June is Pride Month—an opportunity for people across the world to celebrate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ+) community and commemorate the many advocates that have fought for LGBTQ+ rights. Pride Month typically consists of events such as marches, memorials, concerts, and fundraisers dedicated to recognizing and educating the world about the unique strengths and struggles of the LGBTQ+ community.
“During the 2019 coronavirus disease pandemic, LGBTQ+ youth are especially impacted by the unprecedented changes necessary to manage the disease,” says Samantha Busa, PsyD, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone and clinical director of the Gender and Sexuality Service at the Child Study Center. “Finding creative ways to celebrate Pride Month is an important part of supporting these youth now more than ever.”
Support Protects LGBTQ+ Youth
“COVID-19 has challenged the way communities stay connected around the world, forcing everyone to adjust the ways that we socialize, learn, and communicate,” Dr. Busa says. “LGBTQ+ youth are more than twice as likely to experience suicidal thoughts and four times as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth.”
Transgender youth are a particularly vulnerable group within the LGBTQ+ community as a result of lack of acceptance and discrimination, including in school, Dr. Busa says. “Surveys estimate that approximately 27 percent of transgender youth feel unsafe at school and 35 percent have been bullied, and they are twice as likely to be taunted or mocked by family for their LGBTQ+ identity than cisgender LGBQ youth,” Dr. Busa says. “Transgender youth also report higher rates of depression, suicidality, and victimization when compared to cisgender youth. One in three report attempting suicide, and one in three also report being a victim of sexual violence.”
For LGBTQ+ youth, research continues to demonstrate that connectedness to supportive and affirming social environments protects against a variety of risk factors. “Family support is one of the best predictors of support,” Dr. Busa says. “Research has shown that when an LGBTQ+ child has family support, they are more likely to have better physical health, higher self-esteem, and better peer and family relationships. They are also less likely to have depression, three times less likely to attempt or think about suicide, and less likely to experience substance use disorders.”
Data about the impact of support across the lifespan suggest that strong family bonds as well as affirming families lead to higher self-esteem and health, Dr. Busa says. “For transgender individuals interested in and eligible for gender-affirming medical interventions, access to gender-affirming healthcare has been shown to improve mental health and wellbeing,” Dr. Busa adds. For transgender children and youth, family and community support makes a difference. “Research shows that transgender children whose families affirmed their gender identity are as psychologically healthy as their cisgender peers,” Dr. Busa says.
LGBTQ+ Youth and COVID-19
Access to supportive environments and affirming healthcare services are protective for LGBTQ+ youth, yet COVID-19 has exacerbated many barriers to these forms of support.
“The transition to online learning, temporary closure of community agencies and recreational programs, and other social distancing restrictions may contribute to the loss of affirming social environments,” Wernick says. “Although some LGBTQ+ youth may be able to social distance with supportive family members at home, many LGBTQ+ youth experience family rejection and invalidation of their identities.”
In New York City, Wernick says, 70 percent of homeless youth identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community, and—with school closures—these youth are unable to access the basic needs provided by public schools.
“LGBTQ+ youth already experience disproportionately higher rates of depression and anxiety as a result of experiences of discrimination and bullying,” Wernick says. “With the loss of supportive environments outside the home, LGBTQ+ youth are even more vulnerable to distress and mental health challenges related to COVID-19.”
Even in the context of familial support, COVID-19 has presented economic challenges for many, likely interfering with access to valuable resources protective for the LGBTQ+ community. “Access to gender-affirming care is very protective for transgender youth and has been shown to significantly reduce gender dysphoria,” Wernick says. “Caretaker job loss can interfere with healthcare coverage necessary to continue accessing gender-affirming medical and mental healthcare, and out-of-pocket healthcare expenses may become even more burdensome for families.”
Additionally, overrun healthcare facilities and the necessary prioritization of those sick from COVID-19 has restricted access to many gender-affirming medical interventions, Wernick adds.
Feeling Together During a Time of Social Distancing
Pride Month is always an opportunity to joyfully recognize the LGBTQ+ community and stand in solidarity with a community still fighting against discrimination. “For LGBTQ+ youth made increasingly vulnerable by COVID-19, it is important that we find creative ways to demonstrate our support while maintaining social distancing,” Dr. Busa says. To help LGBTQ+ youth celebrate Pride Month and stay connected this June, Dr. Busa recommends these activities that can be done at home:
- Seek out online communities that don’t require physical closeness. If you can’t find one, start one.
- Schedule video calls with supportive peers, mentors, advocates, or family.
- Attend a digital Pride Month parade. Research what your local LGBTQ+ friendly organizations or doing to celebrate Pride Month virtually.
- Have a celebration or parade at home. Get dressed up, decorate, and celebrate together.
- Have a virtual fundraiser for an organization that advocates for the LGBTQ+ community.
- Start a virtual book club with your family or with friends to read and discuss books about the LGBTQ+ community.
- Have a movie marathon or binge TV shows featuring LGBTQ+ characters.
- Tell LGBTQ+ youth that they are not alone, that you support them, and ask how you can help. You can never express this sentiment enough.
Additional Resources for Families
The Child Study Center hosts educational webinars throughout the year. In a recent webinar, Pride During COVID-19: Virtually Celebrating Diversity in LGBTQ Youth, experts from the Transgender Youth Health Program at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone discuss the modern LGBTQ+ movement and recommendations for a virtual Pride Month. Watch here.
Additionally, Wernick and Dr. Busa recommend the following resources for families:
- Family Acceptance Project: a national research, intervention, education, and policy initiative that works to understand and prevent health and mental health risks for LGBTQ+ children and youth
- The Trevor Project: a national organization that provides crisis intervention and resources to LGBTQ+ youth and young adults