Diverse. Strong. Vibrant. When asked to describe the LGBT community in Massachusetts, these were among the most popular words texted by the hundreds of people who attended a May 24th forum for the release of a report by Boston Indicators and The Fenway Institute. Titled Equality and Equity, it looks at the demographics and the public policies and services that make the state a leader in the nation. It also surfaces the challenges and discrimination facing LGBT youth, LGBT youth of color, transgender individuals and the older LGBT adults—and recommends ways to make progress in meeting them.
Massachusetts has the second highest percentage of LGBT people in the nation, next only to Vermont. The community is diverse, disproportionately young and spans urban, suburban and rural areas. And while young people are much more likely to self-identify as LGBT than previous generations, they also feel many of the social pressures and discrimination of the past. Drawing on public health data, the report reveals the serious mental health and other problems LGBT youth face. When surveyed, they reported being more than twice as likely as their non-LGBT peers to have extended periods of sadness or helplessness. Some 25 percent have actually attempted suicide.
LGBT youth are also far more likely to experience homelessness than heterosexual youth: More than 45 percent of gay, lesbian or bisexual high schoolers and almost 40 percent of their female peers report having experienced homelessness.
Share of 18 to 24-year-olds who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or other, compared to 5.3% of 55 to 64-year-olds
The number of community meal programs for LGBT seniors, more than all other states combined
One stark challenge reflected in the report is the tremendous amount of discrimination experienced by the transgender community: 65 percent of those identifying as transgender experience discrimination in public spaces. In addition, a huge percentage of LGBT youth of color report discrimination and many still struggle to come out to their families.
Another LGBT community that needs attention is older adults, many of whom suffer from isolation and depression and continue to be deeply affected by HIV. They even report experiencing prejudicial treatment from their heterosexual peers and service providers.
“The public health data in the report focuses on health risks and disparities,” said Sean Cahill, Director of Health Policy Research at The Fenway Institute. “But we also focus on the community-based solutions that reflect the resiliency and strength of the LGBT community and the pro-LGBT policies that make Massachusetts a leader.” Indeed, Massachusetts is home to some of the nation’s most cutting-edge and innovative pro-LGBT social services, resources and policies.
LGBT youth who have attempted suicide, five times the rate of non-LGBT youth
Greater Boston’s LGBTQ youth of color who experience discrimination
Transgender people reporting discrimination in public spaces
Kaden Avery Mohamed transitioned during his time at Wellesley College and graduated from a women’s college as a trans man. Today, he serves on the Steering Committee of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, which he describes as a “small, but mighty” organization, and works for Keshet, which promotes full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life. “The report was an affirmation of what I know about the trans community,” he says. “Yes, we’ve made legal progress, but laws don’t change behaviors.” He is deeply concerned about a referendum that will be on the ballot in November of 2018 that seeks to overturn a law aimed at protecting trans people from discrimination in public spaces. He is active in the Freedom Massachusetts movement that is leading the “yes” vote campaign, which would uphold the law. “Because Massachusetts has a reputation as a leader in LGBT rights,” he adds, “a ‘no’ vote would send a very bad message to the country.”
It was this state’s pro-LGBT laws that attracted Lisa Kynvi and her partner to Massachusetts. “It was the early ‘90s and we were living in Portland, Oregon and immersed in the vibrant lesbian and gay community there, but we were painfully aware that Oregon offered us no protection. Year after year, nearly half the state voted for regressive ballot measures aimed at codifying discrimination.” They were in their late 20s and starting to plan for children when Kynvi heard a radio call-in show discussing what would happen if the latest ballot measure passed and there was a fire at the home of a known lesbian or gay man: Would the fire department have to respond? “That was the moment I knew I couldn’t stay in Oregon.” The couple moved to Massachusetts in 1995.
Paul Glass, a panelist at the forum, was raised in Roxbury and Dorchester. Married for the last six years, he lives on the Cape and has committed himself to serving the LGBTQ community on two intersecting tracks: the fight against HIV/AIDS—he has lived with HIV since his diagnosis in 1987—and connecting LGBT aging adults of color. “Many of us worry that the older we get, the more dependent, so we are concerned about the cultural competency of the people who will care for us. I’ve heard of people going back into the closet to avoid discrimination.” He received a roaring round of applause from the audience when he asked for the support of the entire community in taking care of aging LGBTQ people and keeping them engaged in life.