Gender-affirming care has been at the forefront of mainstream media for the last year. In Minnesota, Shelly King, a mother of two LGBTQIA+ children testified support for Minnesota bill HF146; King shared that a majority of transgender and LGBTQIA+ individuals she has encountered “… know how hard it is to be judged so they give grace to everyone.” As a young queer adult who grew up watching my ability to get married be debated on a national stage, the compassion and empathy in her testimony warmed my heart amidst the political turmoil we are currently and have always been experiencing in the United States.
It is not a surprise that these debates directly impact LGBTQIA+ youth and their physical and mental health. I witness this daily in my role at a local Minnesota-based psychiatric service provider. In January, the Trevor Project shared its recent findings on the mental distress that our transgender and non-binary youth are facing. There have been more than 200 pieces of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation proposed in more than 30 states; regardless of the legal passage of these proposed laws, a very real trauma unfolds for our youth as they hear constantly that their existence is being questioned and challenged on a public stage.
This type of trauma is even greater for our LGBTQIA+ youth who also are part of the Black and Brown population in the country. The Trevor Project reports “one in four (25%) Black transgender and nonbinary young people reported a suicide attempt in the past year.” This, although alarming, does not shock many in the LGBTQIA+ community. Our community is not now in crisis; more so, we have been in fight or flight mode since before Stonewall, where transgender people of color have been at the forefront of LGBTQIA+ movements. The rhetoric and trauma that our current youth face is not too unfamiliar of that of our LGBTQIA+ community have faced for generations.
As we see the culture war being played out again at the expense of the LGBTQIA+ community, it does bring my young, queer heart great joy that Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order to make the state a refuge for trans people seeking gender-affirming care. While this single element is indeed worth celebrating, it is not the end of the long road ahead to ensure that the mental health of the LGBTQIA+ community is protected. The world is multifaceted with several compelling issues on everyone’s hearts; however, there are three pillars of action that positively impact our Minnesota community:
Parents are accountable for their children’s wellbeing, partners are accountable for being open and honest with their partners, and elected officials are accountable for being true to their promises that got them elected. Additionally, we can support LGBTQIA+ mental health by staying informed about the issues that impact our greater community and by choosing not to give resources to organizations and businesses that support anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation and movements. Individuals who practice integrity are great, a civilization that expects and demands accountability is unstoppable.
During my time as a high school educator, I asked my freshmen English students daily how our required reading stoked their curiosity. When one person opened up, others would feel empowered to do the same. We would spend class sessions discussing our shared human experiences and how that experience is related to the text. While still in an education role, I now work primarily in a psychiatric setting, where I constantly and intentionally invite staff members to share their own human experiences so that our team can learn from one another and therefore, make a difference within our community in Minnesota.
Getting involved in the LGBTQIA+ community is the best way to assist ongoing mental health needs of the queer community. Volunteering at Twin Cities Pride or enjoying a night out at a LGBTQIA+ friendly lounge are great ways to actively support the community and engage in courageous conversations with those who are affected most by the stories shared nightly on the news.
Shelly King, in her last moments regarding HF146, shared “your children reject you if you reject them.”
This powerful anecdote is rooted in unconditional love that is sacred in the LGBTQIA+ community. It is critical to be straightforward and open with our youth, as they are always watching and listening. The choices and decisions we make impact the relationship we have with each other, just as securing gender-affirming care nurtures and provides the quality of life deserved for so many youths in our country.
Austen Higgins Edman is the education coordinator for PrairieCare, a provider of mental health services in Minnesota.