Content Warning: This piece contains mentions of suicide statistics.
Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility. As a member of the transgender community, and the Active Minds community, I’m incredibly honored to work alongside passionate young people every day who understand that mental health affects us all and that with the right tools and support, we can thrive and change the world. I’m proud to be transgender and have come to love parts of my experience that I once hated. There are so many reasons to celebrate the community’s growth, vibrancy, diversity, acceptance, and representation. But being trans also comes with immense fear, anger, and uncertainty as, time and time again, the validity of our identities and our needs result in long, arduous court cases. Over the past week, Alabama and Arkansas have passed anti-transgender bills, and there are currently over 80 anti-transgender bills that have been introduced in the 2021 state legislative session across the country. These bills jeopardize the ability of transgender youth and adults to live their authentic lives, receive healthcare and mental health support, and, ultimately, thrive.
Students already face many challenges on a daily basis when it comes to accessing mental health support, and transgender students experience mental health disparities at higher rates than their cisgender peers. According to Project Thrive, the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBSS) reported that 69% of transgender high school youth experience depression, and 45% of transgender high school youth have considered suicide. And 80% of transgender college students who participated in the 2019 Healthy Minds Survey experience at least one mental health struggle.
I also recognize my privilege as a white person because data from the Trevor Project that includes people with multiple oppressed identities shows that 59% of Black, transgender youth have seriously considered suicide in the last year. I think it’s important to highlight the experience of being transgender and navigating the world as our truest selves is largely not what leads to these sobering statistics, but constant discrimination, violence, harassment, and societal invalidation from families, friends, schools, and laws make it an uphill battle to face each new day. We know that access to caring, compassionate, well-educated parents, peers, and professionals such as doctors, mental health providers, and teachers can be the difference between feeling utterly alone and feeling truly understood, valued, and loved.
One of my favorite parts of my job is supporting young advocates and activists who work hard to make themselves heard as they develop innovative solutions to pervasive problems and policies. Today’s students are our most diverse generation to date, and I’m proud to work for an organization that celebrates our transgender student leaders and community. Through Active Minds’ new Your Voice is Your Power high school program, we are working to build more equitable communities for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ youth and will continue to support students who advocate for new systems, resources, and policies to ensure we bring awareness to the discrimination and health risks the transgender community face.
I’m proud to be visible and publicly transgender, especially in a position where I have the opportunity to work directly with and impact so many young people, but the last several years have shown me that visibility isn’t the most prominent issue. Young adults know that transgender people exist, in fact, over 25% of youth identify outside of the gender binary; what young people need to see is action. Young people need to see trans adults who are happy, thriving, and living full lives, and they need to see their cisgender family members, peers, and communities pushing on towards a more just and healthy world.