June is an exciting time marked by longer days, summer barbecues, and lazy afternoons at local pools. It also marks Pride month, a celebration of LGBTQ+ communities and a commemoration of their difficult and ongoing fight for equal rights.
This year, Pride celebrations are occurring against a backdrop of increasing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and expanding legislative efforts to chip away at the rights of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or something other than heterosexual. It is also occurring as the number of people who openly identify as LGBTQ+ continues to grow.
According to recent data, 7.1% of adult Americans now self-identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, which is double the percentage from 2012. Notably, nearly 21% of adult Generation Z Americans (born between 1997 and 2003) identify as LGBT+, almost double the proportion of millennials. This expansion reflects a societal shift toward greater recognition and acceptance of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.
But increased visibility and acceptance have created a political backlash that threatens the health, mental health, and safety of the LGBTQ+ community. Even retailers who are publicly supporting the LGBTQ+ community are facing threats to their employees’ safety for speaking out in support of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.
The issue of transgender rights has become especially contentious, with the introduction of anti-trans legislation in various parts of the U.S. These bills range from bans on gender-affirming health care to rules regulating which sports teams athletes can play on and which bathrooms they can use. This year alone, there have been 556 anti-trans bills introduced in 49 states, out of which 80 have passed, 104 have failed, and 372 are still active. Additionally, there have been 27 national anti-trans bills introduced, as reported by translegislation.com.
Despite robust protections for LGBTQ+ individuals in Colorado, similar bills have been proposed in the state legislature, including a Republican-sponsored bill that would have limited athletes to playing on the team corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth. The bill failed in committee.
These legislative efforts and anti-trans rhetoric have far-reaching health consequences. Living in a society where trans acceptance faces opposition from some can have a profound impact on the mental well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals, especially those who identify as transgender.
Even before the increase of anti-trans legislation, Colorado Health Access Survey (CHAS) data showed that the mental health in LGBTQ+ Coloradans was poor.
Combined data from the 2019 and 2021 CHAS showed significant disparities in mental health. While one in four heterosexual, cisgender Coloradans (25.2%) experienced poor mental health in the prior month, 58.0% of LGBTQ+ adult Coloradans reported the same. The CHAS defines poor mental health as having eight or more days in the past month that were characterized by feelings of stress, depression, or problems with emotions.
The disparity was even more dramatic for transgender, nonbinary, and gender diverse Coloradans, with 77.1% of them reporting poor mental health in the last month. In contrast, only 27.7% of cisgender Coloradans reported poor mental health.
Not only is the mental health of LGBTQ+ Americans suffering, but many individuals within this population are not receiving the help and support they require. Despite the higher prevalence of mental health challenges among LGBTQ+ individuals, there are significant barriers that hinder access to appropriate care. Stigma and discrimination play a substantial role in deterring LGBTQ+ individuals from seeking help.
The lack of culturally competent and affirming health care providers compounds the issue. LGBTQ+ individuals may encounter professionals who are unfamiliar with their unique needs and experiences or who hold biases that hinder effective and empathetic care.
Increasing transphobia also contributes to an elevated risk of hate crimes against transgender individuals, exposing them to physical harm and endangering our community’s overall well-being. According to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, LGBT people are nine times more likely than non-LGBT people to be victims of violent hate crimes.
According to data from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the number of hate crimes targeting LGBTQ+ individuals in the state increased by 475%, rising from 16 in 2017 to 92 in 2021. In 2021, one in four hate crime victims in Colorado were targeted specifically because of their LGBTQ+ identity, the data showed.
Similarly, a survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Region and Hate Free Colorado found that four in 10 LGBTQ+ Coloradans reported being victims of a hate crime or hate-based experience within the past five years. These statistics highlight the harsh reality that hate crimes and hate-based incidents continue to pose a significant threat to the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals in Colorado.
Allies and advocates have more work to do to ensure the well-being and rights of transgender individuals are protected. This includes actively engaging in education and awareness campaigns, supporting organizations that provide resources and support for transgender individuals, promoting inclusive policies in schools and workplaces, and using one's voice and privilege to speak out against discrimination and transphobia. It’s important to stand together in solidarity well beyond Pride month, challenging transphobic resistance and fostering an environment of acceptance, love, and understanding for all Coloradans.