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By Ames Simmons, Equality North Carolina

Suicide prevention was a major issue during the 2017-18 legislative session. Despite being left out of the budget bill, funding for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which receives over 5,000 calls per month, was secured in later legislation. Lawmakers also passed H986, which directs the Department of Public Instruction to develop a mental health training for school personnel that includes suicide prevention. As DPI implements this legislation, critical to its relative success is the understanding that some youth populations are at a much higher risk of suicide than others.

A new report from the University of Connecticut and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation reveals some of the factors behind the elevated suicide rate among LGBTQ youth. The report contains results of a 2017 online survey of over 12,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) youth across the US – one of the largest surveys of this population ever conducted. Here are some important points from that survey:

Alarming rates of sexual assault among LGBTQ youth.

The UConn/HRCF study found that 11% of LGBTQ youth reported being sexually assaulted or raped because of their actual or perceived gender identity.

Nearly half of LGBTQ youth experience bullying on school property.

43% of LGBTQ youth reported being bullied on school property in the last 12 months.

The report found that LGBTQ youth are dealing with staggering amounts of stress in their daily lives, leading to elevated levels of anxiety and depression. The highest stress levels were reported among non-binary and gender non-conforming youth, those young people who reject or do not conform to society’s rigid rules categorizing people as male or female. 95% of all respondents reported difficulty sleeping at night. Only one in five LGBTQ youth of color reported that they believe their racial or ethnic group is regarded positively in our country.

Suicide Prevention in North Carolina

Suicide is a growing problem among all age groups, especially youth. We know that after passage of HB2 restricting transgender students’ access to facilities, calls to the Trans Lifeline doubled. What we don’t know is how many transgender youth are considering or attempting suicide in our state, because those data are not collected – and they should be. Even in the absence of that data, it is important that existing tools to prevent suicide, such as the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, are protected.

Equality NC calls upon lawmakers to take steps to protect transgender youth from bullying, discrimination, and other forms of marginalization that can contribute to depression and suicide. Lawmakers should repeal HB142, which restricts North Carolina cities from protecting transgender youth access to appropriate facilities. Lawmakers should also enact statewide protections from discrimination in education. Equality NC is developing a youth fellowship program designed to lift up LGBTQ youth across our state, especially young people in rural areas. However, a more systemic approach is required to understand and address LGBTQ youth suicide. We also know that LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience homelessness, foster care, and the juvenile justice system than their peers. A compassionate response is one that affirms the value of every human life, and cares for the mental health of all our state’s children.  

The full results of the UConn/HRC survey can be found here.

Ames Simmons is the Director of Transgender Policy at Equality North Carolina

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