Forty percent of LGBTQ+ youth in the United States have seriously contemplated suicide over the past 12 months, according to a survey released on Wednesday. For transgender and nonbinary youth, the number climbed to more than 50 percent.
The data comes from the Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on the prevention of suicide among LGBTQ+ youth. Their survey — the largest of its kind with 40,000 respondents — reveals that suicide is the second-leading cause of death among all people aged 10 to 24.
“This should break our hearts as much as it breaks the heart of God,” Jun Young, founder and director of Beloved Arise, a national Christian nonprofit focused on supporting LGBTQ+ youth, told Sojourners.
The Trevor Project conducted the survey from the beginning of December 2019 to the end of March. The nonprofit’s first national survey, released last year, that found 39 percent of LGBTQ+ youth had seriously contemplated suicide in the past 12 months.
Coronavirus has likely worsened matters for some LGBTQ+ youth as they may struggle with unsupportive families and isolation. Forty percent of LGBTQ+ youth reported they were unable to receive care due to concerns over parental support, according to the survey.
"There's so many young people who are just cut off from their normal sources of support so they don't have people or friends or resources they can turn to,” Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of the Trevor Project, told Reuters on Wednesday. "We've seen increased volume on our direct crisis services. At times it’s more than double our typical volume.”
The survey also revealed that many LGBTQ+ youth lack opportunities and means to access the mental healthcare they need. Nearly half of respondents percent said they wanted psychological or emotional counseling from a professional but were unable to receive it over the course of the past 12 months.
This was compounded during the coronavirus pandemic — access to potentially life-saving care, including mental healthcare, has become more challenging for both patients and providers, exacerbating issues like isolation, access to hormone treatments, and gender-related surgeries for many in the LGBTQ+ community.
Matthias Roberts, author of Beyond Shame and a psychotherapist who specializes in LGBTQ+ trauma and faith, told Sojourners he was grieved to hear the news of this survey, but not surprised. Still Roberts felt angry, explaining that much of what's outlined in the survey is entirely preventable.
“‘If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea,’” Roberts said, citing Jesus in Matthews 18:6. “LGBTQ+ Christian youth face particular challenges because bad theology runs rampant in many of our churches. It's nearly impossible for youth to distinguish between ‘your sexual orientation is bad’ and ‘you are bad.’”
Jun Young condemned this misguided theology, explaining that the Trevor Project’s survey clearly reveals the outcomes.
“I urge every church, school, and youth ministry, regardless of your stance on LGBTQ+ inclusion, to acknowledge the fact that LGTBQ+ kids are in your care and some of them are hanging on by a thread," said Young. "We have to take immediate steps to ensure our environments are safe for all kids.”
Austen Hartke, director of Transmission Ministry Collective and author of Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians, underlined the particular vulnerability of transgender and nonbinary youth.
“When the rate of attempted suicide for transgender and gender-expansive youth is twice that of LGB youth, and three times that of straight cisgender youth, our churches should be actively creating plans to support our young people,” he told Sojourners.
He noted the survey’s finding that transgender and nonbinary youth who had their pronouns respected by “all or most people in their lives” attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not.
“We know that the more places where a young trans person can show up in the world as their whole self, the better,” said Hartke. “So why not make church one of those places? Can we imagine a world where the church is the most supportive place in a trans person's life, rather than the place they fear the most?”
Reuters reporting contributed to this story.