What Many LGBTQ+ Students Worry About Most During the Pandemic – Education Week

National political fights over transgender youth rights combined with the pandemic have taken a toll on the mental health of many LGBTQ+ teenagers and young adults, a new poll shows.

Two thirds of LGBTQ+ teens and young adults say that recent high-profile debates and state legislation on restricting transgender youth participation in school sports, among other related issues, have been hard on their mental health, according to the poll conducted by Morning Consult for the Trevor Project, a national suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth.

The impact of these political debates is even more keenly felt among transgender and nonbinary youth, 85 percent of whom say these types of discussions and legislative activity have negatively affected their mental health.

Transgender and nonbinary youth are also more likely to say they have trouble getting mental health care, compared with their cisgender lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer peers.

“These results underscore how recent politics and ongoing crises facing the globe can have a real, negative impact on LGBTQ young people, a group consistently found to be at significantly increased risk for depression, anxiety, and attempting suicide because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society,” said Amit Paley, the CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project, in a statement.

The survey asked LGBTQ+ teens and young adults how they felt—angry, nervous, stressed, scared, sad, excited, or happy—about three policies in particular: banning transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams and transgender boys from playing on boys’ teams; prohibitions on doctors prescribing gender-affirming medical care to transgender youth; and policies requiring schools to tell parents if their children are using different names or pronouns at school, or are identifying as LGBTQ+ at school.

Anger, stress, sadness, and nervousness were the most commonly-reported emotions. Policies requiring schools to inform parents about their children’s gender and sexual identities made LGBTQ+ students particularly stressed and nervous.

Several states have recently passed bills limiting transgender students from participating in school sports based on the gender they identify with, following the lead of Idaho, which passed the first such bill in 2020.

“It’s clear that lawmakers should be taking an intersectional approach to public policy, not working overtime to target the most marginalized young people, particularly those who are transgender or nonbinary, for partisan political points,” said Paley. “We all must play a role in promoting LGBTQ acceptance and creating a more supportive world for all young people.”

Support for transgender students appears to be falling among educators as political debates over transgender youth rights—which started a few years ago over which bathrooms and locker rooms students were allowed to use—have intensified over the past few years. Forty-one percent of teachers and school and district administrators said that transgender students should be allowed to use the bathroom or locker room that aligns with the gender with which they identify, according to a fall survey by the Education Week Research Center. That’s down from 51 percent in 2017, when the nation saw the first wave of “bathroom bills.”

Morning Consult polled a nationally representative sample of 820 LGBTQ+ teens and young adults ages 13-24 between September and November of 2021.

Pandemic prompts fears of the future and in-person learning

The pandemic has also taken a toll on the mental health of many LGBTQ+ young people.

Among those surveyed, 63 percent reported feeling scared about the future during the pandemic. Forty-three percent said they were anxious about in-person learning and half said they were stressed about the 2021-22 school year.

More than half of LGBTQ+ teens and young adults said that anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes and homophobia often causes stress and anxiety. Fifty-eight percent said that hate crimes give them stress and anxiety “very often,” and 56 percent said the same of homophobia.

Overall, 39 percent of all LGBTQ+ youth said they had trouble accessing mental health care. This issue was a bigger one for transgender and non-binary young people, 53 percent of whom said they had difficulty getting mental health care, compared with 28 percent of their cisgender LGBQ+ peers.

White LGBTQ+ youth were more likely to report having trouble accessing mental heath care than their Black peers, 43 percent versus 29 percent.

Similarly, larger shares of transgender, nonbinary, and white LGBTQ+ youth reported having difficulty getting access to physical health care. Thirty percent of transgender and nonbinary youth, and 25 percent of white LGBTQ+ youth said they had trouble accessing physical health care, while 17 percent of cisgender LGBQ+ youth and 13 percent of Black LGBTQ+ youth said they had similar issues.

If there was one silver lining from the poll, only 4 percent of LGBTQ+ youth reported experiencing cyber bullying because of online learning during the pandemic.