How We Prevent Suicide and Homelessness with LGBTQ Youth — Sen. Jeff Jackson

At our town hall in Winston-Salem, I got a question about LGBTQ youth suicide and homelessness.

The rates for both are incredibly high. 40% of LGBTQ youth say that they have “seriously considered” suicide in the last year and as much as 40% of unhoused youth are LGBTQ.

This is an ongoing tragedy that deserves our full attention.

Here’s what we should do about it:

1) Start by recognizing that these two issues are connected. Housing insecurity leads to a spike in anxiety as well as exposure to harmful environments, like abusive relationships or human trafficking. Stabilizing housing is the key to being able to deliver social services, but it’s also the key to the people who need those services actually being able to hear and receive them. As a pastor in Harnett County who focuses his ministry on housing told me, “Until you take people out of survival mode, there’s no reaching them. They can’t hear you about anything else.”

2) Fully fund our Housing Choice Vouchers. This would be a game-changer not just for youth homelessness, but for folks living in poverty all across the country. It’s going to be a big part of our affordable housing agenda — more to come.

3) Give young people greater access to mental health services through their schools. We should ensure that our schools have sufficient psychologists, nurses, social workers, and counselors to meet with every student in need of their services. This is legislation I’ve supported and we’ve made some progress, but we have more to do and should make it a priority — especially with all our students coming back from experiencing a pandemic.

4) Strengthen the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. The Act was passed in 1974. We should expand its protections to young people who are highly vulnerable to human trafficking — like our LGBTQ youth — and authorize funding for state and local programs to help provide transitional housing with mental and physical health care and crisis intervention for homeless youth.

5) Pass the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which would require colleges and universities receiving federal student aid funding to enact an anti-harassment policy and would establish a grant program to support those programs.

6) Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act with new provisions to include protections for LGBTQ individuals, particularly survivors of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault.

7) Ban so-called “conversion therapy” — a fraudulent practice that has harmed hundreds of thousands of young people — by passing the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act.

8 ) Stand up to legislative bullies. Over the last seven years in the state Senate, I’ve seen repeated attacks — from HB2 to recent anti-trans legislation — from legislators who think they can score a few points by demeaning people. I am simply never, ever going to give those guys an inch.

And while we’re on the subject of ensuring dignity and equality for our LGBTQ community, let’s do two more things:

1) Pass the Equality Act

It’s a simple principle: No one should lose a job or a home or access to services because of who they love.

This bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes with respect to discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and federal programs.

Foster care is a good example of why we need this bill. LGBTQ youth are more likely than average to be foster children but many states still allow discrimination by agencies that refuse to place or provide services to those children.

This bill has passed the House on a bipartisan basis and is now stuck in the Senate.

2) End outdated restrictions on blood donation

These restrictions aren’t based on science and only serve to perpetuate stigma about the LGBTQ community.

Ending those restrictions would also expand the pool of eligible blood donors by more than 4 million people. It would literally help save lives.

This policy was put in place in 1983, when there was no way to screen blood for HIV. Today, all donated blood is screened, which makes this policy simply an outdated and harmful relic.

North Carolina State Senator