The Power of Pride: How Celebrating Identities Can Improve the Mental Well-Being of LGBTQ+ People
Author: Grace Cruse (she/her/they/them)
Since the Stonewall Uprising beginning on June 28, 1969, the month of June has served as LGBTQ+ pride month where LGBTQ+ people and allies celebrate queer joy, diverse identities and experiences, and the advancements that have been made in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance and equality. Part of pride month is also remembering the sacrifices, activism, and organizing that took place for decades to promote the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights. Over the years, we’ve seen much progress in the realm of LGBTQ+ rights and public perception of LGBTQ+ individuals. We’ve begun to see greater representation in media of LGBTQ+ people, more awareness around diversity and inclusion, and greater insight into the impacts of stigma and discrimination on LGBTQ+ individuals’ mental health. Although this collective push for LGBTQ+ understanding has made it more possible for many people to be their authentic selves and to find support that is affirming, there is still room for growth as a society. Conversations around LGBTQ+ mental health are only just beginning; we need to continue to embrace these discussions.
The Need for Acceptance
Research has documented that LGBTQ+ youth are placed at higher risk of suicide due to the stigmatization and discrimination they experience in our society. According to the Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. 14% of those individuals went on to attempt suicide. These statistics are especially concerning when considering the overrepresentation of transgender and nonbinary youth within these groups. Living authentically and being mentally healthy becomes a challenge when prejudice and misunderstanding are still so prevalent in our culture. However, if the past several decades have shown us anything, it is that progress is something that is worth fighting for, and that LGBTQ+ acceptance is something that is achievable. So, why should we embrace different identities? How can celebrating LGBTQ+ identities help mental well-being?
Embracing and celebrating differences is one of the most meaningful things you can do for your school, workplace, and your own enrichment. Each individual holds a unique set of identities, knowledge, and life experiences that equip them with a perspective that no one else in the world has. Welcoming diverse identities can expose you to new perspectives, worldviews, and ways of thinking that you might not have considered on your own. This creates empathy for different experiences, allows for multiple realities to coexist, and paves the way for innovation and connection. Not only does acceptance create a culture of understanding, but it has a significant impact on mental well-being. In fact, studies have shown that “LGBTQ+ youth who live in a community that is accepting of LGBTQ+ people reported significantly lower rates of suicide than those who do not.” This same protective effect occurred when LGBTQ+ people felt that their schools were LGBTQ+-affirming.
How to Affirm LGBTQ+ People
Listen. One of the best things you can do to affirm LGBTQ+ people is to listen to what they have to say. If they tell you that something you are doing makes them uncomfortable or hurts them, listen to them and reflect on ways to be more inclusive. If you’re not sure about something, ask them!
Use inclusive language. Avoid gendered language or making assumptions about someone’s gender identity. Using gender neutral language, like “partner” instead of “boyfriend/girlfriend”, “server” instead of “waiter/waitress”, etc. can be a good way to practice inclusive language and can allow you to reflect on other ways we unnecessarily gender our words. If you’re not sure of someone’s gender, try using “they/them” pronouns or asking them which pronouns they use.
Challenge harmful assumptions or stereotypes. There are many damaging stereotypes that contribute to the prejudice and stigma against LGBTQ+ people. When you hear or see something harmful, say something! Standing up against anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment should not fall on the shoulders of LGBTQ+ people. Part of being an ally is recognizing that it may not always be safe for LGBTQ+ people to speak up, so you can use your privilege to stand up.
Normalize asking about, using, and sharing pronouns. Everyone uses pronouns, so we should normalize asking for others’ pronouns and sharing our own. At work, try putting your pronouns in your email signature, next to your name in Zoom calls, or introducing yourself by sharing which pronouns you use. If you’re unsure of what pronouns someone uses, just ask! If you accidentally use the wrong pronouns and misgender someone, don’t make a huge deal out of it. Simply correct yourself, offer a quick apology, and move on. If you want to learn more about pronouns, check out this guide from the LGBT Life Center.
Embrace intersectional identities. The term intersectionality refers to the complex ways in which different identities, such as race, gender, class, sexuality, and lived experience, intersect to create unique experiences. These intersections lead to unique systemic oppressions and/or privileges. An individual may hold any number of identities that may be a combination of privileges and disadvantages. For example, a black lesbian woman will have different experiences than a white lesbian woman, despite the fact that they are both lesbian women. A woman’s blackness and queerness will intersect in a way that creates different systemic barriers than a queer woman who may still experience discrimination due to her gender and sexuality but benefit from white privilege. Understand that each LGBTQ+ person has a unique set of identities that intersect with being LGBTQ+. No two LGBTQ+ people will have had the exact same experiences or feel the exact same way about things. Learn more about intersectionality from this resource by the Center for Intersectional Justice.
Engage with LGBTQ+ TV, music, art, social media content creators, etc. The best way to learn about LGBTQ+ topics is from LGBTQ+ people! There is so much great media created by LGBTQ+ people, so do yourself a favor and start exploring it!
Check in on your LGBTQ+ friends, colleagues, and family. Ask the LGBTQ+ people in your life how they’re doing. Be willing to listen to them and offer them support. It can be exhausting to deal with discrimination and hate, which can take a big toll on one’s mental health. Having supportive people in your life can help mitigate the hurt of living in a discriminatory world and make you feel less alone.
For additional learning on allyship, check out this guide on Being an LGBTQ+ Ally by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
By being inclusive of diverse identities, we are making it possible for LGBTQ+ people to get the support and resources that they need to thrive. Everyone deserves to feel accepted and celebrated for who they are. Through celebrating the uniqueness of each individual, we can each play a role in creating a society that supports the mental health of everyone.
For additional LGBTQ+ mental health resources, check out this resource recently released by the South Southwest MHTTC.
The Trevor Project, 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People, https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2023/
About the Author
Grace Cruse (she/her/they/them) graduated from Southwestern University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a minor in Anthropology. They have experience in social media content creation, photography, and graphic design. Grace has always been passionate about how communications, social media, and design can be used to raise awareness around mental health and improve systems that influence well-being. While they are not working, you can find her gardening, exploring local coffee shops, and spoiling her cat, Luna. This fall, Grace will be pursuing a Master of Arts in Community Psychology at the University of Brighton in Brighton, England.