Wellness

How the Equality Act Protects Trans Youth—and What You Can Do to Support It

How the Equality Act Protects Trans Youth—and What You Can Do to Support It

How the Equality Act Protects Trans Youth—and What You Can Do to Support It

Sam Brinton Headshot

This February, the House passed the Equality Act, which is now making its way back to the Senate, where it was blocked in 2019. What the Equality Act does is nationally expand protection to LGTBQ people, amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to explicitly cover discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Currently, there aren’t any federal laws that ban discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. In twenty-nine states, LGBTQ people have no form of nondiscrimination protection at all—in health care, housing, employment, and more. So in some states, using conversion therapy, refusing to rent to a same-sex couple, and denying medical treatment to a transgender person are still legal. The Equality Act would serve as a foundation so that states could increase but not take away or undermine the rights of LGBTQ folks—particularly trans people—across the country.

“Trans youth are at significantly increased risk for violence, discrimination, and suicide,” says Sam Brinton, the vice president of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis services to LGBTQ youth. “We also know that trans youth are not prone to suicide simply because of their gender identity. They are at higher risk because of the increased experiences of victimization.”

So policy matters, says Brinton, when it comes to the mental health outcomes of transgender and nonbinary youth. Laws protect them, and they also affirm them. Most statewide bills that are aimed at restricting the rights of transgender youth don’t pass, but they’re still damaging to kids “who want nothing more than to be recognized for who they are,” says Brinton. We talked to Brinton about the Equality Act, the key issues that LGBTQ people face today, and how to help outside of the policy level.

A Q&A with Sam Brinton

Q
How would the Equality Act protect transgender people? What legal protections do transgender people currently have and what kinds of discrimination do they face?
A

The Equality Act would protect transgender and nonbinary people from discrimination on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation in everyday life. The Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County and President Biden’s Day One executive order reaffirmed that people cannot be fired for being LGBTQ, but the Equality Act would work to codify these protections formally into law and extend them to all other areas of society, including housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and federal juries.

According to the Trevor Project’s 2020 national survey, more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months. We know that trans youth are at significantly increased risk for violence, discrimination, and suicide. However, we also know that trans youth are not prone to suicide simply because of their gender identity. They are at higher risk because of the increased experiences of victimization.

The fact of the matter is trans youth face stressors that their peers simply never have to worry about, such as fears around coming out and rejection, bullying and discrimination based on their gender identity, and even worrying about which bathroom they can use.


Q
More broadly, what key issues do LGBTQ folks currently face in America, and what other laws, rulings, and policies are helping to break down these barriers?
A

The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth seriously consider suicide each year in the US and could benefit from our services. That’s why we’ve been working so hard to implement the 988 bill [signed into law last year] so that Americans can simply dial three digits to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in moments of mental health crisis, instead of the current ten-digit number. Shortening this number and expanding specialized services for high-risk populations like LGBTQ young people will work to save lives.

Through our advocacy work, we also strive to address risk factors for suicide, like conversion therapy. So-called conversion therapy is the discredited and dangerous practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through psychological, spiritual, or medical interventions. I’m a survivor of conversion therapy and know firsthand how devastating it can be to your mental health and wellness. In our research, LGBTQ youth who had undergone conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide as those who had not.

The Trevor Project is working in all fifty states to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, and I’m proud to say we’ve helped pass protections in twenty states and more than eighty localities.

Another risk factor for suicide is housing instability, which LGBTQ young people face at disproportionate rates. Twenty-nine percent of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing homelessness, being kicked out, or running away. And our research has shown that those who experienced housing instability reported considering suicide at twice the rate and attempting suicide at more than three times the rate of LGBTQ youth who had not.

We were thankful to see the Biden administration commit to enforcing the Fair Housing Act to investigate cases of LGBTQ-based housing discrimination. But we also know that the housing issues LGBTQ youth face go beyond discrimination. We must expand programs and protections for LGBTQ young people who experience housing instability, especially those who are transgender or nonbinary, people of color, or living with HIV or AIDS.


Q
The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth, and a new poll recently showed that one in six Gen Z adults identifies as LGBTQ+. In what ways could these findings—that more Americans are identifying as nonheterosexual—help shape future polices?
A

I hope these findings reflect an increased willingness to identify openly as LGBTQ. As an LGBTQ advocate, there’s nothing I want more than to help make life better for the next generation.

The Trevor Project works with people under the age of twenty-five, and it’s clear they are coming out at younger ages and using new terms to explain the intricacies of their identities. It’s undeniable that Gen Z has been exposed to more LGBTQ representation and education than any other generation. Just think about the internet—now we have YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and countless other platforms where young people can find information about LGBTQ identities, engage with LGBTQ creators and peers, and access support systems like the Trevor Project. We also have our own safe-space social networking site, TrevorSpace.

My hope is that we will continue to move forward, make progress, and build understanding to the point where LGBTQ issues are no longer partisan at all but a matter of common sense.


Q
Can you talk about the early research that shows how affirmative legal interventions could be considered a structural public health intervention and in what ways they contribute to the mental health outcomes of transgender and nonbinary youth?
A

The evidence is clear: Supporting transgender and nonbinary youth in their identities promotes positive mental health outcomes and decreases suicide risk. At the Trevor Project, we constantly hear from trans youth who want nothing more than to be recognized for who they are, and affirming their gender identity is essential to their health and wellness. Legal interventions are one part of that.

Allowing a young person to change their name, gender, or both on legal documents, such as their birth certificate, driver’s license, and passport, improves their access to care and can promote overall well-being.

Affirmation means a lot to trans youth, and it can be lifesaving. Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected. So something as simple as sharing your pronouns at the beginning of a meeting or in your email signature can go a long way to helping trans young people feel safe and supported.


Q
What else can people do to be LGBTQ allies and fight for the expansion of rights, equity, and inclusion?
A

One of my favorite stats is that just one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent. Isn’t that inspiring? Just one person can have a profound impact on the life of a young person, and that person can be you. You don’t need to be a mental health expert or know everything about the nuances of LGBTQ identities to be that person. You just have to listen, be affirming, and have empathy.

That’s what the Trevor Project does every day. Our crisis counselors are here for you 24/7. You are never alone.


If you or someone you know needs help or support, the Trevor Project is available 24/7 at 866.488.7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678678.


Sam Brinton (they/them) is the vice president of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth.

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