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Matthews: LGBTQ kids desperate for affirmation

Guest writer Paige Matthews is a queer Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor. Holder of a master’s in counseling from Oregon State University, with a concentration in Clinical Mental Health, Matthews is currently pursuing a doctorate in education and leadership from Pacific University. Areas of specialization include LGBTQ identity development, the impact of oppression on mental health and healthcare equity for LGBTQ Oregonians.

 

I’m a mental health therapist who works with LGBTQ kids, and I need your help. 

It’s urgent. The lives of LGBTQ kids are at stake.

Actually, the lives of LGBTQ kids have been at stake for a while.

Lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer youth have an alarmingly high risk of suicide. According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 42% of LGBTQ youth have seriously considered killing themselves in the past year alone.

And it gets worse. More than half of transgender youth have seriously considered suicide in the past year. If you know two trans kids, that probably means at least one of them has probably already wanted to die. 

We know that LGBTQ kids want to die a lot more often than their cisgender, heterosexual peers, and we know why. Research consistently finds that discrimination makes LGBTQ kids anxious, depressed and thus ultimately suicidal. This discrimination includes bullying.

According to another recent study by The Trevor Project, 52% of LGBTQ middle and high school students experienced bullying in the last year, either in person or electronically.

The study found those who were bullied had three times the odds of attempting suicide. This means calling an LGBTQ child the f-word, for example, could make them entertain suicide.

This is all very bad news. But within this bad news, there is a glimmer of hope — affirming LGBTQ kids helps them want to live.

That same survey found that just respecting trans kids’ pronouns at home cuts their suicide rates in half. In half!

Don’t have an LGBTQ kid to affirm at home, but still want to help? Then there’s more good news.

The Trevor Project study showed that LGBTQ students who attended LGBTQ-affirming schools were 30% less likely to be bullied. This means that LGBTQ-affirming schools produce fewer bullies, and fewer bullies means less youth suicide.

Creating LGBTQ-affirming school environments seems an obvious choice. That kind of environments help keep our kids alive. 

This is where I get confused. 

We would all say — every single one of us — that we don’t want kids to kill themselves. This doesn’t need to be debated and can’t be debated. No one wants kids to die. 

So when it comes to LGBTQ kids, why does it suddenly become OK to debate whether or not we want to help them live? 

This question is for you, city of Newberg. This question is for you, Newberg School Board. 

If you know that affirming LGBTQ kids and creating LGBTQ-affirming schools helps keep kids alive, why aren’t you doing it? Why aren’t you doing everything you can to help kids in your community?

We are talking about a vulnerable population whose mental health was already in danger, and thanks to a newly elected far right majority, the Newberg School Board has decided to harm that population even more. It has decided to harm them by banning school staff from displaying Pride symbols, thus ensuring local schools are neither safe nor affirming for LGBTQ kids.

In its rightward lurch, the board has also banned Black Lives Matter symbols, making the impact especially heavy on LGBTQ students of color. They are now having two of their identities attacked at once — their race and their gender.

Imagine being a target of two types of discrimination at the same time. How do kids bear that? It’s hard enough just being a kid.

The board’s new policy means that now more than ever, kids’ lives are at stake in Newberg.

You should care about that, regardless of who the kids have crushes on, how they identify as to race or gender, how they express themselves through their hair and clothing. Kids — regardless of all that — deserve to have safe spaces where they can learn to value their lives. 

Speaking of safe spaces:

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when kids had to abruptly switch to remote education, we talked about how scared we were for the LGBTQ kids now trapped at home with homophobic and transphobic parents. We talked about how school was their only refuge, with safe and affirming counselors, teachers, friends, clubs and gender and sexuality alliances. We talked about how concerned we were for kids who couldn’t escape their dangerous homes to find safety at school anymore. 

Well, the joke’s on us, and it could have tragic consequences. 

In Newberg, LGBTQ students returned to school only to find it wasn’t safe there either. Now they are really scared, and so are we.

Where will those LGBTQ kids be affirmed now? What about the ones who are just 10, 11 or 12? What will they do? Where will they go, especially if their parents aren’t supportive?

We can be where they go. We can create safe schools. We can also create safe spaces for LGBTQ kids across Newberg and Yamhill County. Are you in?

Knowing safe spaces and people help LGBTQ kids want to keep on living, you get to make a choice: Watch powerful adults harm LGBTQ children in Newberg, or do everything in your power to stop them.

As a queer adult who did survive, I’m begging you to do what it takes to help Newberg kids live. 

Newberg, the ball is in your court. I want LGBTQ kids to live. Do you?

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