Biden to use Bully Chair to support transgender youth


WASHINGTON, DC – People around the world have been struggling for over a year while stuck at home for school and work. But this physical and social isolation has had a particularly hard impact on LGBTQ + youth, The data and the interviews show.

That’s because the pandemic has cut many gay and transgender youth away from places and spaces where they feel free to be themselves and forced them to spend much more time with family members who might not. not accept them.

“A lot of my friends are in the closet… and being stuck at home, they can’t really get out into the world,” said KC Elowitch, a 14-year-old transgender student in Rockville, Maryland. they were able to do what they wanted and be who they wanted. Now be stuck at home with [their families] is much more stressful. “

Elowitch was one of 11 young people, aged 14 to 22, who participated in a recent focus group on LGBTQ + youth mental health hosted by the Urban health media project, a Washington-area nonprofit that trains diverse high school students from underfunded communities to do multimedia journalism on health and social issues.

Elowitch’s experiment was echoed by other members of the focus group.

“I was in a bad spot when I was locked up,” said Wendy Nichols, a 22-year-old trans woman who started the transition last summer. “Not just mentally, but literally and physically.”

Living with transphobic parents made it “difficult to be comfortable with myself,” Nichols said.

Wendy (left) is pictured with her twin brother (right)

Focus group members looked at topics that make it difficult to be LGBTQ +, including:

  • A lack of positive and realistic portrayal of LGBTQ + youth in the media;
  • Being misdiagnosed in doctor’s offices and being treated unfairly because of sexuality, as well as other health inequalities; and
  • The impact of strict religious beliefs on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Participants were encouraged to share openly and were guided through the 90-minute discussion by professionals and other members of the LGBTQ + community. The focus group was co-moderated by Heidi Ellis and Josh Rivera. Ellis, who identifies as a lesbian, was a senior advisor to the United States Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama administration and now runs her own advocacy and consulting firm. Rivera, Money & Consumer Editor at USA TODAY, is gay and chairs the newspaper’s diversity committee.

Focus group participants talked about what they would like to see discussed in the media and what they would like to see changed. They focused on topics such as safety, gender identity, and communicating safely to others.

Roman Sardo-Longo, a 16-year-old trans man who joined the Cleveland virtual discussion group, said that greater LGBTQ + representation in the media could help other young people more easily accept peers like him.

“It took me a while to get out [as trans] because I was terrified that my friends wouldn’t understand, that they wouldn’t get, that they would think it was a strange thing that they would have to come to terms with, ”he said.

Others shared their experiences with religious beliefs that oppose LGBTQ + identity and sexuality.

DC high school student Tris Buchanan is shown in a recent selfie.

17-year-old Tris Buchanan lives in Washington, DC, and identifies as gender fluid. The Christian religion of Buchanan’s parents played a big part in their struggle to get out.

“Some die-hard Christians… say God doesn’t like gay people, God doesn’t like anyone who is part of the LGBTQ community,” Buchanan said. “Homophobes use the Bible and use God as an excuse.”

Nichols, who also grew up in a conservative Christian family in Texas, said the concept of “toxic masculinity” had affected her greatly as she grew up as well.

“I was told, ‘Men don’t cry,’ Nichols said. “I grew up with it and it skewed my perspective.”

When Nichols was 16, she finally decided to tell her family that she identified as a woman. Her late mother, who had been struggling with mental illness from a serious brain injury in a car accident, took Nichols in a car and threatened to drive them both into the river if her daughter did not retract the statement. That’s what Nichols did.

But last June, at age 21, Nichols began the transition to a woman by taking hormones that she took off the internet. She had no health insurance and lived almost five hours from the nearest health care provider who would treat her. After her father died of cancer last August, she moved to the Washington, DC area to live with a friend she met online.

When that didn’t work, Nichols became homeless and called LGBTQ + youth shelter Casa Ruby. There she found solace with others like her and within two months, was connected to transitional housing where she can now live for the next 18 months, if required. She starts a new job as a receptionist at the beginning of May.

Nichols, who struggles with substance use and what she believes to be depression, said she was more hopeful than ever that “one day I can get over it.”

“The future looks so bright now,” she said. “I’m not stuck in a place where I couldn’t be myself or dread the next bad thing like I did for most of 2020 when preparing for my father’s death.”

The UHMP also just completed a workshop on the relationship between housing and health, including homelessness among LGBTQ + youth in DC and Baltimore. This story will soon unfold in the blade. This summer, another reporting workshop will explore youth mental health, with a particular focus on LGBTQ + and Black, Indigenous and Colored Communities (BIPOC). UHMP is looking for applications for 20 high school students.

The UHMP also continues to report on subjects proposed by the young people who participated in the discussion group. Two participants work on a story about the additional challenges facing LGBTQ + youth with learning disabilities.

Jojo Brew, 18, is a high school student and photographer from DC.

Jojo Brew, an 18-year-old trans man in Washington, DC, who participated in the focus group, believes the LGBTQ + community should produce positive content on social media sites such as Instagram in order to raise awareness and promote the understanding gender and sexuality issues.

To this end, he began interviewing and photographing other LGBTQ + teens in the DC area for visuals and social media posts and said a little bit of his own story for Instagram. Brew is also helping plan an LGBTQ + event on June 18 co-hosted by the UHMP in Washington, where he hopes young people who may not have gone out can be “one with the community” even if they don’t speak up. not publicly.

Having that exposure to other LGBTQ + people, they would realize that they’re not the only ones going through a rough patch, ”Brew said. “They want to be heard and feel some kind of love.”

Brew recently received a Children’s Defense Fund Fellowship to chronicle the sense of community in Southeast Washington and works with the UHMP to capture and share the stories of LGBTQ + youth in the DC area.

The UHMP is looking for LGBTQ + people of all ages who are ready to be interviewed about youth mental health. We would like to hear from young people and adults on all topics, including the impact of community, government, parent, religious organizations and peer responses to youth gender and identity. What helped you overcome challenges that could help the next generation? Let us know at [email protected]

Vanessa Falcon is a UHMP and senior intern at the Miami Lakes Educational Center in Florida. Jayne O’Donnell, former health policy reporter at USA TODAY, is the founder of the UHMP.

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