by Anthiya Adams, staff writer

LGBTQ+ youth are experiencing disproportionately high depression, anxiety, suicide, and self-harm rates compared to their heterosexual and cisgender peers according to the 2022 Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Healthy Kids Colorado Survey and The Trevor Project’s, 2023 National Survey on LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health. There are protective factors and resources that can help reduce these rates and improve outcomes for this at-risk population within the community. Yet only a handful of LGBTQ youth focused organizations exist and only one in Colorado Springs.

Issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) youth came into sharp focus with recent advancements of anti-LGBTQ bills across the nation and alarming post-COVID data and outcomes. This article will delve into the most critical issues encountered by LGBTQ youth, ages 13-24, in Colorado and Colorado Springs, and explore the state and local resources available, and how allies and families can best support them.

Considering recent anti-LGBTQ legislation, what should we know about how LGBTQ+ youth are being impacted?
As of May 2023, there are “over 520 anti-LGBTQ+ bills [that] have been introduced in state legislatures” of which 70 are now law, and of those, 29 directly affect LGBTQ+ youth, by censoring school curriculum, allowing for discrimination, banning gender affirming care and requiring or permitting misgendering of transgender youth, as reported by the Human Rights Campaign. Other proposed bills noted by HRC, aim to ban transgender students from school sports and using school bathrooms aligned with their gender identity. While Colorado has legislation protecting LGBTQ+ youth, it is equally “important to have similar protections and support systems in place for young people on a local level, particularly within schools” says Keeley Griego, Inside Out Youth Services, digital and community educator. This includes school leadership and educators who ensure a welcoming and safe environment for all students. Anti-bullying policies are a long known protective factor which IOYS’ Safe @ Schools Coalition has supported since 2011 through House Bill 11-1254, a bill that “created anti-bullying protections to include gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes in anti-bullying laws.”

LGBTQ+ youth protections and support systems are hot topics at school board meetings across the country and Colorado Springs is no exception. Local community and school board members proposed policies aimed at LGBTQ+ students. In District 20, “an open-records request showed a community member proposed to administrators that the district set up a separate campus for LGBTQ+ students” and shared concerns about transgender students use of school bathrooms and promotion of gay straight alliance student organizations and in District 11 School Board Vice President, Jason Jorgenson, suggested changes to the staff conduct policy to prohibit teachers from asking students about their “pronouns, gender or sexuality” according to two separate Gazette articles by Nick Sullivan. For LGBTQ+ students already struggling to belong at school, this is cause for concern. Schools are most effective when they are safe and welcoming for all students, and it is especially important for LGBTQ students who may experience rejection from society, their families, and peers. Yet some community members, boards of education and legislators are actively working to limit or restrict the ability of educators and administrators to create safe and welcoming environments.

What are some of the primary issues affecting LGBTQ+ youth?
Suicide, anxiety, and depression are at the top of the list of issues experienced by the LGBTQ+ youth who took part in the Trevor Project’s 2023 National Survey on LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health. The survey’s results show that 41% of LGBTQ+ youth have contemplated suicide, 67% experience anxiety, and 56% experience depression symptoms and could not access mental health care. This data indicates much higher suicide rates when compared to cisgender, heterosexual youth, highlighting a disparity that warrants attention because of its possible impact on the well-being of this at-risk population.

The 2022 CDPHE Healthy Kids Colorado Survey also reported significant issues with suicide and self-harm, along with food insecurity, and bullying. Their survey data shows that “23% of genderqueer and nonbinary youth attempted suicide in the previous year, compared to 8% of their female peers and 4% of their male peers,” and “18% of genderqueer/nonbinary and gay/lesbian youth experienced hunger in the past 30 days, compared to 12% of their cisgender peers and 11% of their heterosexual peers.” The survey further found that only “37% of genderqueer/nonbinary youth felt like they belonged at their school, compared to 63% of their female peers and 69% of their male peers.” Although the data disparity is significant, legislators and boards of education continue to draft anti-LGBTQ policies and legislation.

Safety and inclusivity at school, home, and in the community are also concerns for LGBTQ youth. Griego noted a general lack of inclusive spaces and said that “sometimes school isn’t a safe place for LGBTQ+ young people as they may experience bullying and harassment from peers and can be negatively impacted by policies that aren’t LGBTQ+ inclusive” and “it’s not uncommon for young people to be unwelcome at home because they are LGBTQ+” or due to other safety concerns and as a result a third of the youth served by IOYS have experienced being houseless.

The November 19, 2022, shooting of five people at the Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ bar, Club Q, compounded safety, and inclusivity concerns for the LGBTQ+ community. Aside from the club shutting down, many folx and organizations were again reminded of safety issues amid mourning the loss. Inside Out Youth Services switched to online programming for a period and reevaluated their own safety measures before bringing anyone back into their space. Having just weathered the disconnection of the COVID pandemic, LGBTQ+ youth were again faced with fewer safe, inclusive spaces.

What resources are available to support or alleviate these issues?
Resources geared toward LGBTQ+ youth in Colorado Springs are limited. IOYS, is the only youth focused LGBTQ+ organization in Colorado Springs. IOYS provides an array of online and in-person programs and services that center around “health, advocacy, and community; gender identity and development; mentorship and leadership; creative expression; and recreation” according to their website. This includes individual, family or group therapy, gender affirming clothing, recreational activities, self-advocacy, healthy relationship discussion groups, and an annual pride festival and queer prom. The organization also acts as a safe and welcoming environment where youth can spend time together or join programming.

In the coming year, free Lyft rides will be another resource available for qualifying LGBTQ+ youth in Colorado Springs. Lyft and HRC’s Trans Justice Initiative announced that they have partnered to provide $20K in free rides for “medical appointment, job interviews, and more.”
Although the number of LGBTQ focused programs and resources are limited, there are other organizations and resources that exist to support those in need. Pikes Peak State College’s Basic Needs Assistance webpage offers an online screener tool and counselors who connect eligible students with food, transportation, housing, and wellness programs and services.

How can allies and families support LGBTQ+ youth?
Ally and family support and education is crucial for LGBTQ+ youth. Griego encourages allies “to keep educating themselves on the issues that LGBTQ+ young people face and stay engaged with how they can advocate for and with LGBTQ+ young people.” Helpful topics to learn about include support/acceptance, gender identity, sexual orientations, pronouns, creating safe spaces, the gender binary, and microaggressions according to Trevor Project survey respondents. The survey also noted that respecting pronouns and providing/supporting access to gender-neutral bathrooms at school and gender affirming clothing can help lower suicide rates for transgender and nonbinary youth. Supporting and advocating for and with LGBTQ+ youth in these areas can save and improve the lives of LGBTQ+ youth.

Allies and families can also access information about community issues affecting LGBTQ+ youth and training opportunities by visiting advocate webpages like and One-Colorado is a Denver based LGBTQ+ advocacy organization that advocates for the LGBTQ+ community and has “codified 18 pieces of pro-equality legislation into Colorado law protecting LGBTQ+ Coloradans” according to their website. Other ways to support LGBTQ youth include signing up for LGBTQ organization newsletters, volunteering, or donating to these types of organizations.

Finally, voting for school board and political candidates who support and advocate for all youth and especially, those most at risk, like LGBTQ+ youth, can effect change and help improve outcomes for LGBTQ youth.

By James Molnar on Unsplash

By James Molnar on Unsplash