This pride month, there’s been a renewed focus on the mental health of individuals in the LGBTQ+ community. Continual discrimination and unacceptance can often lead to minority stress, which opens the doors to decreased mental health, substance use, and possibly suicide.
The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey reports 42 percent of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.
Local members of the LGBTQ+ community are finding solace and power in being visible, out, and proud, even if it didn’t always begin that way.
"I think any time you have to hide any part of yourself, your mental health is going to take a nosedive," said Andrea Foster, a Saginaw resident.
Foster, who is engaged to a woman, identifies as queer. She came out later on in life, after breaking away from the immense pressure in her upbringing.
"Growing up in churches or any sort of religion that doesn't condone homosexuality, it can be really tough when you know there's a part inside of you that is," Foster added.
It’s often a reality other LGBTQ+ community members face too. Yielding in a reluctance to be truly visible.
"Growing up, I think my mom was really, really terrified that I would be gay," Foster exclaimed. "I can probably remember every single word out of her mouth... that really said it’s not okay to be that way. I was already a really depressed and anxious teen, and I am positive that a small part of it was just not feeling accepted.”
Those feelings embody minority stress. It’s a theory best described as those in the minority face more health disparities brought forth by unaccepting or hostile surroundings.
"You get stared at and glared at. It can be really frustrating, and I will say it absolutely affected my mental health," she continued.
It’s not a feeling or emotion exclusive to her, either.
"I took a job actually overseas in South Korea as an English teacher… I remember when I was over there, there was always a concern that, okay, I could lose my job,” Antione Martin, who now works as an HIV Prevention Manager with Great Lakes Bay Health Centers, said. “For the first 5 or 6 months, I didn't say a thing. But I remember how challenging it was to navigate work."
It proved to be taxing on his mental health. He described it as a heavy weight on his shoulders that ultimately started to affect his work.
“[There’s] psychological stress with that because I felt like I had to come up with stories... my coworkers are pressuring me, they want to hang out with me, but I'm feeling like I have to hide a part of myself,” Martin added.
It’s an isolating feeling. That’s why non-profits, like The Trevor Project, or the local Great Lakes Bay Pride, exist.
“I grew up with bullying in school and again, that comes from miseducation,” said Scott Ellis, the organization’s executive director. “Great Lakes Bay Pride really strives to serve as a connecting hub to LGBTQ+ programs and services throughout our four-county primary service region,” he added.
The group often hosts discussion groups and speakers, it provides safe socialization spaces, it informs the public and elected officials, and strives for a more inclusive and supportive community. Ellis believes education is a crucial part of acceptance, both for those in and out of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Making sure that families and young people understand the vocabulary. We lacked that... and it can shape your world view," Ellis said.
For Foster and Martin, visibility and speaking up also allowed them to live out and proud.
“Be optimistic and keep being you,” Martin said. He shared he is in a great place in his life now. After returning to South Korea, he came out to his parents. He admitted it took a while, but his parents and friends' support helped him through hard times.
"I absolutely believe that when I came out, it helped me find a much more clear path and purpose, and that's to educate others," Foster declared. She told TV5 she now leads the way in inclusivity, equality, and diversity training for businesses.