Trevor Project: Nearly half of Texas' LGBTQ youths considered suicide in past year

Forty-seven percent of LGBTQ youths in Texas have seriously contemplated suicide in the past year, and 16% attempted it, according to the Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ mental health nonprofit.

The data comes from a new report in which the Trevor Project surveyed 34,000 LGBTQ youths ages 13-24 across the U.S., and the results provide a snapshot of the environment in each of the 50 states for how LGBTQ youths are experiencing mental health issues, struggling to access mental health treatment, and being exposed to discrimination or environments that are unsupportive of LGBTQ people.

In Texas, when asked if recent politics negatively affect their well-being, 48% of LGBTQ youths said "sometimes," while 38% said "a lot."

The Trevor Project’s data do not draw any conclusions about the factors behind the results seen in each state, but Ricardo Martinez, CEO of the LGBTQ rights nonprofit Equality Texas, believes there is a direct correlation between the results in Texas and the current social, cultural and political environment.

“When you live in a state where LGBTQ people are under siege, not only at the Legislature, where we're setting records in terms of the number of anti-LGBTQ bills that are being filed, but then the weaponization of state agencies … then the dehumanization continues at the school board level … it doesn't surprise me that situation would be so dire at the moment for students' mental health,” Martinez said.

In 2021, Texas lawmakers passed a bill requiring transgender students to play on sports teams that align with their gender assigned at birth, rather than their gender identity.

Martinez said that legislation was a direct attack on transgender students, and the impact on their mental health was immediately apparent.

“Back in 2021, when we were in the legislative session from January 1, 2021, till about the end of April of 2022, there were over 25,000 LGBTQ kids that called the (Trevor Project mental health) hotline, asking for support, who were in crisis,” Martinez said.

Earlier this year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton directed the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate cases of transgender children receiving gender-affirming care as child abuse. Several lawsuits over the directive are still wrapped up in the court system. The governor's office didn't reply to a request for comment Friday.

According to the Trevor Project's new survey, the percentages for LGBTQ youths across the country who had considered or attempted suicide, or who had reported having symptoms of anxiety or depression, were all notably higher among survey respondents who identified as transgender or nonbinary.

'I don't want to take that risk'

Karen, the mother of an 11-year-old transgender girl and another child who is 9, said that after the state's Family and Protective Services Department was tasked with investigating families who were providing their transgender children with gender-affirming care, she knew it was time to move.

“The experience was traumatizing," said Karen, who asked to be identified only by her first name, and not to share her children’s names, out of concern for her family’s safety.

"Among everyone in the community, among trans people, and among the people who love them and provide care for them, there was a great sense of panic," she said. "This horror at the idea that our children could be ripped away from us."

In March, Karen decided she had to move her family out of Texas for her kids’ safety and well-being. They now live in Portland, Ore.

“I knew that it was time for our family to go when my daughter asked me if she was going to die,” Karen said. “She didn't tell me that she was having thoughts of suicide or thoughts of self-harm; she asked if she was going to die. And when I, of course, told her 'no,' and I asked her, ‘Why would you ask me that?’ She said, ‘Because everybody here hates me.’”

Karen said that although her transgender daughter is not currently receiving gender-affirming medical treatment, she didn't want to expose her family to possible child abuse investigations stemming from Abbott's and Paxton's political directives.

"I don't want to take that risk," she said. "I won't ask my children to grow up in an environment where their basic right to health care … is being denied to them. That's no place to live."

How Texas' results compare with other populous states

LGBTQ adolescents nationally experience higher rates of suicidal ideation, anxiety and depression than the average population, and in 17 states in the Trevor Project’s new report, the percentage of LGBTQ youths who seriously considered suicide in the past year was equal to or higher than the percentage in Texas.

The Trevor Project also released a snapshot of those findings for the country's five most populous states — Texas, California, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania — for six key survey questions: the percentage of LGBTQ youths who have seriously considered suicide, attempted suicide, wanted mental health care but were unable to access it, experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, identified their school as an LGBTQ-affirming space, and reported their community as being somewhat or very accepting of LGBTQ people.

The research team at the Trevor Project cautions against drawing direct comparisons of the results between different states due to variables in sample sizes and how the demographics of the LGBTQ youth population vary.

However, of those five states, Texas had the highest percentage of LGBTQ youths who had considered suicide, and who wanted mental health care but were unable to access it, according to the report. In the snapshot, Texas also had the lowest percentage of LGBTQ youths who reported that their community was somewhat or very accepting of LGBTQ people, and Texas tied with Florida for the highest percentages of LGBTQ youths who had attempted suicide and who had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or their gender identity.

'It's been pretty traumatizing'

For L.F., the mother of an 8-year-old transgender daughter and a 14-year-old girl who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community, the threat of a possible DFPS investigation meant their family had to take steps to protect their youngest daughter.

L.F. asked to be identified only by her initials for her family’s safety, as they still live in Texas.

“There are some people in power who do not understand transgender people, and they're not very nice towards transgender people," she said she explained to her family. "And so we have an attorney now, and you need to carry this letter in your backpack in case anybody comes to talk to you at school. You don't have to talk to them; you don't have to answer questions; you can just show them this letter that you have an attorney."

"'What's an attorney?'" L.F. said her 8-year-old asked her. "And that was really when things hit home for me, like how ridiculous this was, that my child who feels just so safe and comfortable, and is surrounded by love, and I'm having to talk to her about how she has an attorney to keep her safe so that her family doesn't get split up. It's been pretty traumatizing."

L.F.’s older daughter is aware of filed bills and state-directed policies targeting LGBTQ youths and has begun to get involved in advocacy work. But L.F. said her 14-year-old has already told her she doesn’t feel safe anymoreand is scared.

“It's just a lot of stress. It's taken all of our joy away because when you have to think about leaving or moving or even just like, ‘What's going to happen tomorrow?’ or ‘Am I safe in this new community’ ... you don't have a lot of room for all the joy and ease and peace in life,” L.F. said. “You (go into) almost like survival mode and hyper vigilant of your surroundings, and it's really exhausting. … We don't deserve this.”

'I plan to continue to use my voice'

Already, state lawmakers have filed numerous LGBTQ-related bills for consideration in the upcoming 88th legislative session, including ones that classify gender-affirming care as child abuse, a version of Florida’s "Don’t Say Gay" bill and a bill banning the changing of certain minors’ sex on their birth certificate.

Anna Eastman, the mother of a 20-year-old transgender daughter, spent much of the legislative session last year advocating for LGBTQ rights at the Capitol and testifying against legislation including the trans athlete bill that ultimately made it into law. She says she plans to continue her advocacy during the upcoming session, which will start Jan. 10.

“I plan to continue to use my voice," Eastman said. "I'm lucky my daughter is of age; she doesn't live in the state right now; she's flourishing in college. Our family had the advantage of having excellent health care and mental health care as she was working her way through her own coming-out journey, and that's why she's thriving and living her best life right now.

"I want to make sure that other people continue to have access to those kinds of resources in our state."

Trevor Project snapshot of five most populous states

LGBTQ youths who had considered suicide:

  • Texas: 47%

  • California: 44%

  • Florida: 45%

  • New York: 41%

  • Pennsylvania: 44%

LGBTQ youths who had attempted suicide:

  • Texas: 16%

  • California: 14%

  • Florida: 16%

  • New York: 12%

  • Pennsylvania: 14%

LGBTQ youths who wanted mental health care but were unable to access it:

  • Texas: 68%

  • California: 62%

  • Florida: 65%

  • New York: 58%

  • Pennsylvania: 56%

LGBTQ youths who experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity:

  • Texas: 74%

  • California: 70%

  • Florida: 74%

  • New York: 69%

  • Pennsylvania: 71%

LGBTQ youths who identified school as an LGBTQ-affirming space:

  • Texas: 43%

  • California: 50%

  • Florida: 43%

  • New York: 45%

  • Pennsylvania: 42%

LGBTQ youths who reported their community as being somewhat or very accepting of LGBTQ people:

Texas: 56%California: 75%Florida: 61%New York: 70%Pennsylvania: 59%

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Trevor Project: Texas policies toward LGBTQ youth affect mental health