The contradictory landscape for LGBTQ+ youth mirrors how they feel about themselves, the world around them and their future. Over 90% of LGBTQ+ youth are proud to be part of the LGBTQ+ community. Over half feel the LGBTQ+ community is accepted more each day. three-quarters would like to be out about their LGBTQ+ identity in their future career. Yet far too many LGBTQ+ youth still harbor negative feelings about their identity — and fear for how it will impact their future.
2022, the year the Youth Survey data was collected, saw significant progress for the LGBTQ+ community, with support for marriage equality, non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people and even the percentage of Americans openly identifying as LGBTQ+ hitting the highest levels ever recorded. This is particularly true for Gen Z and Millennials, who are both more likely to openly identify as LGBTQ+ and to support pro-equality legislation and rights than older generations. At the time the survey was fielded, 2022 was the worst legislative session ever seen for LGBTQ+ rights, with over 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced into state houses, and almost 30 anti-LGBTQ+ bills passing into law.
Previously, the HRC Foundation and the University of Connecticut collaborated and fielded the 2017 LGBTQ+ Youth Study, the largest-ever survey of LGBTQ+ youth at the time. For the 2022 iteration, which was in the field between January 31 and October 23, 2022, more than 12,500 LGBTQ+ identified youth ages 13-18 were recruited from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. They completed an online survey which captured multiple aspects of daily life, including parental and school/peer support, mental health and well-being, school experiences and hopes and dreams for the future. Full results from the survey can be found in the 2023 LGBTQ+ Youth Report released in August 2023.
The vast majority of LGBTQ+ youth are out and proud in their present lives:
More than 9 in 10 (90.3%) LGBTQ+ youth, including 92% of transgender and gender-expansive youth, agree or strongly agree they are proud to be part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Over 8 in 10 (82.8%) LGBTQ+ youth, including over 2 in 3 (67.4%)transgender and gender-expansive youth, are out to at least one member of their immediate family. Well over 9 in 10 LGBTQ+ youth, including transgender and gender-expansive youth, are out to at least one person outside of their family, typically a friend or classmate.
Looking to the future, more than half (56.8%) of LGBTQ+ youth somewhat or strongly agree that the LGBTQ+ community is accepted more and more every day — yet many still harbor fears of discrimination and rejection.
Over 8 in 10 (80.7%) LGBTQ+ youth, including over three-quarters (78.2%) of transgender and gender-expansive youth, wish to attend college. But around 3 in 10 (29.2%) LGBTQ+ youth — and a third (33.9%) of transgender and gender-expansive youth — fear their LGBTQ+ identity will negatively affect their college and higher education experiences and opportunities.
Further down the line, three-quarters (76.8%) of LGBTQ+ youth would like to be out and open about their LGBTQ+ identity in their future career. Yet only a little more than half (53.5%) believe they will be able to be their authentic selves when applying for jobs — and two-thirds (69.2%) are afraid they will be discriminated against in a future job due to their LGBTQ+ identity. Over 4 in 10 (43%) think their LGBTQ+ identity will negatively affect their entire future career.
These contradictions do not occur in a vacuum. Rather, LGBTQ+ youth who experienced rejection, discrimination and bullying and harassment were far more likely to express fears for the future or negative feelings about their LGBTQ+ identity. For instance, LGBTQ+ youth who felt unsafe at school were 2.5 times as likely to fear their LGBTQ+ identity will negatively impact their experiences in college and higher education compared to those who did not feel unsafe. Those who experienced verbal and physical harassment at school in the prior month were almost 80% as likely to have this fear compared to those who did not experience harassment. LGBTQ+ youth who experienced parental rejection were twice as likely to feel depressed about being LGBTQ+, and were more than 1.5 times as likely to fear their LGBTQ+ identity will negatively impact their future career and/or higher education opportunities.
In contrast, LGBTQ+ youth who experienced parental support were significantly more likely to be proud to be LGBTQ+, and significantly less likely to feel depressed about their LGBTQ+ identity or wish they were not LGBTQ+. Those who believe that teachers and staff at their school care about them were significantly less likely to be fearful that their LGBTQ+ identity would negatively impact their college experiences.
There is also the potential for this to get worse: The legislative landscape only worsened in 2023 (after the Youth Survey was fielded), with over 570 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced, and more than 80 signed into law as of this writing, leading HRC to declare a national state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans this June. Previous research has shown that simply hearing about anti-LGBTQ+ legislation can lead to worsening mental health for LGBTQ+ youth. The bills that have passed also deny LGBTQ+ youth — and transgender and gender-expansive youth in particular — access to many of the supportive and affirming services and actions that lead to improved well-being. For instance, 20 states have passed gender-affirming care bans, denying transgender and gender-expansive youth access to life-saving, age-appropriate medical care. Multiple states have passed bathroom bans (denying transgender and gender-expansive youth the ability to use restrooms in accordance with their gender identity), pronoun refusal laws (which allow educators to refuse to affirm chosen names and pronouns) and “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” laws and other curriculum content policies — despite evidence that doing so risks negatively impact the well-being and safety of LGBTQ+ youth. For instance, data from the 2022 LGBTQ+ Youth Survey presented as part of the National Emergency declaration show that LGBTQ+ youth who attend schools with LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum are less likely to feel unsafe at school, to be bullied due to their LGBTQ+ identity or to experience verbal or physical harassment.
Taken together, the Youth Survey reveals the complexities many LGBTQ+ youth are grappling with in this present moment. Though LGBTQ+ youth are out and proud, they still fear what the future may bring and worry that they may not always find welcoming and affirming environments as they head off to college and into the workforce. These fears are also leading many to internalize feelings of homophobia and transphobia, and to dislike themselves for being LGBTQ+, much of which has likely been — and will likely be — compounded by the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation sweeping the nation.