SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, CA — While the coronavirus pandemic has caused major disruptions in daily life for many Americans, the transition has been especially difficult for LGBTQ+ youth who aren't accepted at home, say LGBTQ+ organizations.
The Diversity Center of Santa Cruz, which serves the LGBTQ+ community in Santa Cruz County, sounded the alarm in a recent email to followers and said LGBTQ+ youth are feeling particularly isolated.
The Diversity Center shared the story of a 15-year-old transgender boy who used to stop by the center every day after school before the shelter-in-place order. But during quarantine, he began spiraling and talking about harming himself while quarantining with family members who don't accept him.
The Diversity Center is not alone in its concern. The Trevor Project, which claims to be the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention serving LGBTQ+ youth, said twice as many people as normal have reached out to staff seeking crisis services in the past few months.
“LGBTQ youth already face increased risk of anxiety and suicide and disproportionate rates of unemployment and unstable housing," said Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, in an April white paper. "The COVID-19 global pandemic has the potential to exacerbate these ongoing concerns and to create new, unique problems for LGBTQ youth."
The Trevor Project said it transformed its infrastructure to better serve the public remotely, as have many organizations seeking to continue serving those in need of help during the pandemic. Paley urged LGBTQ+ youth to "find affirming community online" and stay engaged in spite of physical distancing requirements imposed during the pandemic.
The Diversity Center has also ramped up its online programming, said Executive Director Sharon Papo in an email.
As for the struggling 15-year-old boy, the center invited him to join an online LGBTQ+ youth space that's open 24/7 and serves more than 60 young people in Santa Cruz County. The center said it also arranged for twice-weekly therapy sessions that have helped improve his mental health.
Youth also can access homework help, support groups, a bilingual group, and queer history and cooking classes via The Diversity Center, Papo said. Transgender support groups are conducted online and over the phone.
While the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth is a concern, the LGBTQ+ community is at greater risk of physical implications of the coronavirus too, Papo said. Elders are less likely to ask for help, LGBTQ+ people have higher smoking and asthma rates and one in five live in poverty.
"Our goals are to support our LGBTQ+ community to stay alive, strong, connected and resilient through this pandemic and beyond," Papo said.
The center has provided a free coronavirus stress group led by a therapist and provided people in financial crisis with emergency aid. When it comes to older adults, the center has called more than 350 LGBTQ+ people at least three times to check in, created online social activities, and enacted a meal and grocery delivery program, Papo said.
And while Papo was heartened by last week's news that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting sex discrimination in the workplace protects LGBTQ+ workers from being fired on the basis of their sexual orientation, she said there is more work to be done.
"We need Congress to catch up with the Supreme Court and the overwhelming majority of people in America, and pass full federal non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people," Papo said.