Youth in Crisis As More LGBTQ+ Young People Struggle with Mental Health, the HRC Foundation Expands its Research and Outreach

LGBTQ+ youth are watching and listening as anti-equality politicians continue their coordinated attacks on LGBTQ+ people — especially transgender and non-binary youth — in state legislatures across the country. These young people hear the hateful, discriminatory vitriol that spews from the mouths of politicians and everyday people alike as they testify in support of these bills - more than 100 in 35 states in 2021 alone. LGBTQ+ youth see that their rights are being taken away. And they are struggling, understandably, under the weight of it all.

Youth Battling Depression: By the Numbers

54% LGBTQ+ youth battling depression
64% transgender youth battling depression
61% questioning youth battling depression
29% non-LGBTQ+ youth battling depression


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According to the HRC Foundation’s analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 54% of LGBTQ+ youth, 61% of transgender youth and 61% of questioning youth are battling symptoms of depression, compared to 29% of non-LGBTQ+ youth. These poor outcomes are fueled by political debates about the validity of their right to exist as LGBTQ+ young people.

New research by The Trevor Project finds that over two-thirds of LGBTQ+ youth report that recent debates over state laws that target transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health. For transgender and non-binary youth specificially, that percentage jumps to a heart-breaking 85%. This new data builds on what we already know: The more support LGBTQ+ youth have in their communities, the better their mental and physical well-being.

Luke/Lucy Chacko

Luke/Lucy Chacko, an HRC Foundation youth ambassador, lives in Texas, where state legislators introduced a heinous 76 anti-LGBTQ bills in 2021 alone – more than in any other state. Chacko said that it hasn’t been easy, but their community has been supportive, allowing them to live “as authentically as possible.”

“I know a lot of others don’t have that support,” they said. “I want my friends and peers to feel safe and included.”

Unfortunately, the current political climate hasn’t made that easy, and anti-LGBTQ politicians aren’t slowing down. HRC expects roughly 280 similar anti-LGBTQ bills in statehouses across the country in 2022. This makes the HRC Foundation’s work especially critical, said Jay Brown, HRC’s senior vice president, programs, research & training.

While some extreme, out-of-touch politicians try to codify discrimination, teachers and administrators, pediatricians and parents are clamoring for information about how to best support the young people in their lives. And, that’s where the HRC Foundation can help.

Jay Brown, HRC’s senior vice president, programs, research & training

The HRC Foundation provides training and resources to increase LGBTQ+ competency to people, organizations and other entities. And as political attacks on transgender youth increase, so have inquiries from groups like schools and hospitals nationwide who want to learn how to be supportive.

The Foundation has seen a steep uptick in requests for trainings about best practices in working with transgender and non-binary youth, said Ellen Kahn, HRC’s senior director of programs and partnerships. The majority of our training and resources developed in the past year has been specifically about supporting transgender and non-binary youth,” said Kahn. “We’re setting professionals up for success so that they can do the same for the young people they serve.

Unfortunately, many LGBTQ+ don’t feel supported by adults in their lives. Data from HRC Foundation’s LGBTQ Youth Report show that only 26% of LGBTQ+ youth report always feeling safe at school, and that only 13% of LGBTQ+ youth report hearing positive messages about LGBTQ+ people in school. By providing professionals like teachers, pediatricians and social workers data-driven best practices about this vulnerable population, the HRC Foundation’s programs help individuals and institutions build competency and gain skills to improve the overall health of LGBTQ+ youth.

Data on LGBTQ+ Youth

26% of LGBTQ+ youth report always feeling safe at school
13% of LGBTQ+ youth report hearing positive messages about LGBTQ+ people in school


Education like this is crucial for the mental well-being of LGBTQ young people, said HRC Foundation Youth Ambassador Adrian Smith. “A lot of the LGBTQ+ community struggles with mental health,” said Smith, and learning how to support LGBTQ+ young people can be “life-saving.”

Providing outreach and resources to support LGBTQ+ youth is exactly what the Foundation is doing.

Just this month, the HRC Foundation, in partnership with the National Education Association and the American Counseling Association, concluded its 9th annual Time To THRIVE conference. More than 1,000 educators, counselors and other youth-serving professionals met virtually to learn best practices and gather resources from leading experts about supporting LGBTQ+ young people.

“We hear over and over from conference-goers that they are thankful for the chance to connect with experts and other like-minded professionals, and this year was no different,” said Dr. Vinnie Pompei, director of the HRC's Foundation’s Youth Well-Being program. “Teachers, school principals, counselors, social workers and other youth-serving professionals left the conference with real tools and resources to help them transform environments to be safe and equitable for LGBTQ+ youth.”

Participants in the Time to THRIVE conference also got to hear from internationally acclaimed writer and performer ALOK and HRC Foundation board member Andrea Jenkins, who was just reelected as the nation’s first openly trans city council member in Minneapolis.

Also this month, the HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program partnered with the NEA and the American Association of School Libraries to hold the program’s annual Jazz & Friends National Day of School and Community Readings. This event encourages community members across the country to host local read alouds of hand-selected picture books to show LGBTQ+ youth that they are welcomed into their communities. This year, communities hosted hundreds of readings with more than 15,000 participants. International allies of LGBTQ+ youth also participated, with readings in France and Uganda.

“Groups like the NEA and the AASL know that books that include diverse experiences are essential for all youth, both LGBTQ+ and those that are not, to learn, grow, and be good citizens of the world,” said Kahn.

Cheryl Greene, director of the HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program, says that the event was especially important this year given the increase in nationwide attempts to remove books from schools which center LGBTQ+ people and experiences.

The current political climate is part of the reason why the Welcoming Schools program is so important, and it’s not a coincidence that, right now, schools request trainings about supporting transgender and non-binary students more than any other training our program offers.

Cheryl Greene, director of the HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program


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The HRC Foundation’s All Children - All Families program, which provides educational resources, training and technical assistance for child welfare systems, has seen similar trends related to the impact of political developments on LGBTQ+ youth.

Last year, the program saw an almost 20% increase in participants and a 21% increase in state representation while over 10,000 from over 900 organizations attended their online webinar series.

“LGBTQ+ youth, especially transgender youth, are overrepresented in foster care. But, too often, these young people find themselves in systems that lack inclusive policies and practices. We help agencies identify meaningful changes,” said Phii Regis, the associate director of All Children - All Families. “Our most downloaded resource in 2021 was about pronouns – that says a lot.”

Kahn said that the current political climate has informed the HRC Foundation’s newest body of research.

“Right now, we’re surveying parents and caregivers of trans and non-binary youth to learn about their access to health care,” said Kahn. “We want to know more about barriers to care, experiences with insurance companies and more. We also launched a new national survey to learn more about how youth are doing, especially with the current political climate. This data will be really crucial for us to continue finding ways to help LGBTQ+ youth thrive with new resources and trainings.”

This research will be the latest conducted by the HRC Foundation about the state of health and well-being for LGBTQ+ youth, building on data learned from past publications including the 2018 Youth Report and the Black and African American LGBTQ Youth Report.

In the meantime, the HRC Foundation will continue providing resources and training to help entities create inclusive, welcoming spaces for all youth across the country. And, that’s important, because just one supportive adult in a young LGBTQ+ person’s life, especially now, can make a huge difference.

“LGBTQ+ youth face a lot of oppression,” said Chacko, “but with the right support, they can learn to thrive in all aspects of their lives."


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Find resources to support LGBTQ+ youth.