Commentary

By Dianne Feinstein

Originially published in Medium.

June marks Pride Month and as we celebrate our diversity we must recommit ourselves to protecting the progress we’ve made and addressing the ongoing challenges facing the LGBT community.

LGBT youth are far more likely to be likely to be homeless. While just 7 percent of youth are LGBT, 40 percent of youth seeking homeless assistance are LGBT.

LGBT youth are homeless primarily because they are forced from their home or run away from home, which also leads to increased anxiety and other mental health problems.

Many LGBT youth experiencing homelessness come to California hoping to find a safe haven and pursue opportunity. In San Francisco, nearly 50 percent of the youth homeless population identify as LGBT.

To better address homelessness among the LGBT population, we need to expand and coordinate our systems of care, which includes emergency shelters, educational assistance and transitional housing services.

Ensuring housing is connected to education or job training services is critical to helping LGBT youth are able to get a permanent roof over their heads and lead full and productive lives.

Young people who leave or are kicked out of their homes due to their sexuality or identity are also more likely to develop mental health issues. Teenage years are formative in a young person’s development and the anxiety and stress that are often associated with coming out have a deep effect. In fact, LGBT youth are almost five times more likely to have attempted suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.

The statistics on transgender youth are more even staggering. In a recent survey, 40 percent of transgender adults reported having attempted suicide?—?92 percent did so when they were 25 years old or younger.

We need to continue to raise awareness of the mental health challenges facing the LGBT community, and do more to expand access to mental health treatment that’s tailored to this vulnerable population.

Given the disproportionate effect of HIV/AIDS in the LGBT community?—?particularly the LGBT community of color?—?it’s important for service providers to be equipped with information and resources to prevent the spread of the virus.

Federal programs such as the Ryan White Program and Housing Opportunities for People Living with AIDS (HOPWA) provide the bulk of funding to ensure individuals living with HIV have access to treatment, counseling and housing. In addition, AIDS Education Training Centers across the United States are critical tools for physicians to stay up to date on the most effective tools for treating HIV.

Funding for these programs needs to be increased, not cut, which is what President Trump’s proposed budget for this upcoming year would do. Our most vulnerable populations will be at-risk of continued instability if these critical programs are slashed.

Thanks to the latest medical advances, we have never been closer to finding a cure for HIV. We cannot allow this disease to ravage our communities like it did in the 1980s. We need to both invest in prevention and finding a cure. That means more funding for NIH research rural communities that are often ill-equipped to prevent the spread of HIV, especially since the opioid epidemic has caused IV drug use to skyrocket.

We are in a time where the rights of LGBT persons are being threatened, and the progress we worked so hard to achieve is being rolled back. We must stay vigilant to protect the gains we’ve made.

This Pride, I celebrate all the volunteers, role models and social workers who are on the front lines helping our LGBT community, and I challenge my colleagues to build on the progress we’ve made to continue to make our society more equal for all. Have a safe and happy Pride!