Latino LGBTQ Youth Suffer Mental Health Challenges Due to Multiple Stigmas, Study Finds

Jun 22, 2023
11:40 AM

A trans woman holds the transgender flag and waves the LGBT flag at a Gay Pride parade in San Francisco (quinn.anya/CC BY-SA 2.0)

In May, the Trevor Projects fifth annual U.S. National Survey —which spotlights the experiences of more than 28,000 young LGBTQ people ages 13 to 24 across the country— revealed that LGBTQ youth continue to report high rates of mental health challenges and suicide risk. Social stigma against LGBTQ, including victimization at school or at home, contributes to these disparities. 

According to the survey, 41 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year—and those who are transgender, nonbinary, or people of color reported higher rates than their peers. For example, Black LGBTQ youth reported a suicide rate of 16 percent, while Latinx LGBTQ youth reported a rate of 15 percent—five and four points, respectively, above the rate reported by white LGBTQ youth. 

Jessica Leslie, head of the International Crisis Attention Service at the Trevor Project, told Latino Rebels that LGBTQ youth are not intrinsically prone to be at risk of taking their life for reasons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, but are exposed to greater risk due to the way in which they are mistreated and stigmatized in society. 

“The hostile political climate and the rise of anti-LGBTQ policies have the potential to exacerbate victimization and barriers to affirming physical and mental health care,” Leslie explained, adding that “LGBTQ youth who experienced anti-LGBTQ victimization, including being threatened or physically harmed, discriminated against, or undergoing conversion therapy, reported more than twice the rate of attempted suicide in the past year compared to those who had none of these anti-LGBTQ experiences.”

The survey, which was carried out between September 1 and December 12, 2022, also found that a large majority of young LGBTQ people also reported recent symptoms of anxiety (67 percent) and depression (54 percent). However, only 44 percent of the LGBTQ youth who wanted mental health care in the past year were able to receive it, and many young LGBTQ people of color specifically expressed concern that providers would not understand their culture.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, when it comes to mental health, Latinos are more likely to report poor communication with their health provider. Studies have found that bilingual patients are evaluated differently when interviewed in English as opposed to Spanish, and that Latinos are more frequently undertreated. 

According to a 2021 study, from the 192,497 therapists employed in the United States, only 7.9 percent are Latino and only 12 percent are LGBTQ.

Fear of discussing mental health and not being taken seriously, concerns about parental permission, and a lack of affordability are the top barriers to accessing mental health care for LGBTQ youth, according to Trevor’s survey. 

“To help create a world that is supportive of LGBTQ youth, policymakers should pursue policies that improve access to protective factors and combat rather than increase risk factors for suicide,” Leslie said. 

Over the last year, a record number of anti-LGBTQ policies have been introduced and enacted across the country, negatively impacting LGBTQ young people’s mental health. According to the survey, nearly one in three young LGBTQ people said their mental health was poor most of the time or always due to anti-LGBTQ policies and legislation. Nearly two in three LGBTQ youths said that hearing about potential state or local laws banning people from discussing LGBTQ issues at school made their mental health a lot worse.

Conversely, 79 percent of LGBTQ young people said hearing about potential state and local laws trying to ban conversion therapy made them feel a little or a lot better. 

“It is super important that there is legislation to protect LGBTQ youth from being victims of discrimination or conversion therapy, and that expands access to culturally competent health care.”

The survey also sheds some light on what circumstances can help decrease suicide rates. Affirming homes and schools are vital to preventing suicide, the survey found, especially amid national LGBTQ debates and laws seeking to ban LGBTQ content in schools and restrict parents’ ability to support their transgender and non-binary children. 

“Youths who had access to affirming homes and schools reported much lower rates of attempted suicide in the past year,” Leslie said. “However, only 38 percent of LGBTQ youth considered their home was affirming and 54 percent considered their school was affirming.”

Among transgender and non-binary youth, only 35 percent considered their home to be gender-affirming and just over half considered their school to be gender-affirming.

“What we do know is that if a young person has someone, at least one adult who supports them in their life, and who affirms their gender identity, their sexual orientation, that really changes and lowers the suicide rates,” Leslie said. 

According to a Gallup poll released in 2022, more Latinos identify as LGBTQ than their non-Latinx counterparts. Eleven percent of U.S. Latino adults said they identified as LGBTQ, nearly twice the rate of white and Black. The report also found that the percentage of LGBTQ Latino adults was even higher among Gen Zers, with more than one in five Latinos born between 1997 and 2012 saying they were LGBTQ. 

There are 2.3 million LGBTQ Latinos adults living in the United States, often facing additional discrimination such as racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric. According to a 2021 report from the UCLA School of Law William Institute, LGBTQ Latino adults are less likely than non-LGBTQ Latino adults to have a college education, be employed, and have food security. 

“People are able to express themselves and be who they want to be. People mind their business. People have better mental health, gender-neutral bathrooms. No one would have to worry about coming out. And no more anti-LGBTQ laws,” were the most common responses from LGBTQ young people when Trevor’s survey asked them to describe what a world would look like where all LGBTQ people are accepted. 

“Happy, peaceful, beautiful, safe, and comfortable” is how a world like that would make them feel, said respondents.

As we near the end of Pride Month, and despite the well-deserved celebration spirit that it brings to LGBTQ people, it is important that pride season remain truthful to its origins by continuing to be an opportunity to discuss the serious problems still impacting this community. 


Juan de Dios Sánchez Jurado is a writer, lawyer, and journalist from Colombia, he is currently studying at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. Twitter: @diosexmaquina