Black Queer Youth Face Unique Mental Health Challenges

Black LGBTQ Youth Leader Warns Congress

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Photo by Joshua McKnight from Pexels

The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) yesterday, joined Susan Taylor, former Essence magazine editor-in-chief, and the National CARES Mentoring Movement to support a youth delegation offering testimony about the experiences of Black youth struggling with trauma, stress, and mental health– specifically Black queer students– at “Hearing Their Stories: Students and How They Handle Their Mental Health,” hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health.

Justin Calhoun, a senior political science major at Howard University and a member of the NBJC Youth and Young Adult Advisory Council, testified at the Capitol Hill event and talked candidly about his own experiences, as well as the importance of educators, policy makers, and medical professionals to consider the experiences of Black queer students when responding to the diverse mental health needs of the Black community.

“Black queer people face unique health disparities because of stigma, discrimination, and denial of our civil and human rights,” said Calhoun. “Because Black queer students are at greater risk for mental illness, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts greater attention must be paid to supporting us.”

He also shared his own personal story noting that the impact of oppression for being both Black and queer is a struggle that some queer folk cannot resolve on their own. “Every queer person I know has either attempted or thought about attempting suicide…” Calhoun explained to Congress members. “When I was a 12-year-old Black boy, I thought tying a noose around my neck was the only way to end my pain. Black queer students are at greater risk for mental illness, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts greater attention must be paid to supporting us.”

According to various studies, when compared to people that identify as straight, queer individuals are three times more likely to experience a mental health condition and two-and-a-half times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. Discrimination against queer people is associated with high rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and suicide. Queer youth are also four times more likely to attempt suicide, experience suicidal thoughts, and engage in self-harm, compared to straight youth.

“The NBJC is proud of the work we lead to ensure that the needs of youth who have the double gift of being both Black and LGBTQ/SGL are considered and addressed,” said David Johns, Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition. “Too often conversations about Black people, and Black students, ignore the reality that as long as there have been Black people there have been Black LGBTQ/SGL people.

Johns also sites some critical statistics. “Black LGBTQ/SGL students face unique challenges that I have spoken about before the Congressional Black Caucus Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health,” said Johns. LGBTQ/SGL youth experience violence and bullying nearly twice as much as children who are or are presumed to be heterosexual. 74 percent of LGBTQ/SGL students report feeling unsafe, bullied, and harassed in schools throughout the country according to GLSEN. LGBTQ/SGL students are five times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their heterosexual peers.”

“Black students need the support most but are not seeking it,” testified one of the students, Mei-Ling Ho-Shing, an 18-year-old graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived the infamous and tragic shooting there. “A lot of my high school classmates wouldn’t go get help after the mass shooting, because of the stigma within the Black community against acknowledging mental health needs and seeking help to manage their mental health challenges. We need you and other leaders to help educate our community and let us know that it’s not only acceptable to seek mental health support, it’s necessary.”

In May, the NBJC helped launch the CBC Taskforce, chaired by Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), with policy experts and mental health practitioners who are focused on educating Congress members about this mental health crisis and identifying solutions and legislative recommendations. The Taskforce continues to convene experts in Washington, DC, and around the country.

“We are honored to support Youth and Young Adult Advisory Council member Justin Calhoun in providing color to the experiences of Black LGBTQ/SGL youth,” said Johns.  “Justin has served as an intern at the National Black Justice Coalition and president of CASCADE, the LGBTQ student group at Howard University, and he is a brilliant and compassionate advocate who has already helped improve policies and practices to ensure that schools and communities are more inclusive, safe and supportive of all Black people.”

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