Earlier this year, the Trevor Project reported that 86% of transgender and nonbinary youth said their mental health was negatively impacted by debates around anti-trans bills, and that 75% of LGBTQ+ youth often experience stress or anxiety due to anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes and threats of violence against LGBTQ+ spaces. This stress and anxiety can contribute to feelings of isolation, all of which can significantly impact health.
The opposite is also true, with LGBTQ+ youth highlighting how support and connection have a positive impact on mental health. In a related report, the Trevor Project shared that LGBTQ+ youth report lower rates of attempting suicide when they felt more supported by their friends and family.
In Minnesota, 43% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, including 52% of transgender and nonbinary youth. In 2022, 17% of transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide. Conversely, research shows that LGBTQ+ youth who have at least one supportive adult in their life were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the last year.
Responding to community need
This reality fueled the creation of QUEERSPACE collective, an organization committed to creating space for LGBTQ+ youth to feel safe and empowered to be their true selves.
Established in 2021, QUEERSPACE collective’s vision is for all LGBTQ+ youth to have a network of support to help them develop a strong sense of pride in who they are, where they come from, and where they want to go. Through mentorship, training, and advocacy, QUEERSPACE is working to build a constellation of community support where LGBTQ+ youth can thrive.
Creating space for healthy connections
QUEERSPACE collective’s flagship program, QUEERSPACE hangouts, was the first mentorship program created specifically for LGBTQ+ youth in Minnesota. It is a youth-centric intergenerational mentorship program creating safe, inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ youth and LGBTQ+ adults to connect. Through 1:1 mentor/mentee matches and group events, LGBTQ+ youth develop increased self-esteem, reduced social isolation, the ability to develop healthier relationships, and a greater sense of belonging, cultural identity and pride.
“With the rise of anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans legislation across our country, there is a growing need for youth-serving organizations to do more to make their programming safer and more inclusive of the LGBTQ+ youth they serve,” said Nicki Hangsleben, executive director and founder of QUEERSPACE collective. “More often than not, the trans and non-binary youth that come to us have never met a trans or non-binary adult. Being able to connect with someone who understands your experience is incredibly important to support trans and non-binary youth and give them a chance to see that a healthy and happy future is possible.”
Since its inception, QUEERSPACE’s mentorship program has grown both in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, with more than 60 LGBTQ+ youth matched with mentors. They’ve also hosted dozens of community hangouts for mentors, mentees, and caregivers to connect and build community.
Broadening reach through youth workshops
The success of the mentorship program has created significant demand within the LGBTQ+ community. To try and meet it, QUEERSPACE recently launched a new Youth Workshops program. The program, which is supported by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, includes a 6-8 week cohort experience for LGBTQ+ youth to connect with LGBTQ+ mentors, other LGBTQ+ youth, and community artists, activists, scientists and collaborators to learn new skills, gain a greater sense of self, and experience reduced social isolation.
“A majority of the youth that come to QUEERSPACE identify as transgender or gender non-conforming,” said Hangsleben. “It’s so important these youth are able to meet others that have walked miles in their shoes and help them build a community of peers and mentors. Our Youth Workshops provide an environment that encourages youth to take their experiences and channel them into art, science, and other projects that advance their knowledge and skill sets while boosting their self-confidence.”
Honoring Transgender Day of Remembrance
Violence against the transgender community is one of many traumas endured by the LGBTQ+ community. To honor the memory of transgender people whose lives were lost due to anti-transgender violence, the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance was established on November 20, 1999.
As part of QUEERSPACE collective’s effort to honor the day this year, they recently invited partners at Telling Queer History to join their November monthly hangout. Together they shared stories of transgender history in the U.S. and discussed current efforts to document LGBTQ+ history in Minnesota.
The impact of this event and the overall efforts of QUEERSPACE collective reverberate throughout the LGBTQ+ community, and particularly LGBTQ+ youth. One parent recently reflected on how difficult and dangerous the current climate is toward LGBTQ+ kids like theirs, and how QUEERSPACE collective makes a difference:
“Things like anti-trans bills are a daily source of anxiety for my 12-year-old. Being a kid is tough enough as it is, and I just can’t understand why adults are actively trying to make our children’s lives harder and more dangerous. Parents like me are thankful for the work QUEERSPACE is doing.”
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