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When Judges Judge You: A Letter From The Trevor Project to LGBTQ Youth

Casey Pick

If the idea of people in robes deciding important parts of your life is depressing to you, know that you're not alone.

The Supreme Court recently announced it will decide whether to take away federal workplace discrimination protections from LGBTQ people. While cases like these are important from a legal perspective, it's equally important to consider the impact they have on vulnerable LGBTQ youth. I want to remind you that it's not your lives being judged, but the law. As an attorney who serves as Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project, I know saying that doesn't make it any less frustrating to have your legal status on trial yet again, but I hope it might help keep things in perspective as this debate takes center stage.

It feels like LGBTQ issues have been in courtrooms my whole life. I was two years old when Bowers v. Hardwick was decided in 1986 (upholding laws against so-called "sodomy") and had barely graduated high school when that decision was reversed by the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. Courts have spent decades debating same-sex couples' freedom to marry, LGBTQ people's fitness to serve as Boy Scout leaders or in the military, and whether wedding vendors can turn away our business in the public square. I've been where you are.

On one hand, we can take comfort in knowing we've made a lot of progress. Many federal courts have already found that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, also protects people from being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Similarly, the Supreme Court decided decades ago that you can't fire someone based on stereotypes about their gender, and federal courts have followed this principle to its logical conclusion of protecting transgender and gender non-conforming people from sex discrimination.

However, some employers and the Trump administration are pushing back against this growing legal consensus, arguing instead for a cramped interpretation of "sex" that leaves LGBTQ people out. And while many LGBTQ advocates and our allies will be speaking out in support of how these laws ensure that LGBTQ people can go about their everyday lives free from discrimination, we also know we're going to hear a lot of painful stories of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and some of the arguments from our opposition will hurt. It is always exhausting having your community, rights, and existence seemingly put on trial.

I know the impact this can have. The Trevor Project received more than double the amount of crisis contacts from transgender and gender non-conforming youth following the trans military ban tweet and Texas "bathroom bill" introduction. The number of transgender and gender non-conforming youth reaching out to Trevor's crisis services nearly doubled in the 24 hours after The New York Times article reported on the administration's proposed narrow and harmful definition of gender.

But hard as it can be, I want to remind you this is a long process that, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., ultimately bends towards justice. Especially in recent decades, the LGBTQ community has won more cases than we've lost, and even where we've lost, we've made progress, resulting in positive changes in public opinion and more explicit legislative protections. While this next stage in the process works itself out, I want to give you some tips I wish I'd had when I was younger on getting through another round of public debate on our rights.

First of all, take care of yourself. If the idea of judges in robes deciding important parts of your life is depressing to you, know that you're not alone and not imagining it. What you're feeling is called "minority stress," and scientific research has shown that constant exposure to stressors associated with LGBTQ identity (including feeling like a political football or an issue to be debated, rather than a person with feelings) can have detrimental health consequences.

Follow the cases if you want to, but don't feel obligated to obsess over them. This can be a great opportunity to learn about and be inspired by heroes of our movement who are standing up for equality, from the plaintiffs themselves to the lawyers who are working hard to craft the best possible arguments for our side. Take breaks when you need to, including from the news and social media.

Find support in your community. It can be deeply frustrating to feel like you are surrounded by people whose lives aren't directly affected by what the Court may or may not do, and who aren't paying any attention at all. Over the years, LGBTQ folks have found ways to come together during these cases, from rallies on the Supreme Court steps to hashtag discussions on social media. You are not alone in this.

Above all, remember that the court isn't judging you as a person, and nothing they decide can change the fact that you and your identity deserve absolute equality, dignity, and love. And if ever you find yourself in crisis and needing somebody to listen, we at The Trevor Project are always here, 24/7, via lifeline, text, or chat.

Casey Pick is an attorney who serves as Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project.

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