Column: First comes love, second comes marriage, then comes… silence

The queer and gender nonconforming have unique struggles that everyone needs to know about.

Abigail Ruhman is a freshman journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.

This column is part one of Abigail Ruhman’s “Twelve Gays of Christmas” series. Twelve Gays of Christmas is a twelve-column series about a variety of LGBTQ topics. During the holidays, members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to experience depression. By informing readers of the issues facing the LGBTQ community, these columns are meant to support the community this holiday season.

There are days that you remember specifically because something so life-changing happens. I remember coming back from lunch during summer school, and my psychology teacher said that the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the U.S. On June 26, 2015, my life became a little bit happier. No matter who I wanted to marry when I grew up, I could.

This was a giant step in the right direction, but the fight for equality is far from over. The protests, rallies and activism are no longer about marriage rights. They are about correcting all of the societal misunderstandings that have surrounded the community for a long time. One of the easiest ways to cultivate change is through education of the majority.

The major problem is that the LGBTQ community is actually experiencing more discrimination than three years ago. This leads to topics mostly affecting the community being ignored more often. Whether it’s religiously motivated hate or simply hatred based on discomfort, the community has taken a major hit from this.

While members outside the LGBTQ community can just turn a blind eye, those who identify with the group don’t always get a warning about the hate the community receives.

Discrimination didn’t just prevent people from getting married. Many individuals who identify with the LGBTQ community tend to go through the experience of thinking, at least, that their family will disown them. Whether this happens or not, that can become an emotional stressor.

Many queer and gender nonconforming individuals tend to keep their sexuality a secret in fear that they may lose their job or face discrimination. This places another layer of stress on the individual, which can promote poor mental health.

Outside of the workplace, the LGBTQ community is three times more likely to have a mental illness than the general public, according to National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The stress of keeping something that big hidden can result in many different forms of mental health issues. The emotional strain of believing that there's a possibility that someone may disown you or stop talking to you can throw off the chemical balance in the brain.

But mental health issues are not just linked to internal factors. The external actions of people outside of a community can promote fear within the minority group. The LGBTQ community is also more prone to homelessness, sexual assault, hate crimes and domestic violence.

LGBTQ youth are 120 percent more likely to be homeless than the general population, according to the Voices of Youth Count. While only 7 percent of youth identify as queer or gender nonconforming, 40 percent of homeless youth are a part of the LGBTQ community.

Rates of sexual violence were higher for bisexual men and women than for straight men and women, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. The rates were also higher for lesbian women and gay men.

In addition, a major problem that the queer and gender non-conforming community has encountered is the issue of “corrective rape” — sexual assault of a gender and/or sexual minority for the purpose of showing them that their identity is wrong.

Approximately 47 percent of transgender respondents had experienced some form of sexual assault, according to a study conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality.

LGBTQ individuals are also more likely to experience violent hate crimes, according to a 2016 New York Times article. The less accepting society is of these individuals, the more they suffer.

The trauma to the community doesn’t stop there. Due to lack of education or knowledge of resources, the LGBTQ community is also more prone to drug abuse.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual adults are more likely to use illicit drugs, drink more in one sitting and/or abuse an illegal substance. The National Institute on Drug Abuse thinks there may be a link between the emotional stress and drug use. This can also stem from the increased physical violence these individuals face.

In order to keep members of the queer and gender nonconforming community safe, education on LGBTQ topics needs to be taken seriously. It shouldn’t be the part of sex-ed or history class that society skims over.

This is something that people should seek out knowledge on. It’s the lack of understanding that is truly hurting the LGBTQ community, and that’s something the everyone can help fix. You can take some time and learn more about the LGBTQ struggle, and educate others. You can support LGBTQ artists, actors and musicians so that they can use that platform to talk about LGBTQ issues.

The issues in the LGBTQ struggle shouldn’t just receive a sad glance, a long sigh and then nothing else. The struggles of all minorities shouldn’t make you sad, it should make everyone angry.

Education is a powerful tool that can not only build bridges within communities, but also provide a deep understanding of society’s flaws. Don’t just stop at education though. You should act on it. It doesn’t always have to be education of the most serious of topics, but taking the step to learn about your community or a community you may not know anything about is one that could change the way you see the world.

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