Jan 5, 2023 - News

Pandemic, politics loom over LGBTQ+ youth in Michigan

Photo illustration collage of an upset young person with a rainbow and shattered glass surrounding them.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Nearly half of young LGBTQ+ Michiganders considered suicide in the past year — a reality that looms over community providers as they navigate support amid the pandemic.

Driving the news: The Trevor Project, a nonprofit, published state-by-state results of its 2022 suicide prevention survey for the first time, measuring 34,000 LGBTQ+ youth nationwide ages 13-24.

Why it matters: Barriers to access like cost and stigma prevent many young queer people from accessing mental health services, creating a perfect storm for mental health issues alongside increased isolation and pandemic-era burdens.

  • Nationally, the number of LGBTQ+ youth considering suicide rose 5% from 2020 to 2022, the survey found.

What they're saying: LGBTQ+ students had less access to in-person support like gay-straight alliances at school during the height of the pandemic, as well as more problems at home, Amorie Robinson, co-founder of the local nonprofit Ruth Ellis Center, tells Axios.

  • Some youth lack family support altogether and have basic unmet needs like places to live and food.

By the numbers: 45% of LGBTQ+ youth in Michigan considered suicide in the last year and 15% attempted it, the survey showed. Those figures rise to 52% and 18% specifically for transgender and nonbinary people.

  • Reports of anxiety and depression are pervasive — 76% and 59%, respectively, for all LGBTQ+ youth.
  • Yet 60% of those who wanted mental health care were unable to gain access to it.
  • Plus, more than a third experienced physical threats or harm.

Context: Statewide anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric ahead of the fall election "had a real impact on LGBTQ+ youth," Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan, tells Axios.

  • The organization saw an influx of referrals to resources and crisis services in the lead-up to November.

What's happening: The Ferndale community center Affirmations hasn't been able to offer as many youth services as it wants to because of COVID-19, community engagement manager Justin Bettcher tells Axios.

  • But it does host a leadership and development program and a support group focused on people of color. Also, it brought back its in-person Pride Prom event last year and is planning arts workshops.

Plus, the Ruth Ellis Center opened a new LGBTQ+ supportive housing development in Detroit in the fall.

Reality check: The Trevor Project survey respondents were 70% white, meaning the data doesn't fully represent the mostly LGBTQ+ youth of color Robinson works with as supervisor of outpatient therapy.

  • "The fact is that it's stressful to live in a culture that may devalue who they are and systematically creates barriers," says Robinson.

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