LGBTQ+ youth program helping teens improve mental health, affirming their identities

Safe spaces help LGBTQ+ children thrive, feel seen, program officials say

SAN ANTONIO – Fiesta Youth is giving LGBTQ+ youths a safe space in San Antonio to be their true, authentic selves.

Queer and trans youth experience higher rates of suicidal thoughts, depression and substance abuse, according to the Trevor Project’s national health survey for LBGTQ+ youth. However, numerous studies show suicidal ideation is reduced when LBGTQ children are exposed to a space that affirms their identity, pronouns and choice of clothing. In San Antonio, that place is Fiesta Youth.

Teens experience low point in mental health

Sergio Gonzalez, 17, is bisexual. He said he only had friends online at one point.

“Life wasn’t perfect,” Gonzalez said.

Matthew Crow, 13, is transgender and bisexual. He said he was bullied at school because of his identity.

“Like being dragged on relentlessly. It definitely damages you to an extreme extent,” Crow said.

Both teens said they struggled to find friends who understood them, and their mental health hit a low point.

Their feelings worsened after Gov. Greg Abbott directed state officials to investigate parents of transgender kids for child abuse.

“It feels like I have a target on my back, like everybody in power is just watching my every move,” Crow said. “It’s stressful. It’s especially when it comes to kids that just want to be themselves. People in power won’t let the kids just be kids.”

Breaking down the statistics

LBGTQ+ youths experience higher rates of suicide than other people their age, according to national and local data.

Nationwide, 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide, and LGBTQ+ youths of color reported higher rates than their white peers, according to the Trevor Project.

San Antonio is seeing similar trends. Based on survey results, LGBTQ+ and gender-diverse populations reported a higher rate of suicidal thoughts and wanted to hurt themselves. The total population reported 28% of suicidal ideation. LGBTQ+ young persons reported 55%, and 58% of gender-diverse groups have expressed having thoughts of suicide.

LGBTQ+ youth who felt high social support from their family reported attempting suicide at less than half the rate of those who felt low or received moderate social support, according to the Trevor Project.

Fiesta Youth helping kids thrive

At Fiesta Youth, kids are able to express themselves to their fullest and truest selves.

“No matter what, I leave thinking, ‘Oh, people actually care about me. People would notice if I wasn’t here,’” Crow said.

Youths can enjoy crafts and open-mic nights, get wellness checks and visit with LGBTQ+ guest speakers in the community.

“They can have skills to advance, you know, in life, that they can have the confidence to experiment with their identities,” said Gideon Del Rio, a Fiesta Youth facilitator.

Gonzalez said the weekly meetings at Fiesta Youth improved his mental health.

“Overall, I feel a lot better because I don’t feel as bottled up as I used to,” Gonzalez said.

Parents and caregivers are invited to meetings to get to know each other. It allows them to share their experiences, meet facilitators and understand what their children are learning.

Find more information about Fiesta Youth programming here.