Gender Identity Project - Final Report

More than 25 Writers Participated in ASJA’s National Reporting Project about LBGTQ Youth

By Sherry Beck Paprocki,
ASJA Immediate Past President

The American Society of Journalists and Authors has provided grants and awards to more than 25 professional and youth writers who have addressed the topic of Gender Identity and Mental Health, thanks to a $35,000 grant received from the National Institute of Health Care Management in 2018. Through various publications, writers have communicated with a wide audience that reaches millions of readers across the country. This conversation has opened up an important conversation among the general public about LBGTQ youth, a topic that is so often ignored. The ASJA grant project was completed this spring and is now closed.

“On my 22nd birthday, I gave myself a gift: gender therapy. At the office of a nearly 40-year-old therapist in downtown Manhattan, I slouched into a couch cushion as I revealed for the first time that I'm transgender," wrote Tatyana Bellamy-Walker in Hello Giggles, an online publication by Instyle magazine.

“Over the last two years since then, I’ve been to a series of therapists,” Bellamy-Walker continued. “Many aren’t sure how to handle a patient like me.”

“All but one therapist either misdiagnosed or questioned the validity of my gender identity. I’m Afro-Latinx, pansexual, and my gender identity is somewhere outside of the male/female binary,” he added. 

Bellamy-Walker is one of 11 award winners in ASJA’s youth essay competition for young LBGTQ stories. His complete essay and others can be found here: http://asja.org/About-ASJA/ASJA-Charitable-Trust/Gender-Identity-Project/Youth-Essay-Contest.

ASJA’s grant program also provided the opportunity for professional writers to explore the topic of Gender Identity and Mental Health in publications across the country. The following is a synopsis of this portfolio of work:

Danielle Corcione reported in Teen Vogue than LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk for PTSD; thus, requiring mental health treatment to overcome the anxiety and other obstacles associated with PTSD.

Writer Estelle Erasmus reported in Your Teen Magazine for Parents that 30 percent of LBGTQ Youth have attempted suicide and more than 60 percent suffer depression. In addition, LBGTQ youth are also at high risk for HIV and other such physical illnesses

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Pine Tree Watch in Maine, which provides articles to all Maine media, reported that school nurses are becoming more important to LBGTQ youth, who have high rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide, self-harming behaviors and poor academic performance. Writer Stephanie Bouchard completed this report.

“They have them because they live in a society and culture that’s threatening to them,” explained Dr. Tonya Katcher, a pediatrician with the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C. The article also explained that 25 percent of transgender youth have experienced physical, emotional or sexual violence.

Writer Millie Dawson addressed “Stigma, STDs and Mental Health” in Everyday Health. “A queer youth dealing with an STI and a mental illness may face ostracism for their gender identity and sexual orientation, for having an STI, and for having a mental illness,” Dawson reported. “Each of these factors by itself often prompts widespread stigma. Queer youth also sometimes stigmatize themselves.”

In a cover story for Madison Magazine, writer Maggie Ginsberg reported that there are an estimated 9,000 middle school and high school teens in Wisconsin who identify as transgender or another non-binary term. The Madison city school district provides a full-time employee who coaches teachers regarding challenges faced by transgender youth, providing tips on how to support these students.

Megy Karydes reported for Chicago Health on the topic of homelessness among LBGTQ teens. During their teens and early 20s, many young people are trying to figure out who they are, which can lead to anxiety and depression, says Héctor Torres, PsyD, chief program officer at Center on Halsted, a LGBTQ community center in the Chicago area that, among many other services, provides youth programming, youth behavioral health services and a youth housing initiative. A teen being expelled from their home only increases those feelings of anxiety, making it hard to concentrate on anything else, be it schoolwork or a job.

 Sandra Gurvis, a freelance writer for Columbus Monthly, wrote a revealing profile about Dr. Scott Leibowitz, one of the country’s first medical specialists working with transgender teens. She reports that one in 137 American teenagers identifies as transgender and that Leibowitz is often dealing with both the physical and mental challenges faced by such youth. Formerly of Boston Children’s Hospital, Leibowitz was recruited to Columbus to work in behavioral health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. He also teaches medical students at Ohio State University.

The Progressive published an article written by Donna Jackel that looks at the current system of providing reimbursements of hormone replacement therapy to transgender college students.  “I have some patients who have such an extreme dislike of their body and hate to be out into the world and be perceived in the gender they [don’t identify with] that they basically don’t leave the house,” Dr. Izzy Lowell, of Atlanta, says.

“While the average American might experience isolation and disconnectedness at various times during their lives because of intense career involvement, age discrimination, geographic remoteness or for other reasons, many youth who identify as LGBTQ endure isolation, broken relationships and disconnections on an ongoing basis, sometimes with devastating results,” said writer Phyllis Hanlin in an article published by the New England Psychologist entitled “Isolation and LGBTQ youth: Social, psychological and financial implications.”

Youth from different cultures living in the United State have varying experiences—an issue that many Americans don’t realize exists.  Writer Aditi Kini explored the challenges of LBGTQ youth from South Asia in INTO magazine. “Stigma against mental health is rampant in many of our communities because we’ve often internalized these assimilationist logics wherein we’re often supposed to be some kind of ‘model minority,’ which becomes especially hard to battle if you don’t come from class privilege,” said V. Varun Chaudhry, a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University, in the article.

In Managed Healthcare Connect, writer Paul Nicolaus explored federal policy changes and the effect they may have on LGBTQ youth.  The potential implications for the health of the LGBT population are extraordinary, explained Stephen Russell, Ph.D. and faculty member in the Human Development and Family Sciences department and the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. “Research has revealed that mood and anxiety disorders, self-harm, and attempted suicide are more common among sexual minorities, for instance, and these individuals are also more likely to report alcohol disorders and behaviors such as tobacco and drug use,” Nicolaus wrote.

The future of trans health care was explored in a series done by writer Bex vanKoot for Medium. Gender specialists around the world are working on new technologies and scientific advancements that could revolutionize gender-affirming care.

“It’s happening really fast,” says Cei Lambert, transgender program patient advocate at Fenway Community Health Center in Boston, Massachusetts. Lambert sees big developments happening in the field of hormone blockers, in fertility and reproduction, and in genital surgeries using robotic and microsurgical techniques.

Links to articles published during this national reporting project can be found here: https://asja.org/genderidentityproject.

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