Opinion: Anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric is killing our children
Everywhere we look we see attacks on the identity and health of LGBTQ+ children. More than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced so far in 2022, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In response to teaching about the historic contributions of LGBTQ+ people in schools – a true representation of our country’s rich history – lawmakers and anti-LGBTQ+ groups are attacking gay people and their allies, calling them “groomers” and even of “pedophiles”. Cable programs regularly broadcast anti-trans messages in our living rooms. And a “don’t say gay” bill was introduced in the New Jersey Senate, importing Florida’s ignorance into the Garden State.
As a father and leader of New Jersey’s LGBTQ+ community, we are deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ youth in our country. This growing anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination is a cynical attempt to seize power by dividing us and fostering fear and distrust of “the other”. But the anti-LGBTQ+ culture war has real-world consequences, including impacts on the mental health of young Americans.
According to a 2022 national mental health survey by the Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQ+ youth have seriously considered suicide in the past year. This statistic should shock you, but given the social stigma and discrimination expressed in school, in legislatures and on the radio, we are sadly not surprised.
The same Trevor Project survey points to the answer to reducing suicide attempts among LGBTQ+ youth in our country: support them for who they are. LGBTQ+ youth who felt socially supported by family or school reported attempting suicide at significantly lower rates than those who did not feel supported. LGBTQ+ youth who lack support are also 120% more likely than their heterosexual peers to end up homeless, often because their families have rejected and rejected them. The death or destitution of young people should not convince adults not to spread intolerance or to attack children. But that’s where we ended up: imploring parents and politicians who should know not to scapegoat, alienate abuse or abandon young gay men.
That’s why we worked together, a federal legislator and a community and nonprofit leader, to establish an agenda through Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s leading LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, to support LGBTQ+ people. . With the help of federal funding, Garden State Equality works with community partners to create programs to help LGBTQ+ youth heal from the trauma of being rejected and attacked and to empower them to become leaders in their communities. By uplifting those who previously lacked support, we hope to develop LGBTQ+ leaders who are resilient and know they are appreciated and valued, create more welcoming communities, and repel those who try to divide us and alienate us from each other. Our nation’s LGBTQ+ youth deserve nothing less, and we can start here by working together in New Jersey.
This Pride month, we have seen those who fear people different from themselves go wild with discriminatory and vulgar rhetoric. They’ve spread fear about parades that celebrate LGBTQ+ culture and history, and they’ve used Pride to divide us instead of appreciating our diversity. We must not let them convince us that being different is the same as being bad, or that being LGBTQ+ means someone deserves to be shunned, discriminated against, or harassed.
Instead, we must start from a simple truth: Children are children, and every child in the United States of America deserves our love, support, and care. We can and must do better for our LGBTQ+ youth. That’s what we’re doing in New Jersey — and we hope New Jersey parents, schools, and lawmakers will support us in rejecting intolerance and supporting the vulnerable and marginalized among us.
Donald Norcross represents New Jersey’s 1st District in the United States House of Representatives, where he is a member of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. Christian Fuscarino is the executive director of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.