Opinion: Sometimes it’s hard being part of the Utah LGBTQ+ community. Here’s how I deal with tough times.

While these are challenging times and there might be days where it can feel nearly impossible to stay here, your being alive keeps us feeling safe and connected.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pride Parade, on Sunday, June 4, 2023.

The past two years have been tumultuous for the LGBTQ+ community, especially for the transgender population in Utah because of discriminatory legislation. These laws include a ban on providing gender-affirming health care for trans people under age 18, a ban on trans kids competing in youth sports and, most recently, a ban prohibiting trans people from using bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government-owned buildings.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have shed many tears over the last few years. I have found myself feeling hopeless and scared of what this will do to our community — especially to our trans youth. As an associate therapist at Flourish Therapy, Inc., I’ve seen firsthand the impact that these laws are having on kids and adults and I have felt their fear, anxiety and depression.

This is backed by research. According to 2023 survey by the Trevor Project, 41% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, and nearly 60% of youth expressed needing mental health care but were unable to get it.

While I’m fortunate to work for a nonprofit agency that provides urgent crisis support and mental health care to the LGBTQ+ community, there are other things that we can do right now to help us navigate this difficult time when we feel unsafe. Here are some things I have done myself to get through these challenges:

1. Connect with others.

We are all going through these legislative changes collectively, and it’s important to know that you are not alone. You are brave, beautiful and authentic, and the LGBTQ+ community needs your voice and experience to make us stronger. Whether it’s an online LGBTQ+ group or a safe space to gather, there are places where you can find support and a sense of community.

2. Give.

When we help others by supporting them, or providing acts of service, it can increase mood and well-being.

3. Unplug from technology.

Social media, the news and online content can be filled with stories of hate against our community. There are stories about legislation across the United States and discriminatory actions as well as violence against our community. This constant exposure can cause anxiety, anger, sadness and fear. If the online content causes any feelings of distress, it might be time to unplug or unfollow.

4. Practice mindfulness.

Paying attention to the present moment can improve your overall well-being. Taking a few minutes to pause, breathe and be mindful of your surroundings can lower stress and calm your mind and body. Try to distinguish a certain smell. Feel the temperature of the room. Feel the seat under you or your feet on the floor. There are countless videos on guided meditations or relaxation exercises to help walk you through it. Yoga is also helpful and there are local groups or online videos with examples.

5. Focus on your physical health.

Taking care of your physical health by exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and maintaining a nutritious diet can decrease the risk of depression and improve anxiety and stress. Exercise can release endorphins and serotonin that can help improve your mood and can distract you from the negative thoughts caused by the recent legislation. A benefit of getting enough sleep is a reduction in daily stress. A healthy diet can improve concentration and can increase a level of optimism and protect you from feeling down.

6. Talk to a professional.

Our community is hurting. It’s important to know that help is available. If you are struggling to stay positive and are experiencing mental health challenges, reach out to a therapist, local support group, or primary care provider for support. If you need help, you can connect with a crisis counselor any time at the Trevor Project’s help line by texting “Start” to 678-678 or by calling 1-866-488-7386. You can also download the SafeUT app, which can provide a way to connect to licensed counselors who are ready to listen to any crisis or concern. Lastly, if you’re in immediate crisis, call 988, a suicide and crisis lifeline which is available 24 hours a day and 365 days a year and provides confidential support for you or your loved ones.

While these are challenging times and there might be days where it can feel nearly impossible to stay here, your being alive keeps us feeling safe and connected. We have seen legal challenges before — and we have overcome them. Your advocacy and voice make the world a better place. With unity, I hope we can help each other by supporting one another and using our collective voice for a greater good.

Jackie Keel

Jackie Keel is an associate therapist at Flourish Therapy. They have worked for the state in a variety of positions for the last decade serving youth and emerging adults. Jackie is a combat veteran from the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era as a member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, who is passionate about reducing stigma, prejudice and discrimination for underserved and marginalized populations.

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