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Black LGBTQI+ Youth: Exposing Their Daily Pandemic

Photo by Jakayla Toney on Unsplash

After the four-year barrage of homophobic and transphobic policy rollbacks by the Trump administration, the Biden-Harris administration’s pledge to push queer-affirming civil rights policies offers a ray of hope.

Before the pandemic, queer BIPOC communities were already besieged by rampant unemployment, homelessness, and educational disparities. Since the pandemic was declared in March, 38% of LGBTQI+ workers have had their hours reduced (while 34% of the overall population have) and 22% have become unemployed.

Biden has prioritized “corrective action” such as reversing Trump’s ban on transgender military personnel and aggressively advocating for the passage of the stalled Equality Act, which would amend the federal Civil Rights act to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals in employment, housing, public education, and public accommodations.

Currently, 29 states do not have LGBTQI+ civil rights protections.

“Youth of color who were born in the colors of the rainbow flow to heaven’s gates four times faster than anybody else because we lack emotional and mental support.”

Building on campaign promises to lift up transgender issues, the administration would also increase violence protection funding for the trans community and seek an end to the harmful practice of conversion therapy.

The pandemic has brutally exposed the nexus between health access and economic inequality for queer communities of color. LGBTQI+ youth of color have borne the brunt of this fallout.

While health care access is abysmal for communities of color overall, LGBTQI+ communities of color are least likely to receive culturally competent, quality health care. Practitioner ignorance of and disrespect for transgender and nonbinary patients are contributing factors, as health care training and medical protocols are still designed to meet the needs of cis-straight patients.

School closures and the downsizing of other support facilities have taken an especially large toll on Black and Latinx LGBTQI+ youth, who are more likely to experience family rejection and separation. As one advocate noted:

“Many LGBTQ students rely on student health insurance for mental health services and other healthcare needs, including hormone replacement therapy. All students are struggling with social connectedness and belonging, but isolation may be especially detrimental for LGBTQ students, particularly those who lack loving familial relationships.”

This viewpoint is amplified by the pre-pandemic Gay Lesbian Student Education Network (GLSEN) and National Black Justice Institute (NBJI) report “Erasure and Resilience: Black LGBTQ Youth in Schools”.

Published earlier this year, the report concluded that the intersectional trauma that Black LGBTQI+ students routinely experienced with racism, homophobia, and transphobia was amplified by disconnection from health and social safety net resources.

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While in school, Black queer and trans students disproportionately rely on support provided by counselors, health practitioners, ally teachers, and queer-affirming organizations like the Gender and Sexuality Alliance Network (GSA). A majority of students who participated in the GLSEN/NBJI survey consistently heard anti-queer statements at their schools.

As a result, “Black LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization based on race/ethnicity (as well as sexuality and gender) at school were more than twice as likely to skip school because they felt unsafe.” These students also experienced lower levels of “school belonging” and greater levels of depression.

For Black queer students, not having access to therapy can potentially lead to a vicious cycle of invisibility and erasure. In the GLSEN/NBJI report, over 90% of Black queer students heard the word “gay” used negatively.

It was also the norm for students to hear negative comments about gender expression, as well as comments about not acting “masculine” or “feminine” enough. Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) South L.A. students who surveyed students at their school reported similar experiences, expressing dismay about transphobia among peers they believed would be accepting. As one Black GSA-WLP youth said,

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“Youth of color who were born in the colors of the rainbow flow to heaven’s gates four times faster than anybody else because we lack emotional and mental support.”

The cumulative effect of these experiences can lead to trauma and long term depression. Due to systemic mental health barriers and faith-based stigmas (e.g., messaging that emphasizes prayer and trusting god/Jesus as magic bullets for dealing with trauma), only 39% of Black queer youth have sought help from mental health professionals.

By contrast, nearly 47% of non-black LGBTQI+ youth have.

In addition, Black LGBTQI+ students who attended majority Black schools were less likely to have GSAs than those in majority white schools. Having a GSA at their school increased Black students’ feelings of school belonging and helped stave off leaving school.

These stressors reverberate throughout life.

A recent study by UCLA’s Williams Institute concluded that anti-LGBTQI+ attitudes in families and the workplace were major contributors to high LGBTQI+ poverty rates. In addition, the absence of childhood support for LGBTQI+ folks who did not grow up poor is one of the biggest determinants of adult poverty later in life.

And for both older and younger LGBTQI+ folks grappling with HIV, COVID “has disrupted the health system, making it much more challenging for people living with chronic conditions like HIV to see their healthcare providers in person or feel safe going to a pharmacy to obtain their medications.”

Going forward, public policy and legislation changes under the Biden-Harris administration, and a potentially Democratic-controlled Senate, will be critical.

But in the midst of pandemic surges that weigh most heavily on BIPOC communities, schools and families must act immediately to ensure that Black LGBTQI+ youth are provided with the social and academic support they need to thrive.

Youth serving BIPOC LGBTQI+ community resources in the L.A. area and beyond:

  • GSA support for LGBTQI+ students is available virtually in partnership with school advisers and mentors
  • The Standing4BlackGirls coalition and WLP will launch a 2021 wellness fund and task force focused on providing counseling and therapy for Black queer and cis/straight female-identified youth and biannual LGBTQI Youth of Color Institutes
  • Brave Trails LGBTQ camp offers year-round virtual programming for middle school, high school and college age youth
  • Colors LGBTQ counseling service provides free therapy for youth in the Los Angeles area.
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  • Mirror Memoirs is a “national storytelling and organizing project uplifting the narratives, healing and leadership of LGBTQI+ Black and indigenous people and other people of color who survived child sexual abuse, as a strategy to end rape culture and other forms of oppression and injustice”.

Sikivu Hutchinson
Black Fem Lens