Equality New Mexico (EQNM) is an intersectional, grassroots advocacy organization focusing on engaging queer and trans people around the state in policy conversations that empower people to take legislative action. EQNM is currently working with young people affected by the pandemic. Andrew Echols, a community organizer with EQNM, says, “As a young queer and trans person, I have never experienced isolation like this. The combination of stay-at-home orders and countless attacks on queer and trans youth in state legislatures has been detrimental to my mental and behavioral health. It is hard to watch your rights be contested every day and not be able to go anywhere or see anyone talk about it.”
Wyatt Day, director of youth and family programming through in-person and collaborative virtual settings at the Transgender Resource Center, asserts that COVID-19 created many challenges for trans youth and families. Day says, “One of our greatest losses was the youth participating physically, because this was their safest space.”
Steven Serrano, the director of youth services at Casa Q, the state’s only LGBTQ+ homeless youth organization, agrees. “We know that LGBTQ youth are two to three times as likely to harm themselves, to experience substance abuse and for violence.” Casa Q’s biggest challenge was the mental health of their staff, who are 90 percent queer, and of the LGBTQ kids they serve. With 90 percent of students graduating Casa Q programs and not returning to homeless services, it was important to continue a commitment to overcoming challenges by partnering with a mobile therapy program that was active while quarantined. Serrano points out that the last mental health pandemic in the queer world was AIDS, and the community coming together helping each other was “exactly what happened during COVID-19.” He says the organization has received hundreds of phone calls of support.
The latest data on LGBTQ students is a 2019 survey for New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey. According to this survey of trans public high and middle school students, 35.1 percent experience unstable housing, 21 percent injected illegal drugs, 27.9 percent experienced sexual violence and 32.5 percent attempted suicide. These statistics were collected pre-COVID, and the tide has only shifted more significantly since then. Adrien Lawyer, who is the executive director and co-founder at the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, says, “While we know that trans and non-binary people were among the 593,000 who died from COVID-19 over the last 15 months, our local community lost four people through different causes during this time. And we were not able to come together to celebrate them and mourn with each other. Like so many other Americans, we were not able to be in community to process the loss of our trans family.”
“I’ve seen people of all ages, due to the pandemic, come out to their families. And that has been big steps as well as big risks for them,” said Day. Moving forward, most advocates agree that, in the future, creating hybrid settings—both in-person and virtually—will hopefully result in an environment where uninterrupted resources and services will be available for LGBTQ youth and the community.