From A To Zee: 1 in 3

Sad Black Trans Youth with Lipstick.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

I have a confession. I never expected to live past the age of 21 years old. Why is that, you ask? Well, in my teen years (1985-1993) I recall reading articles and seeing news reports saying that 1 in 3 Black men would either be dead or end up in prison by the age of 21.

I had friends who lived “the street life.” I remember being lonely growing up as an only child, so I had a yearning to be part of something, a group, or a crew. That something ended up being the local gang. I was scrawny kid and I’m sure they were looking at me thinking “What are we going to do with this one?” I never got “jumped” into the gang like some of my friends did despite my best efforts. As a conciliation (I believe thinking back on it now) I was given the street name “The Reporter.” I even remember getting a black Los Angeles Raider’s hat with “Reporter” inscribed on the side in Old English font. Even then, I was the archivist of information. I always knew what went down, where it happened, and who was involved. Looking back on it now, that was actually a pretty dangerous position to be in.

During this time, the HIV/AIDS crisis was just building steam. According to CDC records,  47,993 people died of AIDS (or AIDS-related complication) between 1981-1987 and that figure jumped to 181,212 deaths between 1988-1992 and remained high at 159,048 deaths between 1993-1995. During those first years there was a 95.5% death rate of folks diagnosed with HIV. I knew well before my teen years that I was attracted to “boys & girls.” Being the late bloomer that I was, even the thought of getting sexually intimate with anyone would paralyze me with fear. There were a lot of unknowns and misinformation at the time regarding how one contracted HIV, how it progressed to full blown AIDS, and if there would ever be a cure for it in the foreseeable future. All I knew is that since I liked boys, this could also happen to me.

Whether I wanted this statistic to impact the way I lived my life or not, I always remembered 1 in 3, 1 in 3, 1 in 3. This is why a recent 2023 survey released by the Trevor Project shook me to my core. Part of the results focused on the perceived life expectancy of LGBTQ+ youth surveyed. The summary was that “Among the overall sample of LGBTQ+ young people, the majority (64%) reported believing there was a high chance (i.e., more likely than not) of living to age 35, while just over 1 in 3 (36%) believed their chances were low.” There’s that number again, 1 in 3.

The data was drawn from a survey of over 20,000 respondents from across the country between the ages 13-24. John Riley’s article “Negative Outlook” in Metro Weekly noted that the survey asked “the youth about their sense of purpose in life, focusing on six different aspects: whether respondents felt that their life has enough purpose; whether they find their life activities worthwhile; whether they believe the activities they engage in are important; valuing said activities; caring about said activities; and having many reasons to live.” I highly recommend everyone read this article! Today’s youth feel more hopeless than generations past. LGBTQ+ youth, in particular, are even more susceptible to those feelings given that so many of our states are trying to legislate their existence away and parents are fighting local school boards to prevent young people from reading about others who share their identity. I can assure you if reading about heterosexual people makes someone straight then why aren’t we all straight? The math is not mathing (#urbandictionary). 

Again, the Trevor Project reports that “28% of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing homelessness or housing instability at some point in their lives.” That’s almost 1 in 3.  Nearly half of LGBTQ youth surveyed have seriously considered attempting suicide in 2022.

These figures are not new to those of us within the LGBTQ+ community who have our ears to the ground and track what’s going on with our younger generations. But I remember sharing these statistics with a close family member not that long ago and they were in utter disbelief. Hearing these data points literally stopped him in his tracks. We need to remember that nearly 9 in 10 American adults (87%) say they know someone who is gay or lesbian, however, far fewer (30%) say they know someone who is transgender (Pew Research poll). There’s that figure again, 1 in 3. It’s much easier to fear that which you do not know than that which you do know. More folk need to come to know folk who are transgender and/or nonbinary.

We are losing the battle to save a significant chunk of our LGBTQ+ youth.  It’s true that access to HIV medication and PrEP has alleviated the fear that being intimate with someone as they grow older won’t be an automatic death sentence for them. They won’t have to bury 50%+ of their dearest friends by the time they are in their twenties. It’s true that they have been able to live in a time when being able to marry the person they love is a given regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But it’s also true that they are living during a time that 515 anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed in state legislatures around the country (ACLU). They are also living through a time that they are being bombarded by negative messaging 24/7 through social media that has been designed to create an addiction equivalent craving for them to stay on it for as many minutes in a day as possible.

Despite the odds, I’ll be turning 50 this year, 29 years past what I believed would have been my expiration date. Queer kids today deserve to live a much longer life than I have been able to enjoy thus far. What will you be doing within your community (whether you have kids or not) to ensure that happens. Queer kids don’t become queer adults by accident. It’s our (collective) responsibility to pave the way to ensure the road ahead for them is one that their life has purpose and that living to enjoy it is worthwhile.

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