New Studies Show LGBTQ+ Mental Health Has Suffered in the Trump Era

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday October 26, 2021

If you feel that your mental health has suffered during the last six years, coinciding with the candidacy — and then the presidency — of Donald Trump, new studies confirm you aren't imagining it, USA Today reports.

Two studies indicate that mental health among LGBTQ+ people has, in fact, been impacted during the Trump era. The two studies examined "distress levels before and after the 2016 election," the USA Today article said.

The reports did not set out to prove such a correlation, nor to blame Trump specifically, the article noted. Still, there's a "'fairly strong' correlation" between Trump's rise to power and a decline in mental health among LGBTQ+ people, "based on Trump's policies and rhetoric widely considered anti-LGBTQ," the article said, citing Dr. Adrienne Grzenda, lead author of one of the studies, titled "Impact of the 2016 Election on the Quality of Life of Sexual and Gender Minority Adults: A Difference-in-Differences Analysis," which was published in the August/September issue of LGBT Health.

Masanori Kuroki, an associate professor with Arkansas Technical University and the author of the other new study, noted that with increasingly vitriolic rhetoric from far-right sources, "Trump may be the symptom, not the cause, of what is hurting LGBT people's mental health."

Still, the numbers tell a disturbing story of increased distress during the Trump era. Kuroki's study "found the gap in rates of 'extreme mental distress'" — major mental and emotional problems in all 30 of the past 30 days — more than doubled between LGBTQ Americans and the rest of the population, from 1.8% in 2014 and 2015, to 3.8% in early 2016, when Trump became the Republican presidential front-runner," USA Today noted.

"During the Trump administration, we saw at the federal level a number of policies and practices that restricted the rights of LGBTQ people," USA Today quoted The Trevor Project's Amy Green as saying.

Among the hardest hit: Youth, the USA Today article said, with "4% of young LGBTQ people responding in late 2020 to a national survey [saying that] Trump-era politics had hurt their mental health, up from 76% who said the same in 2018, according to The Trevor Project."

The end of Trump's presidency, however, does not mean the end of the Trump era. Dr. Grzenda pointed to ongoing efforts in GOP-controlled state governments to further restrict the rights of transgender youth.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, trans and gender-nonconforming youth in those states show signs of greater mental health distress than their counterparts elsewhere. "The Trans Lifeline, the country's first transgender crisis hotline, saw a 72 percent increase in calls from Texas in May compared with May 2020," NBC News reported, noting that "In May, Texas lawmakers began to consider about a dozen bills aimed at limiting trans rights."

A wave of anti-transgender legislation, much of it singling out trans youth, has made 2021 a record year for hostile state-level legislation. The barrage so concerned Democratic lawmakers that a group of senators sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) calling for an establishment of "best practices" from the agency "to address the mental health needs of trans and nonbinary children," NBC News said.

And the Biden administration may simply be a lull in the storm. Trump has expressed an intention to run for the presidency again in 2024; meanwhile, several states have taken actions around election law, election officials, and redistricting that critics say will hinder democratic participation by the poor, the elderly, and, especially, people of color, potentially boosting Republicans' chances at the ballot box in 2022 and 2024.

Republicans have also proposed more drastic measures. In Arizona, a law proposed by Republican state lawmaker Shawna Bolick "would allow the House, by a majority vote, to revoke the secretary of state's certification of presidential electors chosen by Arizona voters to cast the state's electoral college votes," essentially allowing the state's lawmakers to choose Arizona's electors without regard for the democratic process, the Arizona Republic reported.

What's more, the continuing political attacks on LGBTQ+ people are unfolding against a backdrop in which some members of the community feel themselves being erased even by their fellow sexual minorities. Bisexuals, a recent study suggested, feel marginalized not only by heterosexuals but also by gays who doubt that their attraction to both men and women is genuine — an ironic situation, considering that 54.6 percent of LGBTQ+ people self-identify as bi, making bisexuals the largest sub-demographic within the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.