July marks “Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month,” also known as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Awareness Month. The month was originally designated by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008 to honor the legacy of Bebe Moore Campbell, a prolific author, teacher, and advocate who worked tirelessly to confront the stigma around mental health in the Black community and other communities of color. Each year, the month serves as an opportunity for us all to raise awareness of the unique mental health needs of people of color.
We know based on the work we do every day that LGBTQ youth of color face unique stressors, challenges, and social stigma as the holders of multiple marginalized identities. The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Surveyfound that LGBTQ youth of color reported higher rates of attempting suicide than their white peers — and half of all LGBTQ youth of color reported discrimination based on their race/ethnicity in the past year.
To commemorate this important month, we collaborated with several of our favorite talent supporters who are LGBTQ people of color to offer advice to youth on how to navigate the intersections of their identities and protect their mental health.
Charlie A. Scott (Diné) (they/them/she/her)I am Diné. I am Queer. I am Trans. I am all of these identities and more. To claim that is all of me is celebrating these aspects of myself and learning to love who I was, who I am, and who I will become. I am well aware of how this world refuses to celebrate all of me and others like me. To love who I am is an act of resistance, an act of resilience, and an act of disruption. I am so much more, and so are you. To the youth with questions about themselves, it is a journey worth navigating and exploring as you come to know who you are, and a journey of becoming as you learn to celebrate and love all that is you. Be patient and kind to yourself. Please, never forget how brilliant, how beautiful, and how beautiful you are.
To protect our own mental health and the mental health of BIPOC youth, we must set boundaries. Boundaries make a whole of difference with protecting your mental health and teaching others on how to establish and communicate those boundaries is also important as well. It is also ok to cry and allow yourself to feel; whether it is joy, laughter, anger, or grieving. All the emotions. Learn to communicate and express your emotions. It is quite unfortunate with how many of us are not taught about boundaries and expressing our emotions. For us within the BIPOC community, we are not allowed to feel and that is a systemic problem that I hope changes as we talk more about mental health and the need for support for BIPOC and our mental health. Healing begins with you, and it is quite a journey as well, but it is worth it. You are worthy of so much. Always remember that.
Schuyler Bailar(he/him)I am a Korean American queer transgender man. In many ways, I have spent my life feeling in between. I’m always too white to be Asian among other Asian folks, I’m always too POC to be white in a white crowd. I was always too boy to be considered a ‘real girl’ but not boy enough to be a ‘real boy’ when I was a kid. I’ve always been between worlds. I have learned that I do not need to find an exact mirror of myself in order to be valid or to find kinship and community. I can find resonance within myself, and I can find pieces of myself within others. It is often easy for youth to feel like we do not belong — especially queer and trans kids of color. I deeply understand this loneliness, and I want to remind myself and others like me that just because we don’t see ourselves in the media or in sports or in adults around us does NOT mean we don’t exist or aren’t valid. I’ve had to chart my own visibility and validity and prove that I exist despite everyone’s doubts. And here I am. Trans and queer youth of color, you are here, too. I see you, even if the mainstream media does not. You are valid.
While therapy and suicide hotlines like The Trevor Project save countless lives, so much of mental health work is reactive instead of proactive. In addition to reactive work, we need more proactive resources, and I think this comes from a massive shift to prioritize mental health education in childhood. Imagine if every kid learned anger and grief management in middle school instead of being force-fed facts to memorize about the presidents? I’m not saying learning history or math isn’t important — it absolutely can be — but right now kids are learning their times tables before they’re learning about their emotions. Many studies show that social-emotional learning programs can reduce mental illness and behavioral issues in the future, increase graduation rates as well as subjective wellbeing. Proactive mental health work also should include building awareness about mental health as a priority, especially for BIPOC and other marginalized groups. The stigma that exists in many communities — especially BIPOC ones — can create cultural barriers to access resources, as well. I think the more BIPOC folks talk about mental health, the more this stigma can be reduced. Mental health is just as important as physical health, if not more so.
Harper Watters(he/him)When I first joined the Houston Ballet as a student, there were no BIPOC dancers or Queer dancers at the top. So at the time, that indicated to me that my intersectional identities were not what was ideal to succeed in this art form. I was so wrong. Learning to embrace those identities allowed me to fully explore the roles I was dancing. By accepting who I was offstage it allowed me to be more free and excel onstage. So I would say to LGBTQ youth who are navigating these interactions with identity, there is space for who you are and who you identify as. And that space that you probably know and want to explore is exactly where you will begin to flourish.
As a dancer this has always been tough for me, but learning to express your feelings is a game changer for mental health. As young dancers we’re trained to nod and say yes, which led to me ignoring micro-aggressions and, even more recently, not having the confidence to call out ignorant behavior. Holding on to those emotions or being silent on specific issues affects our mental health tremendously. The feelings expressed can also be ones of confusion or clarification. Saying “I don’t know what to do,” “I don’t know what to say,” “I’m not sure but I’d like to learn more,” especially when it comes to BIPOC issues, will protect our BIPOC youth because we then become more self aware with how we interact and behave with others.
Machaizelli Kahey(he/him)I like to think of my identities as flavor chips on top of my sundae. I try to not let these identities define or box me in as many adversaries would try to do in order to label me as an ‘other,’ I use my identities to enhance me. There is so much culture, art, and history connected to the communities that share my identities that are left out of the mainstream ear, that once sought out, can help anyone become more confident in who they are. You are not alone in your discovery and you are not alone in your identity. There is a community waiting to tell you everything you need to know, and a community that has done amazing things for this world.
Vulnerability is the key to understanding and protecting your mental health, you have to break down the fear of being vulnerable to yourself. Being honest with who you are and how you feel is a big step into being confident in who you are and how you feel. Having the confidence behind your identity can help you preserve many mental hardships. Guiding the youth to be confident in their culture and their color is vital to preserving their mental health. We have lived in a civilization that has devalued people based on surface qualities, building confidence within those qualities can help one persevere through the historical structures that have oppressed us.
Jerome Lamaar(they/them)My life is full of intersections, being queer, a black man, a millennial and the older brother of two sisters… the pressure is serious. At times, it’s overwhelming to keep a smile on my face from all of the expectations. I wish someone told me that it’s okay to not be perfect all the time. I wish someone said, ‘you don’t always have to be special to matter.’ I wish someone would’ve said to me, ‘go live your life unapologetically. You MATTER.’
Blair Imani(she/her)To be honest, I don’t often think about my identities. I just am them. Whether they know that I am Black, bisexual, Muslim, a cisgender woman or not, these are my truths. My personal identity or who I know myself to be, is real and valid, regardless of whether that is honored and reflected by society through my social identity. However, it took me quite some time to get into that mindset. For people who hold identities that society deems as the default–cisgender, straight, white, abled–their identities may go unnamed, not because they are erased, but because they are assumed.
For example: It is ASSUMED that everyone is straight and cisgender, and then society faults LGBTQ+ people for not fitting that expectation. Phrases like “Living a lie” reflect this. So many of us grow up falsely believing that we are the problem when in actuality, the problem is the systems that have created these assumptions and have forced them onto us. Feeling like your existence is the problem can make you ask yourself questions like, “If everyone keeps questioning me, then maybe I don’t know who I am?” And maybe we might not all have the language to describe who we know ourselves to be, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are who we are, regardless of whether others understand or respect us. My advice to anyone who resonates with this experience is to take notice when you are being forced to explain yourself or justify your existence. And remember, that while society might not respect our agency to deny those demands because of power structures, all of us are valid whether we explain our identities or not.
I believe that while life saving organizations like The Trevor Project fill gaps in mental health infrastructure, we can all do our part to destigmatize mental health conversations in our own context. Things that are extremely common, like depression and anxiety, have been portrayed by society as character flaws, instead of what they are. Which is mental health diagnosis. Telling someone who is depressed to ‘choose joy’ does nothing but invalidate their experience and may even discourage them from seeking scientifically informed mechanisms. Mental health isn’t something obscure or rare. It impacts everyone, whether it impacts us or someone we know. Therefore, it benefits everyone to routinely check our biases and become informed about how to better communicate about mental health, which I encourage everyone to do by visiting The Trevor Project’s website.