“It’s very hard to imagine a future where I can live the life I want to live here in The Springs and in this country,” said Perodin. “There is so much a fulfilling life that I still want to have, but it can feel impossible because when your family turns on you and when your society decides to paint you as a bad person and when your country in general decides to focus on other things, what hope is there?”
Anti-trans rhetoric is at its peak nationally and locally, fueled by years of politicians and pundits pushing bigotry into a vulnerable group, gay rights advocates and mental health experts say.
Case in point, Colorado State Board of Education member Steve Durham equated children watching a drag performance with child abuse during a public meeting, Rep. Lorraine Boebert this week calling trans women “men dressed as caricatures of women” in a radio interview, and Denver advising The archdiocese ordered its Catholic schools not to enroll transgender students.
Late Saturday night, a shooter entered an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs just before Transgender Memorial Day begins, killing five — including two transgender people — and wounding more than a dozen.
Being transgender in America in 2022, transgender Coloradans told The Denver Post, is to get up every day and get energized, voluntary or not, to fight for your right to exist — to fight for your life.
“Rhetoric has huge consequences,” said Garrett Royer, deputy director of LGBTQ1 Advocacy Colorado. “It makes young people feel ashamed of being themselves. It makes people feel pressured to go back into the closet, and we won’t know what the long-term mental health effects will be on society.”
There is hope and goodness in the world, said April Owen, a clinical psychologist and director of the Transgender Center of the Rocky Mountains.
There are resources. Owen said there is a community of LGBTQ people and allies who will fight alongside you and allow you to put your shields down and just be.
“It can’t be good for anyone’s mental health to continue to struggle with being told that they are valid, that their needs are real,” Owen said. “It’s the climate that makes people feel excluded, judged, and unappreciated, and that’s not going to be good for any of us, especially in an ongoing matter. Some people just don’t have the power to wake up and fight every day to get their basic needs met. It’s just so devastating.”
“I am so happy in my own skin”
When Rena Hernandez became overwhelmed by the hate speech, 17-year-old Denverit turned to LGBTQ organizations like Rainbow Alley, a space for LGBTQ youth hosted by the Colfax Center, and the Trevor Project’s online chat options.
Hernandez talks to a therapist and uses art to express herself. A teenager finds joy in drawing, painting, and painting.
You have previously attempted suicide. Then I realized I only live once and I should live a life that I am truly happy to live and I should be my authentic self without fear of anything else,” said Hernandez. “I am so grateful. I am very happy in my skin. I find myself loving every part of myself more and more every day.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. They are not inherently at risk of suicide because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but they do face a higher risk because of the way they are treated in society, according to The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization focused on suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ youth. .
The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on Mental Health of LGBTQ Youth found that 45% of respondents had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.
If hate language feels too overwhelming, Owen said, it’s time to shut down the news. Instead, surround yourself with loved ones and find a family. When you’re ready, Owen said, mental health professionals are available at places like the Rocky Mountain Transgender Center.
“Look at the people who came before us and fought for our rights and helped make progress,” Owen said. “Look at the good politicians like (transgender state legislator) Brianna Teiton, who speak up for our community, our governor and people who provide support and good voices.”
Fearing for safety
When Hernandez imagines an idealized future, the teen imagines a world where she can be her happiest, most authentic self without the looming fear of being killed for who she is.
“I want basic human rights and respect,” said Hernandez. “I am tired of being treated like an outsider or an outsider. I have human feelings. I live and breathe the same air, and it is unfair that people like me continue to face such oppression.”
You find strength in activity.
Hernandez testified before the State School Board during a meeting in which board members voted to restore previously stripped references to learning about LGBTQ history in the state’s social studies standards. Hernandez told the board her existence was not political and her identity should not be open to public discussion.
She shared how a night of fun at a school event with her friends last year turned into discrimination after a group of kids started throwing rocks at her, saying she would burn in hell.
“I’m better for it,” said Hernandez. “Developing that kind of thick skin is important because there’s so much hate and rhetoric directed at us that you can’t really be weak, you know?”
August Caudel knows and wishes others knew him, too.
The transgender, 15-year-old, said he’s heard adults call their identity “attention-seeking.”
“They say we’re too young to understand what we want, but I just wish they could see the struggles like the harassment, and all the hurtful and awful things and everyday life that come with being queer and trans,” Caudel, who told Denver. “People are not looking for that kind of negative attention. They are just who they are.”
Caudill loves helping people. They love music and photography. They love being active and making people laugh.
“I wish people would see who I am underneath instead of looking at me and getting angry,” Caudel said.
Since her exit, Perodin has not had the support of most of her family whose religious beliefs guide, she says, to her exclusion.
Perrodine said she has a few trusted people in her support system who make the world go, and a job working with dementia patients inspires her to pursue better care for everyone.
When Perrodine, who grew up in Colorado Springs, heard about the Club Q shooting, she said she became ill but wasn’t surprised.
Around 2020 when anti-trans rhetoric escalated, Perodin said she began to fear for her safety to the point where she felt dangerous to be herself in public. I stopped going to Club Q, the place where I once found a community.
“It’s really ugly and awful to be right,” said Perodin, “and I wish I wasn’t.”
Uncomfortable embraceOwen said that people who want to help the LGBTQ community should start embracing uncomfortable conversations.
“Not many people want to involve politics in their family holiday celebrations, but sometimes we may need to call out someone who says something ugly or wrong or is offensive,” Owen said. “Don’t just show the LGBTQ community that you’re an ally; show your family and friends that these are the right things people in the CIS care about. I think that makes the world of a difference.”
If Perodin could go back in time and guide her younger self, consumed by shame and anxiety, she would wish she had said it was okay to cross your legs and dress the way you wanted and love whoever you wanted.
“The most useful thing I heard when I was younger is that if there is a God, then God should have no desire to control who you are because you are who you are. Anyone trying to tell you that you are something else is wrong,” Perodin said.