Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBTQ youths face an outsize risk of suicide, aggravated by high levels of race-based discrimination, an LGBTQ advocacy group said in a report released Tuesday.
The survey from the Trevor Project found that 40 percent of LGBTQ youths who are Asian American or Pacific Islander, or AAPI, have seriously considered suicide in the past year. Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian youths experienced the highest rate, at 49 percent, followed by Korean American youths, at 47 percent, and Filipino American youths, at 41 percent.
The report also includes responses from Indian, Vietnamese and Chinese American LGBTQ youths.
The report indicates that more than half of Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBTQ youths experienced discrimination based on their race in the past year. AAPIs who experienced bias because of race or immigration status reported significantly higher rates of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not, the report said.
Kevin Wong, the Trevor Project’s vice president of communications, said the data indicate a lack of support in mental health services targeting LGBTQ Asian American and Pacific Islander youths.
“These data points show a critical need to invest in — whether it’s resources or suicide prevention efforts — for youth that are culturally responsive and reflect those diverse identities,” Wong said.
The report did not come as a shock to many LGBTQ Asian American advocates, who say stigma coupled with cultural barriers, including a lack of access to competent LGBTQ educational materials, adds to the weight.
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“There’s a general sense in AAPI communities is that Asians don’t go to seek mental health services, that ‘it’s a white thing,’” said Pauline Park, a Korean American transgender activist and coordinator of a transgender support group at Queens Pride House in Queens, New York. “Most social services and mental health services are not targeted to queer AAPI youth. … We need more providers who speak languages of queer AAPIs, whose first language may not be English.”
In addition, the report found that 41 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBTQ youths were not out about their sexual orientation to at least one parent, compared to 29 percent of LGBTQ youths overall.
Maya Satya Reddy, the founder and a co-director of the Queer Asian Social Club, a collective focused on providing community for queer Asian, Pacific Islander, Southwest Asian and Desi people, said she knows that all too well. Reddy said she did not see a lot of representation of queer Asian Americans growing up, making it harder to have such conversations.
“When I was coming out to my parents, I was like, I can’t come out until I have a job and can show them that I will be OK and I will kind of be protected as much as I can,” Reddy said. “Because their biggest fear was ‘she’s a brown girl and now she’s queer.’ These are three compounding identities that are going to make it really, really difficult.”
She added: “You get scared that your parents, your family members, don’t have the language to understand the queer experience and really understand that it’s not a new phenomenon.”
Anti-Asian racism in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and after the 9/11 attacks further compounds the mental health concerns, advocates said. Wong said a rise in news coverage of violent anti-Asian hate crimes makes LGBTQ youths especially vulnerable.
“When those identities that are being represented are being harmed, experiencing violence — sometimes you internalize that,” Wong said. “So it’s no wonder why those instances might negatively impact your mental health, might make you experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, increased thoughts of suicide.”
However, the report also found that LGBTQ-affirming spaces and supportive family and friends appear to buffer against attempted suicide. Reddy said the report highlights the need to imagine more spaces where Asian American LGBTQ youths can find relief from daily discrimination.
“It hasn’t seemed like there is that balance where we’re talking about queer Asian joy,” Reddy said. “I think that when we’re organizing, when we’re trying to create community, we have to hold space for both of those things.”
If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.