Both Howard County and the state of Maryland made headlines recently for leadership on mental health issues and rights of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+). Locally, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced $2.5 million to expand behavioral health services at Howard County General Hospital, Sheppard Pratt (Elkridge campus), and Tuerk House. Statewide, as one of five states to pass legislation this year to protect transgender healthcare, Maryland broadened the gender-affirming treatments covered under the state’s Medicaid plan with the passage of the Maryland Trans Equity Act. As a result, estimates indicate a 125-percent increase in Maryland residents who will become eligible to receive gender-affirming care. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, gender-affirming care decreases anxiety, depression, and other adverse mental health outcomes.
These are positive advances for Maryland’s mental health, including people who are LGBTQIA+. But Marylanders don’t live in a vacuum, and legislation doesn’t solve everything. Many LGBTQIA+ community members experience stress knowing that 12 other states passed legislation to limit or ban gender-affirming care for young people, adding to several existing state bans, while one state’s restrictions would apply to youth and adults of any age. In addition to the legal system, homophobia and transphobia can take many forms – from discrimination to bullying and harassment and even violence. Intersectionality of homophobia and/or transphobia with other forms of oppression such as racism can compound the effect on mental health.
In this context, while mental health struggles are a serious issue for everyone, members of the LGBTQIA+ community face unique challenges. Here in Howard County, we may experience a vibrant and welcoming support system, but LGBTQIA+ individuals and allies may need a little help knowing how to access it.
This post will help us as emotional support humans (whether we identify as LGBTQIA+ or not) know how to spot common mental health struggles the LGBTQIA+ community may face, explain the importance of advocacy, and list out a few ways to get involved locally.
Mental Health Impacts of Homophobia and Transphobia
Two of the most common mental health struggles experienced by the LGBTQIA+ community are anxiety and depression. These can stem from the trauma of coming out and experiencing rejection. While the experience of coming out can be positive for many people who find acceptance, some people experience negative mental health impacts from sharing sexual orientation or gender identity, especially if it is before they are ready or if they are not in a supportive environment. A 2022 report from the Trevor Project found just 37 percent of LGBTQIA+ youth identified their home as an affirming space.
Additionally, anxiety and depression may result from bullying, feeling identity-based shame, being stereotyped, denial of opportunities and access, abuse (e.g., mental, physical, and verbal), or even violence. As a result, LGBTQIA+ people may face feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and despair. And broadly, we as a nation are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness and isolation, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. Common forms of discrimination and marginalization against the LGBTQIA+ community include discrimination in housing, employment, healthcare, and education.
Maryland has made progress in recent years when it comes to protecting the rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals, but the work continues. In part because of overall provider shortages, many individuals struggle to find LGBTQIA+ competent mental health professionals and may also experience either overt discrimination or lack of knowledge with their primary healthcare providers. Everyone deserves to receive healthcare with dignity, respect, and love – and our physical and mental health may depend on it.
How You Can Show Up for the LGBTQIA+ Community in Howard County
Discrimination and marginalization of the LGBTQIA+ community can have serious adverse effects on health outcomes, including and especially mental health. But this is where we as emotional support humans come in! Here are some tips on ways you can support Howard County’s LGBTQIA+ community.
Educate Yourself and Others About LGBTQIA+ Issues and Rights
Read up! This blog only scratches the surface of things and there are more books and articles available now than ever before to educate us.
- If you’re in Columbia, visit Books-A-Million and ask for the LGBTQIA+ education section.
- If you are someone who runs programming for a local group, organization, or your company, PFLAG Columbia-Howard County also offers educational trainings and workshops.
- Once you’ve read up a bit and learned more, it’s time to educate others! Start by trying to incorporate more examples of inclusive language in your day-to-day conversations and correct misinformation when talking to others.
And last but not least, if you’re looking to take your role as an emotional support human to the next level, consider getting involved in advocacy. It’s simple: join the Horizon Foundation’s Mental Health Matters Coalition!