ORLANDO, Fla. – As a nonbinary young adult, Raquel Kadin said they experience anxiety with the active thought of knowing they can be attacked because of their identity.
“There’s always that threat looming that I guess some straight people — specifically straight cis-people — that they just don’t know that they have over you,” Kadin said.
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Kadin, 20, said they realized they were nonbinary about a year ago. They have faced discomforts from family members and the general public, specifically with their parents being in denial of their identity.
“It’s like if you play dead, maybe it’ll go away,” Kadin said. “You have people in your life telling you that you are ruining yourself, that you are living wrong, and that’s not a good feeling,”
More than 75% of nonbinary and transgender youth have symptoms of anxiety, according to The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. The percentage of LGBTQ+ youth with anxiety symptoms increased from 68% to 73% between 2020 to 2022.
The survey includes 34,000 LGTBQ+ youth from ages 13 to 24 across the United States.
Heather Wilkie, executive director of the Zebra Coalition, said a lack of social support from families or peers can lower self-esteem or create feelings of hopelessness. She said that youth in Florida are particularly affected by political factors.
“If there are systems in place that are working against you, you start to feel a certain way about yourself,” Wilkie said. “That you’re not worthy and you’re not valid and that you’re not supported.”
Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms from kindergarten through third grade. It was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 28 and was effective July 1.
Schools were identified as a gender-affirming space by 51% of transgender and nonbinary youth, according to The Trevor Project. About 32% of them identified home as a gender-affirming space.
Kadin said that they present themselves differently when at school or at home. As an English major, Kadin said they often write stories about LGBTQ+ topics, but they would feel uncomfortable showing those stories to family.
Wilkie, a mental health therapist, said especially during the pandemic, Zebra saw that LGBTQ+ youth were isolated from social interaction and peers. She said this disconnection can lead to anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.
“When you’re an LGBTQ kid, you are thriving on social support. You try to find someone who also experiences the same feelings that you have or like-minded people,” Wilkie said.
She said there are therapists at Zebra to approach these issues. For example, they ensure those who go to Zebra are not harming themselves. If possible, Zebra also works on family reunification to help parents understand their children.
With being told that they are living life wrong, Kadin said those words stick with people because there is still an impulse to do what makes them comfortable.
“If everything you’re doing is wrong, then why bother trying?” Kadin said. “It’s worse the more people that it gets to you, especially people when you’re growing up have power over you, like your parents or school, even when you leave.”
Despite those feelings of anxiety, Kadin said that they can take it because there is an accepting community in Orlando that supports them.
Wilkie and Kadin said they think the public can show support by protesting and educating themselves on LGBTQ+ issues and resources. Kadin said that people can also donate to organizations and speak up about experiences.
“It gets to be a lot,” Kadin said. “Don’t let them take away our rights.”
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