LGBTQ+ Youth Survival Guide: Trump Edition
by Rev. Evin Carvill-Ziemer
Dear beautiful, fabulous gender creative and sexually non-conforming youth and teens–all those who are queer, trans, non-binary, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and a hundred other wonderful self-proclaimed identities,
My heart breaks for you. This is not the future I wanted for you. This is not the future I have been fighting for. But I also know you are strong and I want you to have the information you need to survive. Because I need you to survive! I haven’t seen a “this shit is real” missive to you yet, so here’s what I’ve got. I don’t think it’s helpful to sugar coat this. Yes, you and I and millions of others like us are going to be under attack, so we need to be prepared to fight for ourselves and for each other.
And, I’ve heard a lot of hard, sad things from the LGBTQ youth I know. I want you to hear how much hope there is: People who believe you are beautiful and needed are in the majority in this country. If you doubt this, ask someone to add you to the secret Facebook group Pantsuit Nation and post your story and picture.
Some guidance on how to survive (and thrive):
1. First and foremost, tend to your well-being.
In the words of Auntie Kate (Bornstein): “Do whatever it takes to make your life worth living. Just don’t be mean.” She’ll even give you a get out of hell free card and take your place. Video here.
This letter has a lot of actions. Please only take the actions that feel good and right to you. For some of us, working to build networks of support for others is going to help us stay strong and survive. Others will need to focus on themselves. This is not selfish. This is self care. This may be what you need to do to survive adolescence and continue to bless the world with your awesome self. Do what you need to do to survive adolescence and if necessary (and possible) get the hell out of town if you don’t find a strong network there.
- If you are contemplating suicide, please reach out. Call the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386 or go to their online chat or texting system: No matter how bad the future feels to you, no matter how awful you feel, please know you are beautiful, you are precious, and you ARE loved. Reach out.
- Limit how many stories of violence and harassment you take in. You already know you’re at risk. You do not need these stories. Antiqueer violence and harassment is designed to terrorize all of us. Your brain is primed to hear these stories and move you into a more traumatized way of being in the world.
- Find all the stories of hope you can. Share them! These stories help us feel less alone, less traumatized, and be more ready to take action.
- If you feel frozen, there’s a reason. You can’t flee. You can’t fight. So you’re frozen. (Explanation here) How to get out of freeze mode? Sing with people. Reach out to people you love. Play with people. Listen to music. You need people. Connect to your body–do yoga, dance, run. Get outside and feel Mother Earth holding you up. Connect to your feelings. Make art. Scream. Cry. Find something to do that feels like you’re making a difference.
- Create mini safe places for yourself–with your friends, in person or online. Promise each other you will keep making these safe places. And use those safe places not just to process trauma, but also to experience joy and love.
- Collect ways that work for you to clear trauma from your body and nervous system. You do not need to save up the cumulative impact of every slur, scary moment, or worse. Crying, yawning, laughing, dancing, shaking can work. Here are techniques that can work when those aren’t enough: Emotional Freedom Technique, clearing limiting beliefs , Trauma Releasing Exercises, bilateral stimulation like the Butterfly Hug.
2. Build a support network.
Even if you feel relatively supported now, please look around and see what else you can do so you have the strongest network possible. You may need such support and you may find that others do too. You could become the one helping others find the queer-friendly adults in town when they need help. If you can, build your support network with a posse of friends.
Parents and other family members: If you are out to your parents and/or other family members, talk to them about how you are feeling and what you need from them. Talk through ways that they can be more supportive of you and others you know who are struggling. Discuss what you might be able to do as a family to be an active part of the resistance against hate.
They can help you with the research about what will affect you in your school and town. And if they haven’t joined PFLAG, find a chapter together. They may find they need that support if their nation’s government is attacking their kid.
If you are not out to your parents, this may or may not be a safe time to come out to them, particularly if your parents are conservatively religious and/or possibly anti-gay. Vice President-Elect Pence is a proponent of conversion therapy, which is only legally banned in a handful of states. Although every reputable psychological/social work/psychiatric organization opposes it, it It is unfortunately still legal for parents to force their children who are under 18 into one of these programs in most states.
But if you think your parents and/or other family members are likely to be supportive, coming out to them now might be a good way to build your support network. They could become your strongest defenders–a large part of the fast societal gains queer folks have made is because of our families. The way to help them be that is to be honest with them about how you’re feeling and ask for their help.
Teachers and school counselors: If you have teachers and/or school counselors in your life who you know are LGBTQ-supportive, reach out to them. Talk to them about your feelings, fears, and needs. Ask them to join GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network), a group that helps teachers get the information they need and support them when the going gets rough. GLSEN has a safe space kit. Explain to your teachers how important it is to you and other queer youth that they create these safe spaces. If you can, go back to your middle school and do the same thing with teachers there. Let them know that you know kids are going to need them.
Religious community: If you are not part of a welcoming religious community and you are free to find a religious home, I urge you to find one. This will give you a multigenerational community where you can be yourself. It’s so important that we have safe spaces and it’s SO important that you know that there are adults who will welcome and love you. Start here. If there isn’t a congregation listed here, look around for a Reform or Reconstructionist synagogue, a Quaker Meeting (affiliated with the FGC or Pacific Northwest Yearly Meeting), or a United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (not Missouri Synod), or Presbyterian USA church. Visit their website to find out if it declares their support loudly. If it does not, build up your courage and call the clergy directly.
Importantly, if your family is part of a religious community that is condemning of queer and trans people, know that there are queer and trans people of every religion under the sun. Being queer or trans does not mean that you are condemned to hell or that you cannot live a spiritual life. Who you are is beautiful and sacred and you are loved by the divine. If all else fails, go online and search for queer and trans people from your faith tradition and reach out to them for help. You may be able to find such a group here.
Clergy: If you can find supportive clergy, reach out to them. Clergy are a special breed. We’re not social workers, or therapists, or teachers. We are a little bit of a lot of things. We have networks and resources. And we care–a lot. We feel called by the holy to care for people. Like you.
I rarely make promises on behalf of others, but as a Unitarian Universalist (UU) minister I am sure my UU colleagues will do everything they can to help you, whether that be listening to you, helping create a safe religious home, or talking at a public meeting. So reach out to a nearby UU minister. We are here for you. If you reach out to one and don’t get what you had hoped, call another.
LGBTQ Centers and Statewide Organizations: You may have an LGBTQ center near you–if you haven’t yet, find it and visit so you know what they do and who they are. Get involved in any groups or initiatives there that you are able to join. You may also have a statewide advocacy group. Over the next four years, progressives and radicals are likely to have the most positive influence at local and statewide levels. There’s a lot Trump can do, especially affecting those in conservative states who have fewer protections. But there’s also a lot Trump can’t do because a lot of things are decided at the state and local levels. Look for:
- GLSEN chapter
- Lambda legal chapter
- ACLU chapter
Therapists: Even if you’re not out, you can ask your parents if you can see a therapist if you don’t already. Make up a reason. Try to get one sooner rather than later in case of changes in health care coverage. Use Psychology Today to search for a LGBTQ friendly therapist. Try to call any potential therapist in advance (anonymously, if possible) and ask them point blank if they would maintain confidentiality with respect to your parents, and also what their views are on being LGBTQ. The American Psychological and Psychiatric Associations support queer folks. Don’t waste time with a therapist who isn’t enthusiastically supportive. If your parents can’t help, you may find a local clinic available for teenagers, a local LGBTQ center may provide counseling, or a supportive school counselor could help you find someone.
3. Be prepared for immediate changes.
These are the immediate changes that Trump has promised in his published 100-day plan, as well as intentions from the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage. Both groups are well represented in Trump’s transition team.
Trans people and bathrooms: Trump is likely to rescind the guidance offered by the Education Department that Title IX requires allowing students to use facilities that align with their gender. Gender non-conforming and trans youth will be spotlighted as a danger to other children. (Don’t listen. Turn off the news. You don’t need to hear what they will say–because they’re wrong, wrong, wrong).
- Rescinding the guidance does not rescind the case law the guidance is based on. This will be a long battle in the courts. If your school immediately limits your right to use a bathroom, call the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and GLSEN and ask for guidance and help.
- They could choose to pass a law that counteracts Title IX’s anti-discrimination based on sex. How likely it would be to pass and how much other damage it would do is anyone’s guess. This would likely also get tied up in the courts.
- Your state may consider a bathroom bill like North Carolina’s.
- To do: Work with your support network to research your state law and call GLSEN for more information. Your state’s law may protect you.
Medical care and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (commonly known as ObamaCare): We don’t know how gutted the ACA will be. However, it’s highly likely gender transition related health care will no longer be a requirement on health care plans. Right now, there are executive orders that force health care providers to provide care regardless of religious beliefs (with the exception of abortion). It is likely that Trump will overturn these. This will mean that health care providers will be able to refuse to provide trans or queer related care. It doesn’t mean they will, but they can.
- If your family relies on the ACA for care, get as much medical care as you can now.
- If your health plan did not cover trans-related care before the ACA and there’s trans-related care you can get now, get it now, including birth control to suppress menstruation.
- ASK your doctor what changes they expect for trans health care and what their plans are. This is important networking. You may find a pissed off doctor and ally. Or you may find you need a new doctor. (Ask your support network for help finding one).
- This is not the end of the road for you. There have been other ways to access gender transition care in the past and there will be in the future. The resistance is just getting going.
Reproductive rights: Everything will likely be under attack. It’s likely the ACA’s coverage for birth control will be gone. States already attacking reproductive rights will do even more.
- Birth control: insurance plans will likely not be required to cover it.
- Abortion: They cannot just overturn Roe v. Wade. There will be a long term, intense, legal battle. But in the meantime, they will do their best to make access hard.
- If your body can get pregnant and you may be having sex that involves pregnancy risk, it’s a excellent idea to get some long term birth control now.
- The resistance is starting. My elders remember an era of resistance and are gearing up again. In the past this involved clergy helping women find abortion doctors in secret. There will be a movement out there to help you.
Gay Straight Alliances and other school groups: Schools are required, under a 1983 law, to allow all non-curricular clubs or none. The ACLU has a long track record of fighting for GSA’s: Either get rid of everything including the football team, or you have to allow the GSA. So far this law isn’t explicitly targeted on any of the plans. But this could be shoved into any of their other bills.
- Ask GLSEN what your state laws are. You may find you’re protected under state laws.
- If your GSA is kinda defunct or you don’t have one–it didn’t seem needed–start it now. It’s harder to kill an existing club than it is to squash a new one. This is a gift you can give to future queer kids in your school. (Get resources to start one here: and here.)
“Religious Freedom”: It highly likely for there to be a push to pass a law allowing people and businesses to discriminate against others based on religious values. Make no mistake: this is aimed at us.
- Again–this would be a Federal law, and and there might be a state law that protects you, or there might not be.
- Remember this is just the freedom to discriminate, is not a requirement to discriminate! There are many many people who believe discrimination is wrong.
Bullying: I know it’s started increasing already. Your state and school should protect you from bullying, but I know they may not.
- Ask GLSEN if your state explicitly protects queer students from bullying (this is called enumeration.) When sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression are listed as protected from bullying you have more legal ways to force your school to act. If your state’s bullying law is not enumerated, it may be harder to stop anti-gay bullying which may be dismissed as religious or political difference.
- Bullying takes a serious, sometimes deadly, emotional toll on a person. If you’re being bullied, seek help sooner rather than later.
- If you’re having issues with bullying that your school won’t respond to, talk to GLSEN, talk to supportive teachers, and reach out to local clergy and other adults. Do this whether the bullying is specifically anti-gay or for any other reason including race, ethnicity, immigration status, or gender. You may find your community is willing to come together and be loud. I am praying for this. Here is a GLSEN resource. And a great one from our Federal government (for as long as it’s available).
4. Be prepared for longer term changes.
This is all speculation–informed speculation, but still speculation.
Marriage equality: Marriage equality can’t be overturned immediately. And even if it was, states that currently have marriage equality will still have marriage equality. (Translation: you will be able to get married. And, we were getting hitched before the Federal government decided we were equal anyway.)
- Right now there are several things that would have to happen to do this. Overturning national marriage equality will require not just replacing Scalia with someone very conservative on the Supreme Court, but then a liberal judge would have to retire or die and be replaced. Then there will be a court case. We are all hoping that the Democrats will retake the Senate in 2018 so pray our elderly justices live awhile longer.
- Conservatives can and will likely do their best to make same-sex marriage a second class status. The religious freedom bills are an example. For instance, a private swimming club might offer family rates, but not to same-sex couples. These could have huge impacts on our lives, but more likely will feel like an emotional attack. Don’t listen to them: you are not second class. You are awesome fabulousness.
Sex education: This will vary by state, but look out for increased abstinence only education and inaccurate information. Know that you and others may become peer sex educators, sharing real information. Here are my thoughts for now:
- Comprehensive sex ed is life-saving–your local UU or UCC congregation may offer Our Whole Lives as a class. Your local Planned Parenthood or other agency may offer something as well.
- Sites like Scarlet Teen are critical sources of accurate information.
- Be on guard for yourself and others about risky sexual behavior. When someone is trying to prove something, or feels shame in who they are, or just gets caught up in a moment, risky sexual behavior is often the result. In a world with less reproductive health care, the risks of risky sexual behavior are even greater. Tell yourself and your peers how beautiful and precious you are!
- Gay guys especially–this is important: There are some myths out there that are important for you to not buy into. You are not destined to get HIV. Condoms work when they are used right, and the liars who teach Abstinence Only want to trick you into not bothering with condoms. Because of medicine that’s available now, HIV is not a death sentence anymore, but with the changes coming to health care, we don’t know how easy it will be to access that medicine. Sometimes when people think they’re going to get HIV no matter what, they take chances.. Please, be safe. Here’s a little classic Dan Savage reminding you you’re worth safer sex. And if you’re at risk, see if you can get PrEP. Here’s a place to start your discernment.
5. Join the resistance.
Remember that acting in the face of oppression can help you feel strong and purposeful. You are strong. You can have an impact on the world. Not just later, now. You can:
- Be part of and leave a strong network to support queer youth in your school.
- Be public about what your group does so that even if people are too scared to come, they’ll know they’re not alone. [True story: as a teenager in the early 1990’s, I used to stop and stare at the flyer for the gay/lesbian youth group a half an hour away. Even though I couldn’t figure out how to get there the flyer gave me hope.]
- Help your school and town protect queer youth–even if the laws don’t protect you, your school can still choose to take a stand against anti-queer bullying, support a GSA, etc. Your voice and your story could make a difference. Not just to help your school decide, but to rally the adult allies in your larger community.
- Get involved with LGBTQ groups resisting, locally and/or online. Start with GLSEN, PFLAG and your state advocacy group. Fight isolation by being connected with others who are taking action.
- Keep the adult world, including your support network, in the know about what’s going on. Seriously–we are primed to leap to your defense. Are. We. Ever. But you have to tell us what you need. Never hesitate to reach out to public queer and trans adults on social media. If you don’t get a response right away, try again, or try someone else. We are here for you.
- Stand up for others who are also being targeted, whether by bullies in the White House and Congress or bullies closer to home. Folks of color, immigrants, disabled people, Muslims, Jews, and other non-Christians, and folks who don’t speak English as a first language are all people who are being targeted by Trump and his supporters. Have each others’ backs.
6. Make a plan and a vision for yourself, long term.
Most importantly, please survive. Please make the healthiest choices you can to survive.
Try to survive without becoming a statistic in the wave of opiate and meth addictions. There are other ways to survive. Try to get your hands on Auntie Kate’s book Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Outlaws, and Other Freaks.
You may need to plan an exit strategy to get out of town as soon as you can. Ask your support network for help thinking that out.
College is a better exit strategy than running away. If you can get yourself to a larger urban area with a college even a little more liberal than where you are, really, it will be better.
- You are likely to meet LGBTQ faculty and staff.
- You are likely to find more LGBTQ folks than you’ve known before.
- You can start to unlearn the less healthy survival strategies that helped you survive high school.
- You can find your footing as an adult in a safer place.
- BUT – don’t buy the notion you need to take on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to go to the perfect college. You may need debt, yes, but I can’t write this without telling you not to swallow the lie that the perfect college is worth it. Too much debt will saddle you for decades. Any college that has LGBTQ programs/groups/staff/faculty will educate you as well as give you a safe place to learn and grow for the next few years.
If you can’t go to college, another strategy is to find an urban center, maybe in state with friendly laws, and with a LGBTQ Center to connect with. This is easier if you still have support from your family. Launching an adult life without support from your family or a college education can be extra hard. Make connecting with a support network a priority.
For LGBTQ youth of color, LGBTQ immigrant youth and LGBTQ Muslim youth these times are particularly scary. Remember that you are also particularly supported by your ancestors, by movements of people who have endured and suffered and have made a way out of no way. These are not comprehensive resources but check out 5 Important Things You Need to Know About DACA, An Open Love Letter To Black Students, and Muslims Stay Resilient.
Remember that whatever happens, you are made of the same stuff as Audre Lorde. As Alice Walker. As Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera and all the trans and queer folks who fought back at Stonewall. As Leslie Feinberg and Kate Bornstein. As Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon and Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. As Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman. As Bayard Rustin and Harvey Milk. And as Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Urvashi Vaid, Keith Boykin, Wanda Sykes, Mary L. Bonauto, and all the other leaders who are fighting right now for us. And you. When you need strength, read our history. You are made of the same fabulousness.
Listen to Harvey Milk, “Give us hope”: He dreamed of us, of you.
A queer and genderqueer Unitarian Universalist minister and many many many more adults rooting for you to survive and thrive,
Rev. Evin Carvill-Ziemer
National Gay Lesbian Task Force: http://www.thetaskforce.org/
List of many LGBTQ Organizations: http://www.lgbtcenters.org/localstatenational-groups.aspx
Find an LGBTQ Center: http://www.lgbtcenters.org/Centers/find-a-center.aspx
GSA Network: https://gsanetwork.org/
The Trevor Project: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/
For far more than LGBTQ issues: Don’t Just Prepare Yourself; Get Involved to Help Others crowd sourced document
Oh Crap: crowdsourced wiki on surviving Trump: http://www.theworldisaterribleplace.com/ohcrap/