Pride is a month to celebrate diversity, but it's also a time to raise awareness of social issues that impact the LGBTQ community such as mental health.
“It was a difficult process," said 17-year-old Ray. "I was very deep in the Mormon church for the first 13 years until I came out, and I realized there wasn’t really a place for myself to identify who I was and still be in that church."
Ray is pansexual and is using Pride month to share their story.
“As soon as I heard the term defined, I knew it was me," Ray said. "For pansexual, it meant that I can like anybody of any gender — male, female and anything in between. I just knew that was me, I never had a preference."
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Ray also uses the pronouns they/them/theirs.
"And for gender fluidity, I’ve never identified as female, and I’ve always found myself in between swaying from one side to another, and they/them pronouns just fit," they said.
Ray started questioning their gender identity in the 3rd or 4th grade. Unlike many LGBTQ youth, Ray had a supportive family, but still also had depression and anxiety from shame.
“In middle school, I began taking medical marijuana for back pain and lean on that more when I was feeling more stressed or needed to escape from a reality that was difficult," Ray said. "There were slurs, friends were in difficult situations with home lives."
And Ray isn’t alone. According to the Trevor Project, 58% of LGBTQ youth last year reported experiencing depression. Another 73% reported symptoms of anxiety. Nearly half had seriously considered attempting suicide. And an alarming 60% who wanted mental health care weren’t able to get it.
“I think the fact they are LGBTQ people or belong to that population is not the issue as much as they are marginalized," said Dr. Rachna Buxani of Buxani Counseling Care in Pinecrest.
Dr. Buxani says LGBTQ youth are being marginalized because of a lack of acceptance from parents and society.
"The less we talk about it, the more it's going to be stigmatized," Dr. Buxani said.
And that’s why months and celebrations for Pride are meant to start a conversation and bring awareness to very serious issues about a community that can be misunderstood.
“Really get to know them. Sit down and have a talk," Ray said. "It doesn’t even need to be about gender or sexuality — just talk about anything with a good person, and there are a lot of genuinely good people of all identities and sexualities."