Student Well-Being

The Pandemic and Politics Made Life Especially Rough for LGBTQ Youth, Survey Finds

By Arianna Prothero — July 15, 2021 2 min read
People wave pride flags and hold signs during a rally in support of LGBTQ students at Ridgeline High School, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Millville, Utah. Students and school district officials in Utah are outraged after a high school student ripped down a pride flag to the cheers of other students during diversity week. A rally was held the following day in response to show support for the LGBTQ community.
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The fall and spring of 2020 were hard on all K-12 students, but that was especially true for LGBTQ youth who have had to weather unique challenges brought on by the pandemic and the culture wars.

More than 80 percent of 13- to 24-year-olds who say they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning report that COVID-19 made their living situations more stressful. Only a third say their home is understanding and affirming of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Meanwhile, 94 percent said that political tensions hurt their mental health.

That’s according to an online survey with responses from 34,700 adolescents and young adults, conducted by the Trevor Project, a national nonprofit focused on preventing suicide among LGBTQ youth. The survey was conducted between October and December 2020 and the results released this week.

“This data underscores many of the serious challenges experienced by LGBTQ youth [in 2020] and should serve as an urgent call to action,” the report says.

The challenges of 2020 took a significant toll on the mental health of LGBTQ adolescents and young adults, where the trauma and stress caused by the pandemic was compounded by a host of other issues. Transgender youth found themselves the focus of political battles in many states where Republican lawmakers were seeking to ban their participation in school sports. LGBTQ youth of color were wrestling with not only racism and bias directed at them, but also highly publicized news of police brutality against Black Americans and fierce national debates over racism.

Meanwhile, widespread remote schooling during 2020 disconnected some students from supportive adults, peer groups, and services.

When asked where they find affirming spaces, 50 percent of LGBTQ adolescents and young adults said they find those spaces at school, compared to just 34 who said they find them in their home. Nearly 70 percent said they find affirming spaces online.

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An isolated young person is troubled
yokunen/iStock/Getty

The survey found that social media, though, could be a double-edged sword: Ninety-six percent of LGBTQ youth said that social media positively affected their well-being, and 88 percent said that social media negatively impacted their well-being.

Seven out of 10 LGBTQ adolescents and young adults rated their mental health as poor for most or all of 2020. Almost half of those surveyed said that the pandemic affected their ability to express their sexual orientation, and nearly 60 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth said that the pandemic affected their ability to express their gender identity.

The consequences of this mental health strain are severe: 72 percent said they suffered from anxiety in the two weeks before taking the survey and 62 percent reported symptoms of a major depressive disorder.

Forty-two percent of LGBTQ youth said they seriously contemplated attempting suicide in 2020.

Those numbers were even higher among some groups: 52 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth said they considered suicide and 20 percent said they attempted it.

See also

A supporter for the transgender community holds a trans flag in front of counter-protesters to protect attendees from their insults and obscenities at the city's Gay Pride Festival in Atlanta on Oct. 12, 2019.
A transgender rights supporter holds a flag at Atlanta's Gay Pride Festival in October 2019.
Robin Rayne/AP

Fifty-two percent of Native or Indigenous LGBTQ adolescents and young adults said they considered suicide and 31 percent said they attempted it.

Among LGBTQ youth of one or more race or ethnicity, 48 percent said they contemplated suicide, and 21 percent said they attempted it. And 47 percent of Black LGBTQ youth said they considered suicide and 21 percent said they attempted it.

Yet a crucial support remained out of reach for many of LGBTQ youth: Nearly 50 percent of those surveyed said they wanted counseling but could not receive it.

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