By Linda Childers
At the Rainbow Community Center in Concord, a drop-in youth group is meeting. Since the presidential election in November, it’s become common for teens in the group to voice their anger and concerns about the Trump administration, and their fears that the president will reverse progress on LGBTQ rights.
On this afternoon, the group of 10 teens meet informally at the center, a place where they can be themselves and talk about everything from their favorite movies and music, to issues affecting the LGBTQ community. Like teens across the country, many of the teens in attendance just want to hang out with their friends, check their phones and generally be teenagers. The difference, said Ben David-Barr, executive director of the Rainbow Center, is that many of the teens here are grappling not only with typical angst, but also the stress of being a sexual minority under a presidential administration that has moved to roll back some LGBTQ rights.
“Many young people are feeling very stressed and anxious,” said Barr. “We have several projects underway to support LGBTQ youth who may be feeling frightened or unsettled.”
Worries Over Health Coverage
Niq, an 18-year-old queer, transgender man from Danville, who attends the center’s youth group, wasn’t old enough to vote in the last election, but he’s seen firsthand how LGBTQ teens are coping with a presidential administration that broke with the tradition of recognizing June as LGBTQ Pride Month. In addition to seeing more bullying and harassment of LGBTQ teens since the election, Niq wonders if his health care might also be in jeopardy.
“I started taking testosterone over the past six months, and I worry that Trump’s proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act might prevent me from continuing with my transition,” said Niq, who doesn’t use a surname.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, employer-sponsored insurance before the ACA often contained exclusions that forced transgender people to pay transition-related costs out-of-pocket. Gender-reassignment surgery was also considered elective, making it an option only for those who could afford it.
The National Center notes that the ACA prohibited most health insurers from discriminating based on gender identity and transgender status.
Despite the fact that repeated attempts to repeal the federal health bill have so far been unsuccessful this year, the law known as Obamacare remains vulnerable, and Niq worries about the future.
“I’ve been working with other LGBTQ youth to channel my stress and worries into activism,” he said. “I feel hopeful when I see actions such as California adopting gender-neutral bathrooms this past March, but dismayed when I see Trump trying to ban transgender soldiers from the military.”
Increase in Calls For Help
The rise in stress among LGBTQ teens isn’t limited to the Bay Area. The Trevor Project, a nationwide crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youths, reports that call volume to its hotline doubled the day after the presidential election and has continued to increase.
In a statement released in August, the West Hollywood-based non-profit, reported that of the 178 contacts received on average per day by The Trevor Project, 7.3 percent of the callers typically identify as transgender. However within 24 hours of President Donald Trump tweeting on July 26 that he would seek to ban transgender military service members, calls from transgender youths spiked to 17.5 percent of all contacts.
In addition, in the week after the Texas legislature introduced a bill that would limit where transgender Texans can use the restroom, The Trevor Project reported that calls from transgender youths doubled to 14.7 percent. Although the bathroom bill wasn’t passed in August, the issue is expected to re-emerge during next year’s primary GOP elections.
Tony, 19, a gay man from Pleasant Hill, admits that after growing up in a time of increasing acceptance and tolerance, it was stressful to be openly out after the election.
“People think that living in California means being around people who are more accepting,” said Tony, who requested that his last name be omitted because he has not yet come out to all of his family members and friends. “Yet it seems the Trump presidency has emboldened people to feel safer making hateful remarks to people of color and the LGBTQ community.”
Tony admits to not only feeling anxious about the potential threat that Trump poses to LGBTQ equality, but also at the possibility of Vice President Mike Pence ultimately becoming president. In past media interviews, Pence has been vocal about his beliefs that marriage should only be between men and women. And in 2014, while serving as governor of Indiana, Pence said the state wouldn’t acknowledge same-sex marriages that occurred after a law banning them had been overturned.
“People say conversion therapy could never happen, yet the reality is only nine states, including California, currently ban conversion therapy for minors,” said Tony referring to the unfounded approach of using various therapies to try to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Daphnee Valdez, youth director for the Rainbow Community Center, said the non-profit is working hard to let LGBTQ teens and their parents know they have a safe space in the community, and to also let teens know there are different ways to participate as an activist.
“Some teens may not feel comfortable being on the front lines of a rally or march, and that’s OK,” Valdez said. “Our youth group works to show teens how they can make a difference in other ways such as advocating for legislation, or using their art or social media skills to create public awareness.”