It’s June. Pride Month.
I’ve followed–and supported–the movement for LGBTQ equality for more years than I can count. When Indianapolis had a newspaper that served the gay community, I was a regular columnist; when I was Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, I established a “Project for Equal Rights”–a project focused on gay rights (back then, ambiguity in the title was advisable.)
So I’ve been gratified by the enormous cultural and legal changes that have led to wide acceptance of gays and lesbians (transgender folks not so much…), reflected in positive newscasts about upcoming Pride events and the enormous growth of participation in those events.
I attended the first Pride Parade (proper name: Cadillac Barbie Pride Parade–don’t ask me how that name originated; I have no idea). It was a resolute effort, but as I recall (granted, at my age, memory is fallible) a fairly sad affair. There were six or eight floats, and at most a couple hundred spectators. My husband, kids and (later) grandkids have attended every year since, and at the last parade–held before COVID imposed a hiatus–there were something like 80-100 floats and over a 100,000 spectators.
It isn’t simply that the numbers have grown; the nature of the participants has expanded. Initially, both the parade floats and festival were sponsored by bars and other businesses and nonprofits that catered specifically to the gay community. These days, marchers and floats include a mix of churches and synagogues, healthcare organizations, car dealerships, universities, civil rights groups, government officials and political candidates–an array broadly representative of the entire Indianapolis community.
LGBTQ progress is undeniable. But the current backlash isn’t limited to the determined assault on women’s rights. As the Brookings Institution recently warned, this year’s Pride comes at a perilous time for the LGBTQ community.
The report began with recognition of widespread cultural change
The year 2015 marked a historic milestone in the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights: the Supreme Court’s recognition of marriage equality. The court’s ruling both reflected and promoted an incredible sea change in American life. In the two decades prior to the decision, public opinion on LGBTQ+ rights improved more rapidly than any other attitude in the history of American opinion polling.
The author followed that paragraph with a description of research reflecting those changes, especially focusing on their effects for students and young people.
He then described the less-rosy findings of that research:
For the first time ever, the CDC included a question about sexual identity in its national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). This survey provided the first population-based, nationally representative portrait of sexual minority high school students since the Add Health study two decades prior. The results were sobering. Among students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or “not sure” (LGBQ), about 40% reported being bullied, 39% reported having “seriously considered” suicide, and a full 56% reported clinically significant signs of depression. Although some of the CDC’s estimates were later shown to be inflated by “mischievous responders,” these bullying and mental health disparities remained remarkably stable across analyses.
Since 2015, the story told by America’s LGBQ high school students has not improved. (Because these data do not assess gender identity or sexual identities beyond L/G/B/Q, I refer here only to LGBQ students). In Figure 1, I present estimates from the 2015, 2017, and 2019 National YRBS. For LGBQ respondents, the results show no change in bullying, no change in suicidal ideation, and a slight upward trend in depression. On every measure, LGBQ students report substantially worse outcomes than their straight peers: LGBQ students are about 70% more likely to report bullying, twice as likely to report suicidal ideation, and three times more likely to report depression. Population-representative data on transgender students are more limited. However, the data that are available provide a picture of an especially vulnerable population, reporting outcomes similar to or worse than those reported by LGBQ students. Early indications suggest that the experiences of LGBTQ+ teens only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And then there is the “far-reaching and well-orchestrated backlash against LGBTQ+ rights.” The Brookings report tells us that a record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQ+ measures have been proposed and passed across the country over the past three years. (In just the first three months of this year, 238 bills restricting LGBTQ+ rights have been introduced.)
These legislative initiatives also appear to have emboldened a wave of LGBTQ+ book bans, efforts to dismantle gay-straight alliances, and the forced removal of LGBTQ+-affirming materials from school spaces.
Given the success of Mitch McConnell and his Senate Republicans in politicizing the Supreme Court, rights like marriage equality “appear newly uncertain.”
On June 11th, my family will join the throng of supporters cheering for Pride –and hoping for the defeat of re-emerging prejudice.