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Fox News leads hate campaign against trans college swimmer Lia Thomas

Fox figures repeatedly deadnamed and misgendered Thomas and used the story to attack gender-affirming health care

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Graphic via Andrea Austria / Media Matters

By Mia Gingerich & Alex Paterson | WASHINGTON – As part of its campaign to vilify transgender athletes in order to malign the trans community as a whole, Fox News has obsessively covered University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas.

From December 3 through January 12, the network aired 32 segments on Thomas’ swim career. Throughout Fox’s coverage of the story, hosts and guests spewed dehumanizing rhetoric about Thomas and went so far as to assert that “this is like everyone has taken a crazy pill and no one wants to admit that this is wrong.”

During an early December swim meet, Thomas came in first place in the 500-yard freestyle, 200-yard freestyle, and 1,650-yard freestyle races, setting conference records in each event. Thomas’ performance drew the ire of conservative pundits intent on framing her success as symptomatic of the purportedly unfair advantage trans women have when competing in women’s sports.

Thomas has exceeded the rules of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which require her to be on testosterone suppressants for at least a year prior to competing, and has the support of the Ivy League conference and her school

Nevertheless, Fox News relentlessly framed Thomas’ participation as a dire threat to women’s sports – even when she did not win. During a January 8 swim meet, Thomas placed sixth in the 100-yard freestyle with Iszac Henig placing first (Henig is a trans man competing on the women’s team as he has put off hormone replacement therapy for now.)

Fox News has an extensive history of spewing anti-trans rhetoric and in recent years has focused that hate toward individual trans athletes. In 2021, the network aired more segments on trans athletes in just the first three months of the year than it had in the previous two years combined. 

Fox News has aired 32 segments discussing Lia Thomas since December 3

From December 3, when Fox first mentioned her after she won a swim race, through January 12, Fox News aired 32 segments that discussed Thomas’ swim career. Key findings include:

(In accordance with the Trans Journalists Association style guide, Media Matters has replaced Thomas’ deadname and pronouns in the quotes below.)

  • Fox’s so-called “straight news” programs aired 9 segments about Thomas, accounting for over one-fourth of the total segments. The remaining 23 segments were from its opinion programs.
  • Fox & Friends and its weekend counterparts as well as Fox & Friends First, the network’s weekday early morning show, together aired the most segments (12) about Thomas. America’s Newsroom With Bill Hemmer & Dana Perino aired the second-most segments on the topic (9), followed by The Ingraham Angle (4), and Tucker Carlson Tonight (3).
  • Fox News figures repeatedly deadnamed and misgendered Thomas. Deadnaming and misgendering are forms of harassment that involve using a trans person’s prior name against their wishes or referring to them as the incorrect gender. Misidentifying trans people goes against best practice journalistic standards.
  • Lawyers and clients from the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom appeared on Fox News during three of the segments about Thomas. During the December 14 edition of The Ingraham Angle, ADF lawyer Christiana Holcomb misgendered trans athletes and fearmongered that “woke ideologues are silencing women like these University of Pennsylvania athletes for saying no to men in their sports.”

Fox’s coverage of the story was rife with anti-trans hate and dehumanizing rhetoric about Thomas. On January 9, a day after Thomas placed sixth in the 100-yard freestyle, right-wing pundit Buck Sexton decried the impacts of “the trans agenda” on women’s sports and lamented, “We now in the news business are all using female pronouns for males as just a matter of course. I don’t know why we have conceded that either.” On that same day, Fox host Rachel Campos-Duffy misgendered Thomas and claimed, “Everybody sitting there in the stands is participating in this lie. Lia is not a woman.”

Fox hosts and guests also used the story to fuel broader anti-trans attacks, including lying about best-practice health care and promoting conversion therapy. During a January 11 Fox & Friends segment, right-wing writer Cynthia Millen lied that “statistics have shown that if a teenager with gender dysphoria is allowed to work through it with proper therapy, they end up not wanting to transition when they are adult.” Millen also falsely claimed that gender affirming health care “involves mutilation of the body.” Fox dubiously referred to Millen as a mere “former USA Swimming official” even though she is also a writer for the website Catholic Stand, where she has documented extreme views on reproductive health care, same-sex couples, and critical race theory.

In reality, gender-affirming medical care for trans people is accepted as a safe, effective, and lifesaving treatment that is widely supported by medical professionals and yields clear mental health benefits.

On the December 7 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson brought on Kara Dansky from the anti-trans organization Women’s Human Rights Campaign. Dansky argued against federal protection for trans students along with trans inclusion in women’s restrooms and prisons, even going on to argue against the word transgender itself, saying, “Republicans are holding the line on material reality. All of that goes out the window when you use the word like transgender. It just doesn’t exist, and I’m begging viewers to stop using it.”

Right-wing media are leveraging the story to fuel broader anti-trans attacks

Fox hosts were not alone in exploiting Thomas’ story to push transphobic talking points. Conservative radio host Clay Travis tweeted out an article on Thomas from his website OutKick.com that deadnamed her and claimed the NCAA’s policy on trans athletes was to tell “biological women … to suck it up and deal with it.” Travis also appeared numerous times on Fox News to comment on the story and argue against trans inclusion in sports. 

Right-wing print and online outlets struck a similarly antagonistic tone, including Townhall, the New York Post, and the Washington Examiner. The Examiner ran an online piece titled “Liberals paving the way to turn women’s swimming into more men’s swimming,” in which writer Christopher Tremoglie claimed that “in the wake of this transgender destruction, collegiate females are the collateral damage.”

Other right-wing cable networks also saw the story as an opportunity to elicit anger in their base, with Newsmax’s Chris Salcedo saying on his show that Thomas competing was a “new form of political correctness being pushed exclusively by socialist Democrats.” One America News Network host Dan Ball said of Thomas’ participation, “Speaking of things that just aren’t right, like a grown man trying to have sex with teenagers, … how about a real biological man beating women, all women, in their own sporting events? That’s not right either.”

Far from hollow attacks, this sort of rhetoric goes hand-in-hand with legislative efforts by conservative lawmakers to pass further restrictions on the rights of trans youth, with trans student participation in sports a key target. After 2021 saw a historic number of bills targeting trans kids introduced in state legislatures, the threat remains high as 25 bills specifically targeting trans student athletes are currently being considered in state legislatures across the country. 

recent poll from the Trevor Project shows how this new reality can impact the lives of trans youth, with 85% of transgender and non-binary youth saying debates around these bills have negatively impacted their mental health. As long as right-wing media continue to capitalize on stories like Lia Thomas’, manufacturing outrage with misinformation and hate, trans children will remain casualties in Fox News’ culture war.   

Methodology

Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any of the terms “Lia Thomas,” “Leah Thomas,” or “gender” or any variation of the term “trans” within close proximity of any of the terms “Penn,” “UPenn,” or “NCAA” or any variation of the word “swim” from 4 a.m. EST December 3, 2021, through midnight January 12, 2022.

We included segments, which we defined as instances when Lia Thomas was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion about Thomas. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multi-topic segment discussed Thomas with one another. We did not include mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker mentioned Thomas without another speaker engaging with the comment, or teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about Thomas scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

We split Fox programs into “news” and “opinion” sides. We defined “news” programs as those with anchors, such as Bret Baier or Shannon Bream, while we defined “opinion” programs as those with hosts, such as Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham, at the helm. We used the designations from each anchor or host’s author page on FoxNews.com. We also considered the format of the program; we defined those using a panel format, such as Outnumbered and The Five, as opinion programs.

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Mia Gingerich is a researcher at Media Matters. She has a bachelor’s degree in politics and government from Northern Arizona University and has previously worked in rural organizing and local media.

Alex Paterson is a researcher for the LGBTQ program at Media Matters, where he has worked since 2019. Alex holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Montana State University and has a background in LGBTQ advocacy, including previous work at the National LGBTQ Task Force and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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The preceding article was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished by permission.

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News Analysis

Catholic Diocese suggests raped altar boy enjoyed sex with priest

Catholic church seeks to avoid legal responsibility by suggesting victim of horrific sexual abuse by priest is gay

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Photo licensed from Adobe Stock

By James Finn | BIELSKO-ZYWIEC, Poland – My headline is neither satire nor hyperbole, its literal truthfulness sheds much light on the harm of traditionalist-Christian sexual teachings. When Roman Catholic Bishop Roman Pindel first met with Janusz Szymik, the bishop expressed compassion for the man repeatedly raped as an altar boy by a priest in the Polish diocese of Bielsko-Żywiec, which Pindel heads.

What the bishop did next shocked and angered Janusz, in the process illustrating how the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s condemnation of LGBTQ people can blind them to the difference between healthy consensual sex and rape.

First, the story of a boy raped by a priest

Janusz, who is now 48 year old, was an altar boy of 12 in 1980s Poland when his priest and confessor (who has been named only as Jan W. due to Polish privacy law) began sexually abusing him. The “relationship” continued for years, with the priest often meeting the boy off Church property, taking him on outings, buying him gifts, and molesting him.

Janusz first reported the abuse in 2015, later giving testimony against the priest in a Church tribunal that ended with his rapist being barred from public ministry for five years, though not removed from the priesthood. He is living “in isolation” for the same five-year period, which is set to end sometime this year.

The priest did not face criminal punishment, reportedly due to Polish statute of limitation restrictions.

Janusz recently filed a civil suit against the Bielsko-Żywiec diocese. He says he was motivated by the Church trial’s lenient sentence, the probability that restrictions on his rapist’s public ministry would soon be lifted, his strong suspicion that he was not the only victim, and his fears Jan W might victimize more children in the future.

Bishop Pindel’s response was to suggest Janusz was gay and had enjoyed being molested

NotesFromPoland and the Polish Onet news portal have published details of a response the Bishop Pindel’s diocese sent to the civil court overseeing the case:

  1. The diocese wants the court to hear “evidence from an expert sexologist on the determination of the claimant’s sexual preferences, in particular determination of the claimant’s sexual orientation.”
  2. The diocese wants the victim questioned about his “relationship” with the priest, including him “showing pleasure in maintaining an intimate relationship with Jan W.” and even “deriving benefits,” including “material benefits.”
  3. The diocese told the court it “denies that the relationship was based on enslavement or incapacitation; on the contrary: it was voluntary and based on mutual benefits.”
  4. Any sexual contact (if any) that took place off Church property is not the legal responsibility of the diocese.
  5. The diocese proposes to the court that the priest’s testimony during clerical proceedings should be taken as credible over the victim’s, that the court should presume sexual contact began when Janusz was 16 rather than 12 as he claims.

Compassion morphs into accusations of lying and prostitution

The compassion Bishop Pindel initially offered Janusz morphed into something far darker. The bishop filed documents in open court dismissing Janusz as a liar and (implicitly) a prostitute who in his late teens took material advantage of a priest. In a nation where being gay is highly stigmatized and socially damaging, the bishop asked the court to order a psychological evaluation to determine if Janusz is gay.

After Onet and other media raised the alarm, the diocese apologized in a public statement, according to ABC News: “We apologize to Janusz and to all who have been scandalized,” reads the statement, specifying that the diocese response to the lawsuit should not have included questions about the victim’s sexuality or have suggested that he drew pleasure from contact with the priest.

The statement did not include an apology for implications that Janusz lied about being 12 years old when the priest began sexually abusing him. The statement did not retract the diocese position that the priest’s actions off Church property were not the Church’s legal responsibility.

Janusz Szymik – pictured above as a child

None of this is unusual. Traditionalist Catholics are often blinded by dogma.

To their credit, some Polish bishops have spoken out strongly against Bishop Pindel, pressuring him to apologize, but this case begs close examination. First, the wording of the Pindel’s apology, for those not familiar with Roman Catholic language, is highly suspect. He apologized for “scandalizing” people, not for his actions alone. This may seem like a trivial distinction, but it’s critical.

Scandal, in Catholic teaching, is a “sin” defined as an act that “leads people to move away from Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers us.” Scandal in its most straightforward Catholic sense might consist of a respected Catholic leader claiming Church teachings are wrong. As an illustration, many Catholic bishops in the U.S. accuse President Biden of the sin of scandal because he politically supports the right of women to choose abortion.

In a more nuanced sense, however, scandal is often defined as truthful statements that lead people away from the Church. So when Bishop Pindel apologizes because people have been “scandalized,” he sidesteps. Does he believe his statements and actions were wrong on their own? That’s impossible to know.

When any sex outside heterosexual marriage is a grave sin, moral recognition of abusive sexuality can evaporate

Let’s talk about moral distinctions in a minute. First, some background. Catholic dogma holds that gay people commit acts of “grave depravity” when we have sex with our partners, no matter how loving, committed, or healthy our relationships may be. Dogma holds that we are “intrinsically disordered,” or in alternate language, “ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”

Catholic bishops in Poland aggressively promote those teachings, cooperating hand-in-glove with the right-wing Law and Justice Party as it passes laws to deny common civil liberties to LGBTQ people and encourages cities and political regions to declare themselves “LGBT Free Zones.”

Catholic bishops in Poland frequently indulge in incendiary language against transgender and gay people, even equating calls for equality with the oppression Poles experienced under Cold War Soviet domination. In 2019, riots broke out againt LGBTQ Pride parades, with observers in Poland and around the world blaming much of the violence on Church incitement. In the aftermath of the violence, the Church’s most prominent bishops doubled down on fiery language. Bishops even spoke up in support of an Ikea employee fired for posting on a company intranet that the Bible calls for LGBTQ people to be put to death.

Consent and rape lose meaning when gay people are evil by definition

Here’s the key to this whole mess: When you see gay people as being intrinsically evil, consent and love can fail to hold meaning. I’m reminded of a huge Italian scandal a few years ago that started out when teenage seminarians (candidates for the Catholic priesthood) complained that some of the adults who ran their residential school were sexually abusing them.

The boys who complained of the abuse ranged in age from 12 to 17, and their complaints were credible enough to prompt a major investigation, the results of which I read a few years ago. Without bogging down in detail, the investigation quickly expanded from an effort to identify and punish adults who abused children into a wide dragnet for gay priests. Most of the report’s pages focused on priests who had consual sex with other priests and even on boys who consensually experimented with other boys, some of whom were severely punished. Consent was rarely mentioned in the report. The inability of children to consent to adults was largely overlooked.

The underage victims of abuse were not exactly forgotten, but they got very short shrift as the Church ran in circles screaming and shouting about gay priests breaking their celibacy vows.

The Catholic priests who ran the investigation seemed almost incapable of morally distinguishing between consensual sex and coercive molestation.

Bishop Roman Pindel in Poland seems to be stuck in a similar moral paradigm

It’s fine that he apologized, but his initial positions are illuminating and disturbing. In his mind, apparently, if Janusz really was gay, and if he enjoyed some of his sexual experiences or other experiences with the priest Jan W, then the two them are on an equal moral footing, both intrinsically disordered people committing acts of grave depravity for which they are equally culpable.

The bishop doesn’t talk about consent or the inability of a child or adolescent to consent to a powerful adult. He doesn’t accept responsibility for a priest in his diocese abusing a child, because in his mind, the sin that counts most here is the sin of homosexuality.

He’s blinded at least partially to the real crime, because of Church dogma that teaches that sexual love between two people of the same sex can never be positive and healthy. Why worry about consent when it’s all grave depravity anyway?

Meanwhile, Janusz’s biggest concerns are unaddressed.

His rapist got a slap on the wrist. Other victims are still out there. Children may continue to be at risk when Jan W’s suspension ends in coming months. The Bishop of Bielsko-Żywiec has demonstrated little to no concern about any of that, apparently owing to Church culture and teachings.

The Church is wrong. We LGBTQ people are not evil, are not disordered , and do not commit acts of grave depravity.

The Church’s error leads them not only to wrong LGBTQ people but often to fail to grapple with real sexual abuse.

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James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, a frequent columnist for the LA Blade, a contributor to other LGBTQ news outlets, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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Research/Study

UCLA-led advances toward possible cure for HIV

“The study opens a new paradigm for a possible HIV cure in the future”

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Royce Hall University of California, Los Angeles (Photo via UCLA)

LOS ANGELES – A UCLA-led team of researchers made advancements in a method designed to kill HIV-infected cells, moving scientists a step closer to possibly eliminating the virus altogether, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications

“These findings show proof-of-concept for a therapeutic strategy to potentially eliminate HIV from the body, a task that had been nearly insurmountable for many years,” said Dr. Jocelyn Kim, the study’s lead author, in a press release. “The study opens a new paradigm for a possible HIV cure in the future.”

HIV, which was once considered a death sentence, has become manageable in recent years with antiretroviral medication designed to keep the virus at bay. 

However, the virus still has the chance to elude the treatment by lying dormant in cells, according to UCLA. When a person stops taking the medication, the virus emerges from those reservoirs and replicates in the body.

The study builds on a “kick and kill” method originally developed in 2017. The approach uses cells naturally produced by the immune system to kill infected cells inside the body, according to Kim, assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

In the 2017 study, researchers gave mice whose immune systems had been altered to mimic those of humans antiretroviral drugs and infected them with HIV. They then administered a synthetic compound developed at Stanford University to activate the mice’s dormant HIV. The study found that up to 25% of the previously dormant cells died within 24 hours.

“But a more effective way to kill those cells was needed,” read the release. 

HIV in bloodstream courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This time around, the researchers used the compound to “flush” HIV-infected cells out of hiding. Then, the mice were injected with healthy natural killer cells to kill the infected cells.

The new combination improved the numbers, completely clearing the HIV in 40% of the mice, according to the study. 

As an additional step, the researchers also analyzed the mice’s spleens, a place where HIV-infected cells could be hiding. Yet, they did not detect the virus there, suggesting that the HIV-infected cells were eliminated. 

The team’s goal is to refine the approach to eliminate HIV in 100% of the mice. 

“We will also be moving this research toward preclinical studies in nonhuman primates with the ultimate goal of testing the same approach in humans,” Kim said. 

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 38 million people are currently living with HIV. Since the virus began circulating, over 36 million people have died from complications due to the disease. 

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Research/Study

New poll illustrates impacts of social & political issues on LGBTQ+ youth

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, 63% of LGBTQ youth, including 71% of transgender and nonbinary youth, feel scared about the future

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Los Angeles Blade graphic via The Trevor Project

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ+) youth, released a new poll Monday that underscores the impacts of politics and current events on the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ young people.

85% of transgender and nonbinary youth say that recent debates around anti-trans bills have negatively impacted their mental health. 

For LGBTQ+ youth, racism is the “most important” issue impacting the world; more than 65% also say issues like anti- LGBTQ+ hate crimes, police brutality, gun violence, climate change, and efforts to restrict abortion access often give them stress and anxiety. 

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, 63% of LGBTQ+ youth, including 71% of transgender and nonbinary youth, feel scared about the future.

The poll was conducted by Morning Consult between September 14-November 5, 2021 among a national sample of 820 LGBTQ+ youth ages 13–24, including 318 transgender and nonbinary youth and 340 LGBTQ+ youth of color, 56% of whom are Black. The full polling data can be found here.

“These results underscore how recent politics and ongoing crises facing the globe can have a real, negative impact on LGBTQ+ young people, a group consistently found to be at significantly increased risk for depression, anxiety, and attempting suicide because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society,” said Amit Paley, CEO & Executive Director of The Trevor Project. “It’s clear that lawmakers should be taking an intersectional approach to public policy, not working overtime to target the most marginalized young people, particularly those who are transgender or nonbinary, for partisan political points. We all must play a role in promoting LGBTQ+ acceptance and creating a more supportive world for all young people.”

85% of transgender and nonbinary youth—and two-thirds of all LGBTQ+ youth (66%)—say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health. A record number of anti-transgender bills were introduced and passed across the country in 2021, and transgender and nonbinary youth are experiencing a range of negative emotions as a result:

  • New policies that will ban transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams and transgender boys from playing on boys’ sports teams make 74% of transgender and nonbinary youth feel angry, 57% feel sad, 43% feel stressed, and nearly 1 in 3 feel scared.
  • Proposed legislation that would ban doctors from prescribing gender-affirming medical care like puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy to transgender and nonbinary youth make 73% of transgender and nonbinary youth feel angry, 57% feel sad, 47% feel stressed, 40% feel scared, and more than 1 in 3 feel hopeless, helpless, and/or nervous.
  • Proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ+ at school make 56% of transgender and nonbinary youth feel angry, 47% feel nervous and/or scared, 45% feel stressed, and more than 1 in 3 feel sad.

When asked in an open response question—“what social issue impacting our country/world is the most important to you?”—most LGBTQ+ youth across race/ethnicity and gender identity stated racism, followed by LGBTQ+ rights/equality, climate change, and homophobia. Then when provided a list of issues to measure sources of stress and anxiety, a majority of LGBTQ+ youth said that anti- LGBTQ+ hate crimes (58%) and homophobia (56%) give them stress and anxiety “very often,” followed by not having enough money (50%) and racism (49%). Overall, more than 65% of LGBTQ+ youth also stated that police brutality, transphobia, gun violence, climate change, and efforts to restrict abortion access often give them stress and anxiety. 

Additional key findings include:

  • Amid the COVID-19 pandemic,  LGBTQ+ youth reported high rates of feeling scared about the future (63%), having anxiety about in-person learning (46%), and feeling stressed (50%) and nervous (40%) about the 2021-2022 school year. Transgender and nonbinary youth disproportionately reported (53%) having difficulty getting mental health care compared to cisgender LGBQ youth (28%) and the overall sample (39%). More than 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ youth said they struggle to afford the things they need.
  • Unprompted, most LGBTQ+ youth said that racism is the most important issue impacting the world. However, issue prioritization differed in intensity by race and gender identity. Black LGBTQ+ youth were significantly more likely to report racism as the most important issue to them while white LGBTQ+ youth were almost equally as likely to report racism as LGBTQ+ rights as the most important issue to them. Moreover, transgender and nonbinary youth were nearly four times more likely to cite transphobia as the most important issue to them.
  • When provided with the list of issues, four in five transgender and nonbinary youth reported that anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes, homophobia, transphobia, police brutality, and racism often give them stress or anxiety—a rate significantly higher than that of their cisgender peers. Black LGBTQ+ youth were disproportionately more likely to report that racism (16%), police brutality (15%), and gun violence (9%) cause them stress/anxiety “very often.” Conversely, white LGBTQ+ youth were more likely to report that transphobia (13%), anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes (11%), and efforts to restrict abortion access (10%) cause them stress/anxiety “very often.”


If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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