their lives — most notably, their health.
“Concealing one’s sexual orientation can lead to significant mental and physical health issues, increased healthcare costs and a dampening of the public visibility necessary for advancing equal rights,(…) Concealment takes its toll through the stress of hiding and also because it can keep sexual minorities away from each other and from adequate public health attention.”
-John Pachankis, Ph.D., associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health
Although this is one of the most recent studies done on the topic, 2019 seems like it was light years ago. This was before the global pandemic, masks, lockdowns, vaccines, and an insurrection haunted our view of reality. It was also a vastly different climate for members of the queer community.
Since June 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states, society had slowly progressed toward more acceptance of LGBTQIA+ rights. That is, up until 2021, which became the worst year in history for the number of homophobic bills signed into law.
In the spring of 2021, we saw the Governors of Tennessee, Florida, and Arkansas sign several anti-transgender bills into state law, including the most restrictive ban on trans healthcare to ever exist. Going far beyond the great bathroom bill debate, this wave of transphobia inspired 268 similar trans-targeted bills.
By 2022, Florida’s proposition of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill prompted 20 additional states to introduce identical bills aiming to ban “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity.” The latest popular idea to emerge since then has been the mandated reporter bills, which would require teachers to out their students if they are informed that any of them identify with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.
This year, sixteen more states have introduced anti-trans healthcare bills. Twenty-seven additional states are considering “fairness in women’s sports” bills, and the infamous bathroom bills are unfortunately starting to make a comeback as well.
I suspect that if Yale conducted the same study this year, the results might show an even higher percentage of closeted queers. It’s hard to believe that almost ten years after we took such a tremendous step in the way of queer rights, we’re now standing even further back.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community have been fighting for decades just to be perceived as equals. Despite any progress previously made, the powers that be have shown that they will continue to move that goalpost.
Many of these transphobic bills, if passed, will encourage neighbors, co-workers, employers, teachers, and medical staff to out or report queer people. The hateful views we see at the top trickle down into our communities — where they are ironically supposed to feel safe.
Considering the prevalent trend of anti-trans legislation, it’s no surprise that 2021 was marked as the deadliest year for targeted violence toward gender-diverse people. The HRC reported that at least 50 transgender or gender non-conforming people were murdered in the U.S alone — and globally, there were over 375 victims. At least 14 trans and gender-nonconforming people have been murdered within the first six months of 2022.
The bigoted rhetoric inspired by this legislation has not only exacerbated violence toward members of the queer community, but it causes them to feel more ostracized and shamed — often to a severe degree. This 2021 study found that queer teens in states with homophobic and transphobic policies were more likely to attempt suicide than in those states without them.
The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 40% of queer youth considered taking their own life that year, with 36% of those participants revealing that they did so because they felt discriminated against for their sexual orientation, race, or gender identity.
While many would rather ignore the fact that their hateful views are causing queer people to commit suicide, it’s undeniable. The people who advocate for limitations on LGBTQIA+ rights — or actively discriminate against queer people — find it acceptable to reinforce malevolence under the guise of religion.
Our lack of acceptance is causing people to believe that they need to mask their identities instead of revealing their pride. This is an unequivocal and indisputable cultural failure.
As we celebrate Pride Month, we must not forget that there are still so many people who don’t feel safe genuinely expressing themselves. As they witness their friends and strangers post vibrant colors and powerful narratives, they stay silent out of fear for their jobs, relationships, reputations, and lives.
To those who cannot show your pride, please know that the disgrace you feel is not deserved. Your community failed to provide a safe and loving space for you. No matter what anyone says, this is not your fault. I understand it is difficult to believe, but there is a community that will welcome you with open arms. You are not alone.
I wish that everyone was born with the privilege to embrace their authentic selves in any community fully, but it isn’t so. This is a privilege that is too often taken for granted.
Queer people are not inferior to heterosexuals. They are human beings.
The ability to love is not shameful; it is the universe’s greatest gift to us. Therefore, it should never be weaponized against any person or group. Let’s commit to practicing more acceptance by celebrating our community members for their individualities.
We are all part of the same world, created by the same power, and we all deserve the same rights.
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