Young transgender Coloradans on the mental health toll of the fight for the right to exist

Young transgender Coloradans on the mental health toll of the fight for the right to exist

Agua Perrodin dreams neither of glory nor of wealth. The 23-year-old transgender woman in Colorado Springs just wants to live in peace and safety and experience the joys of motherhood one day.

“It’s very hard to imagine a future where I can live the life I want to live here in the Springs and in this country,” Perrodin said. “There is always a fulfilling life that I always want to have, but it can seem impossible because when your family turns against you and when your community decides to paint you as the bad guy and when your country as a whole decides to focus on other things, what hope is there?

Anti-transgender rhetoric is at its peak nationally and locally, fomented by years of politicians and pundits pushing bigotry on a vulnerable group, according to LGBTQ advocates and mental health experts.

Examples include Colorado State Board of Education member Steve Durham equating children watching a drag performance with child abuse at a public meeting, Rep. Lauren Boebert this week outlining the trans women as “men disguised as caricatures of women” in a radio interview, and the Archdiocese’s Denver advises its Catholic schools not to enroll transgender students.

Late Saturday night, a shooter entered an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs just before the start of Transgender Remembrance Day, killing five people – including two transgender people – and injuring more than a dozen.

To be trans in America in 2022, transgender Coloradans told the Denver Post, is to wake up every day pushed into activism, voluntary or not, to fight for your right to exist — to fight for your life.

“Rhetoric has big consequences,” said Garrett Royer, deputy director of LGBTQ advocacy organization One Colorado. “It makes young people ashamed of who they are. People feel compelled to go back into the closet, and we won’t know what those long-term impacts on the mental health of the community are.

But there is hope and goodness in the world, said April Owen, clinical psychologist and director of the Transgender Center of the Rockies.

There are resources. There is a community of LGBTQ people and allies who will fight alongside you and allow you to lay down the armor and just be, Owen said.

“It can’t be good for anyone’s sanity to keep having to fight to be told they’re valid, that their needs are real,” Owen said. “It’s a climate that makes people feel erased, judged and unvalued, and that just wouldn’t be good for any of us, especially in an ongoing case. Some people don’t have the ability to wake up and fight every day to meet their basic needs. It is very damaging. »

“I feel so good about myself”

When Reina Hernandez felt overwhelmed by hateful rhetoric, the 17-year-old transgender Denverite turned to LGBTQ organizations such as Rainbow Alley, a space for LGBTQ youth hosted by the Center on Colfax, and chat options. online from the Trevor Project.

Hernandez talks to a therapist and uses art to express herself. The teenager finds pleasure in painting, drawing and photography.

“I had already tried to kill myself. And then I realized that I only live once and I have to live a life that I’m really happy to live and I have to be authentic myself without fear of anything else, “said Hernandez said. “I am extremely grateful. I feel so good about myself. I find myself loving every part of myself more and more every day.

LGBTQ youth are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are not inherently at risk of suicide because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but they are at higher risk because of how they are treated in society, according to the Trevor Project, an organization nonprofit focused on LGBTQ youth suicide prevention efforts. .

The Trevor Project’s 2022 national survey of LGBTQ youth mental health found that 45% of respondents had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

If the hateful rhetoric seems too overwhelming, Owen said, it’s time to turn off the news. Instead, surround yourself with loved ones and start a family, she said. When you’re ready, Owen said, mental health professionals at places like the Transgender Center of the Rockies are available.

“Look at the people who came before us and fought for our rights and helped make progress,” Owen said. “Look at good politicians like (transgender state legislator) Brianna Titone, who speak out on behalf of our community, and our governor and the people who provide support and good voices.”

Fearing for safety

When Hernandez imagines an ideal future, the teenager envisions a world in which she can be the happiest and most authentic herself without the imminent fear of being killed because of who she is.

“I want basic human rights and respect,” Hernandez said. “I’m sick of being treated like another or an outsider. I have human emotions. I live and breathe the same air, and it’s unfair that people like me have to continue to face this oppression .

She finds her strength in activism.

Hernandez testified before the state school board at a meeting where board members voted to reinstate previously deleted references to learning about LGBTQ history in the school’s social studies standards. ‘State. Hernandez told the board that his existence was not political and that his identity should not be the subject of public debate.

She told how a fun night at a school event with her friends last year turned discriminatory after a group of children started throwing rocks at her, saying she would burn in hell.

“I’m better for it,” Hernandez said. “Growing up that kind of thick skin is important because there’s so much hate and rhetoric directed at us that you can’t really be weak, you know?”

August Caudill knows it and wants others to know it too.

The 15-year-old non-binary transgender said he heard adults refer to their identity as “attention seeking”.

“They say we’re too young to understand what we want, but I just wish they could see the struggles like bullying and all the hurtful and horrible things and the everyday life that comes with being queer and trans. “, Caudill, of Denver, said. “People don’t crave that kind of negative attention. They are just who they are.

Caudill loves helping people. They love music and photography. They love activism and making people laugh.

“I wish people could just see who I am underneath instead of looking at me and getting angry,” Caudill said.

Since coming out, Perrodin has not had the support of most of her family members, whose religious beliefs she says lead them to exclude her.

She has a few trusted people in her support system who mean the world, Perrodin said, and work with dementia patients that inspires her to seek better care for all.

When Perrodin, who grew up in Colorado Springs, heard about the Club Q shooting, she said she was sickened but not surprised.

Around 2020, as anti-trans rhetoric escalated, Perrodin said she began to fear for her safety so much that it felt dangerous to be herself in public. She stopped going to Club Q, a place where she once found community.

“It’s a really ugly and horrible thing to be right, and I wish it wasn’t,” Perrodin said.

Embrace the uncomfortable

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