Published on St. Louis Public Radio
While LGBTQ Pride Month is typically a time for celebration among the local queer community, mourning has also marked this year’s observance as several St. Louis-area residents have died by suicide and overdose in the wake of national news of celebrity deaths.
“The numbers of suicide attempts and LGBTQ people taking their own lives is something like nine times the rate for trans people and three times the rate of the national average for LGB people, and it’s very much increased by victimization and discrimination that we face every day,” Steph Perkins said on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air.
Perkins, the executive director of Missouri LGBTQ advocacy group PROMO, cited harassment, physical and verbal abuse, workplace and housing discrimination as a few of the factors that commonly affect the mental health of the LGBTQ population.
Also joining host Don Marsh for the discussion was mental-health clinician Emily Klamer and executive director of One Million Kids for Equality Curtis Galloway.
“I am encountering more and more individuals who share that their mental health struggles do not stem from their sexual orientation or gender identity on its own, but rather their interactions with people in their lives that reflect homophobic or transphobic attitudes,” Klamer said. She often works with the LGBTQ community and is creating a support group for LGBTQ people at Diversified Health and Wellness.
Sometimes those attitudes lead a person, voluntarily or involuntarily, to conversion therapy – an unaccredited method of “making someone straight.” As cited by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association has stated that this practice “is not effective and may be harmful to LGBTQ individuals by increasing internalized stigma, distress, and depression.”
Despite the APA’s policy, this practice is still legal in the majority of the country, including Missouri. According to a recent study conducted by UCLA, nearly 700,000 LGBTQ adults in the U.S. have received conversion therapy.
“From the standpoint of a conversion therapy survivor, I understand the feeling of alienation,” said Galloway, who was made to see a therapist for about four months after coming out to his parents when he was 16. “I was pretty messed up … that really tore me and my family apart, so I really receded into myself and really lost a sense of who I was.”
However, Galloway said he uses his experience as a platform for his organization to prevent others from having to go through what he did. He was among many who shared their stories publically to help pass a ban on conversion therapy for minors in Illinois in 2015.
Across the Mississippi, Perkins said PROMO is working with state representative Tracy McCreery to pass the “Youth Mental Health Preservation Act,” which would be a statewide law to ban licensed professionals from practicing conversion therapy on minors.
In addition to this, Perkins said PROMO is continuously working to include sexual orientation and gender identity to the Missouri Human Rights Act, which protects people from “discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.”
“This is not a party issue … both Republicans and Democrats see this as an important issue for their own family members,” Perkins said.
For therapeutic services, Klamer suggested Diversified Health and Wellness, as well as the Schiele Clinic at the St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute, which offers sliding scale services with gender and queer-affirmative therapists.
For trans kids and parents of trans kids, Perkins referenced Transparent and PFLAG, which are both national organizations providing support to those families. He also mentioned the local organization, the Metro Trans Umbrella Group, which offers several support groups for adults who identify as trans and queer. Growing American Youth is another resource for LGBTQ youth in the St. Louis region.
“If you don’t feel held in [an] unconditional and positive regard, or if you don’t feel fully seen by your therapist or feel that they’re judging you or trying to change you – you deserve better,” Klamer said.
If you or someone you know is in a crisis situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to 741741 for free 24/7 support from the Crisis Text Line. The Trevor Lifeline is also available for LGBTQ youth in crisis at 1-866-488-7386.