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Research/Study

New research on LGBTQ+ youth substance use + suicide risk

The study noted that those LGBTQ+ youth with substance use disorder are at seven times greater odds of dying by suicide

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Ambroz Samuel, LGBTQ+ member of the Navajo Nation, Pinon, AZ in 2012 (Photo by Harrison J. Bahe)

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project released a new research brief, Substance Use and Suicide Risk Among LGBTQ Youth, this past week which details the causal effect of drug abuse as a contributing factor for greater risk of suicide among LGBTQ youth.

Key findings: 

  • Regular prescription drug misuse was associated with nearly three times greater odds of attempting suicide in the last year among both LGBTQ youth under age 21 and LGBTQ youth ages 21 or older.
  • Experiencing “conversion therapy,” or efforts to change a youth’s LGBTQ identity to straight and/or cisgender, was associated with greater odds of reporting regular alcohol use, regular marijuana use, and regular prescription drug misuse.
  • Rates of substance use varied based on LGBTQ youths’ demographic characteristics. White cisgender boys and men had higher rates of regular alcohol (20%) use than all other LGBTQ youth (9%). However, nonbinary youth who were assigned male at birth reported higher rates of regular marijuana use compared to cisgender males.

The study noted that those LGBTQ+ youth with substance use disorder are at seven times greater odds of dying by suicide, compared to those who do not have a substance use disorder. It also noted that both rates of substance use and suicide deaths have increased in the United States over the last ten years, especially among youth and young adults.

Results

Over half of LGBTQ youth (56%) used alcohol in the last year, including 47% of LGBTQ youth under the age of 21. Over one in three LGBTQ youth (34%) used marijuana in the last year, including 29% of LGBTQ youth under the age of 21. One in 10 (11%) LGBTQ youth reported having used a prescription drug that was not prescribed to them in the last year, and this rate was the same for those under and over the age of 21. 

11% of LGBTQ youth reported regular use (defined as daily or weekly use) of both alcohol or marijuana. Rates of regular alcohol or marijuana use were much higher for LGBTQ young adults ages 21 or older than they were for LGBTQ youth under age 21. One in three LGBTQ young adults ages 21 or older (33%) reported regular alcohol use, compared to 5% of LGBTQ youth under age 21. One in five LGBTQ young adults ages 21 or older (21%) reported regular marijuana use, compared to 9% under age 21. Regular misuse of prescription drugs that were not prescribed was infrequent (2%) and did not differ by age.

Rates of substance use varied based on youths’ demographic characteristics. White cisgender boys and men had higher rates of regular alcohol (20%) use than all other LGBTQ youth (9%). Compared to White LGBTQ youth, Native/Indigenous LGBTQ youth had greater odds of reporting regular marijuana use. Both Native/Indigenous and Multiracial LGBTQ youth had greater odds of reporting regular prescription drug misuse compared to White LGBTQ youth. In terms of gender, the only youth who had higher rates of regular marijuana use compared to cisgender males were nonbinary youth who were assigned male at birth.

Experiencing “conversion therapy,” or efforts to change a youth’s LGBTQ identity to straight and/or cisgender, was associated with greater odds of reporting regular alcohol use, regular marijuana use and regular prescription drug misuse.  Further, experiencing physical harm due to one’s LGBTQ identity was associated with greater odds of reporting regular alcohol use, regular marijuana use and nearly two times greater odds of regular prescription drug misuse.  

Regular prescription drug misuse was associated with nearly three times greater odds of attempting suicide in the last year among both LGBTQ youth under age 21 and LGBTQ youth ages 21 or older. Among LGBTQ youth under the age of 21, regular alcohol use was associated with nearly 50% greater odds of attempting suicide in the last year.  Regular alcohol use among LGBTQ young people ages 21 or older was also significantly associated with attempting suicide in the last year. Regular marijuana use was associated with greater odds of attempting suicide in the last year both among LGBTQ youth under the age of 21 and among those ages 21 or older. 

Methods

Data were collected from an online survey conducted between October and December of 2020 of 34,759 LGBTQ youth recruited via targeted ads on social media. To determine the frequency of substance use, youth were asked, “In the past year how often have you used alcohol?”, “In the past year how often have you used marijuana?”, and “In the past year how often have you taken a prescription drug (such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, codeine, Adderall, Ritalin, or Xanax) without a doctor’s prescription?”

Response options for all three questions included: 1) Never, 2) Once or twice, 3) Monthly, 4) Weekly, and 5) Daily or almost daily. For this brief, regular substance use was defined as reporting daily or weekly use. The question that assessed past-year suicide attempts (“During the past 12 months, how many times did you actually attempt suicide?”) was taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Looking Ahead

These data show that substance use is common among LGBTQ youth, with over half of the respondents having used alcohol and a third having used marijuana in the last year, both of which are higher than rates among the general population of US high school students.

Regular (daily or weekly) substance use is less prevalent but still common among LGBTQ young adults over the age of 21. Regular substance use was reported more among LGBTQ youth who had experienced efforts to change their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and among those who had experienced physical harm due to their LGBTQ identity.

These findings indicate that LGBTQ youth may use substances to cope with minority stress and negative experiences in unsupportive, anti-LGBTQ environments. Regular alcohol, marijuana, or prescription drug misuse were associated with greater odds of reporting a suicide attempt, particularly among LGBTQ youth under the age of 21.

The survey did not distinguish between marijuana use that was prescribed by a doctor and use that was not, so it is important to note that some youth over the age of 18 in the sample may be using marijuana as prescribed.

Given the upheavals and social isolation that youth have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that all LGBTQ youth have access to high-quality, LGBTQ culturally competent mental health care and substance use treatment. Given the long-term negative effects of early substance use, enhanced screening and prevention services that are specific to the needs of youth, including those who are LGBTQ, should be implemented.

Further, federal surveys seeking to establish the prevalence of substance use and abuse among U.S. youth must also include items specific to transgender and nonbinary identities in order to accurately capture the scope of the problem among all LGBTQ youth. 

In the report, The Trevor Project noted that the organization is dedicated to supporting LGBTQ youth who may find themselves confronting mental health and substance use challenges;

We are further committed to bringing awareness to the unique needs of LGBTQ youth as they pertain to risk factors for substance use. Our Crisis Services are available 24/7 to any LGBTQ youth in need, and our Advocacy Team continues to advocate for inclusive suicide prevention programming and behavioral health supports in schools across the U.S. Finally, our Research Team will continue to explore risks and protective factors among LGBTQ youth to further understand and help prevent suicide among this group.”

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Research/Study

New study on resilience & mental health among LGBTQ youth

LGBTQ youth with high resilience had 59% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt- 69% lower odds of considering suicide in the past year

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project observing the 53rd anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn that sparked a greater movement for LGBTQ+ rights and equality this week, released new data that examines resilience and mental health among LGBTQ youth.

“As we celebrate Pride Month and commemorate the Stonewall Riots, there is often discussion of the ‘resilience’ of the LGBTQ community and the ways in which members are able to bounce back in the face of adversity. These data highlight the fact that resilience is not just an admirable quality – but one that can be associated with improved mental health among LGBTQ youth,” said Dr. Jonah DeChants, Research Scientist at The Trevor Project.

“Higher resilience in our sample was consistently associated with better mental health outcomes including decreased risk for anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts in the past year among LGBTQ youth. Moving forward, we should invest further research into understanding how LGBTQ youth can successfully develop high resilience. Additionally, we should work to dismantle systems of oppression and implement LGBTQ-inclusive anti-discrimination protections  so that LGBTQ youth are not required to possess resilience to excel and thrive.” 

Key Findings:

  • LGBTQ youth with high resilience had 59% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt, and 69% lower odds of considering suicide in the past year, compared to LGBTQ youth with low resilience. 
  • LGBTQ youth with high resilience reported 81% lower odds  of anxiety symptoms, compared to LGBTQ youth with low resilience. 
  • LGBTQ youth with  high resilience reported 79% lower odds of recent depression, compared to LGBTQ youth with low resilience. 
  • LGBTQ youth who have supportive families and  are in supportive environments have higher resilience.
  • LGBTQ youth ages 18 to 24 reported significantly higher resilience than LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 17. 

Read the report:

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Research/Study

150 people on Tennessee’s sex offender registry for HIV-related conviction

Nearly one-half of HIV registrants on the SOR were women and over three-quarters of HIV registrants were Black

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

LOS ANGELES – At least 154 people have been placed on Tennessee’s sex offender registry (SOR) for an HIV-related conviction since 1993, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

Enforcement of HIV crimes in Tennessee disproportionately affects women and Black people. Nearly one-half of HIV registrants on the SOR were women and over three-quarters of HIV registrants were Black.

Tennessee’s two primary HIV criminalization laws—aggravated prostitution and criminal exposure—make it a felony for people living with HIV to engage in sex work or other activities, such as intimate contact, blood donation, or needle exchange, without disclosing their status. Both are considered a “violent sexual offense” and require a person convicted to register as a sex offender for life.

Examining Tennessee’s sex offender registry, researchers found that Shelby County, home to Memphis, accounts for most of the state’s HIV convictions. Shelby County makes up only 13% of Tennessee’s population and 37% of the population of people living with HIV in the state, but 64% of HIV registrants on the SOR. Moreover, while Black Tennesseans were only 17% of the state’s population and 56% of people living with HIV in the state, 75% of all HIV registrants were Black.

In Shelby County, 91% of aggravated prostitution convictions resulted from police sting operations in which no physical contact ever occurred. In addition, the case files showed that 75% of those convicted were Black women. When it came to criminal exposure case files, all of those convicted except one person were Black men.

“Tennessee’s HIV criminal laws were enacted at a time when little was known about HIV and before modern medical advances were available to treat and prevent HIV,” said lead author Nathan Cisneros, HIV Criminalization Analyst at the Williams Institute. “Tennessee’s outdated laws do not require actual transmission or the intent to transmit HIV. Moreover, the laws ignore whether the person living with HIV is in treatment and virally suppressed and therefore cannot transmit HIV.”

KEY FINDINGS

  • Incarcerating people for HIV-related offenses has cost Tennessee at least $3.8 million.
  • Of the 154 people who have been placed on Tennessee’s SOR for an HIV-related conviction, 51% were convicted of aggravated prostitution, 46% were convicted of criminal exposure, and 3% were convicted of both.
  • Women account for 26% of people living with HIV in Tennessee and 4% of people on the SOR, but 46% of the SOR’s HIV registrants.
  • Black people account for 17% of people living in Tennessee, 56% of those living with HIV, 27% of people on the SOR, but 75% of the SOR’s HIV registrants.
  • Black women were the majority of aggravated prostitution registrants (57%), while Black men were the majority of criminal exposure registrants (64%).
  • People with an HIV-related offense are more economically vulnerable when compared to others on the state’s SOR.
    • One in five (19%) HIV registrants were homeless compared to 9% of all SOR registrants.
    • 28% of HIV registrants reported an employer address compared to about half (49%) of all SOR registrants.
  • Shelby County has one aggravated prostitution conviction for every 115 people living with HIV in the county, and Black people were 90% of all people convicted for aggravated prostitution.
    • Over 90% of aggravated prostitution convictions in Shelby County were the result of police sting operations.
    • Only 3% of aggravated prostitution convictions in Shelby County alleged any intimate contact.
    • Nearly all (95%) people arrested in Shelby County for criminal exposure were Black men, compared to 64% of people statewide.  

The Williams Institute has conducted research on HIV criminalization in numerous U.S. states.

Read the report

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Research/Study

New Pew Research Center poll: Americans at odds over Trans issues 

Strong majorities favor non-discrimination protections but weaker support for access to transition-related care among minors

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Texas trans activist Landon Richie speaking at Texas Capitol against trans youth sports bill (Los Angeles Blade file photo)

WASHINGTON – A new survey from a leading non-partisan research center reveals Americans have mixed views on transgender issues at a time when states are moving forward with measures against transgender youth, with strong majorities favoring non-discrimination protections but weaker support for access to transition-related care among minors and participation in school sports.

The Pew Research Center issued the findings on Tuesday as part of the results of its ongoing study to better understand Americans’ views about gender identity and people who are transgender or non-binary. The findings are based on a survey of 10,188 U.S. adults from data collected as part of a larger survey conducted May 16-22.

A majority of respondents by wide margins favor non-discrimination protections for transgender people. A full 64 percent back laws or policies that would protect transgender people from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public spaces, while roughly 8-in-10 acknowledge transgender people face at least some discrimination in our society.

Additionally, nearly one half of Americans say it’s extremely important to use a transgender person’s new name after they undergo a transition, while an additional 22 percent say that is somewhat important. A smaller percentage, 34 percent, say using a transgender person’s pronouns is extremely important, and 21 percent say it is somewhat important.

But other findings were less supportive:

  • 60 percent say a person’s gender is determined by sex assigned at birth, reflecting an increase from 56 percent in 2021 and 54 percent in 2017, compared to 38 percent who say gender can be different from sex assigned at birth.
  • 54 percent say society has either gone too far or been about right in terms of acceptance, underscoring an ambivalence around transgender issues even among those who see at least some discrimination against transgender people.
  • About six-in-ten adults, or 58 precent, favor proposals that would require transgender athletes to compete on teams that match the sex they were assigned at birth as opposed to teams consistent with their gender identity, compared to 17 percent who oppose that and 24 percent neither favor nor oppose it.
  • 46 percent favor making it illegal for health care professionals to provide transition-related care, such as hormones or gender reassignment surgery, to someone younger than 18, compared to 31 percent who oppose it.
  • Americans are more evenly split when it comes to making it illegal for public school districts to teach about gender identity in elementary schools (which is favored by 41 percent, and opposed by 38 percent) and investigating parents for child abuse if they help someone younger than 18 obtain transition-related care (37 percent are in favor and 36 percent oppose it).

Young adults took the lead in terms of supporting change and acceptance. Half of adults ages 18 to 29 say someone can be a man or a woman even if that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth, compared to about four-in-10 of those ages 30 to 49 and about one-third of respondents 50 and older.

Predictably, stark differences could be found along party lines. Democrats by 59 precent say society hasn’t gone far enough in accepting people who are transgender, while 15 percent say it has gone too far and 24 percent say it’s been about right. For Republicans, 10 percent say society hasn’t gone far enough, while 66 percent say it’s gone too far and 22 percent say it’s been about right.

Read the full report here.

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