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Social media can be a safe space for LGBTQ youth 

Whether on Instagram, YouTube or TikTok, queer youth are able to connect with stories and insight that they not only relate to, but can use to help cope with and resolve their own struggles. 



With all the bad press social media gets when it comes to teens, its significant benefits to LGBTQ youth – including relating to others like themselves – can be overlooked, mental health experts and queer teens say.  

Members of racial and ethnic groups who have long been underrepresented or misrepresented in the media often say they find it empowering to follow and watch influencers with whom they can relate. In turn, they feel more understood and accepted. 

Queer social media influencers are willing to talk about topics general audiences may be uninterested in, but what can be frequent occurrences in the queer community, such as disrespect, bullying, misgendering and loneliness. Influencers draw from their own life experiences. Whether on Instagram, YouTube or TikTok, queer youth are able to connect with stories and insight that they not only relate to, but can use to help cope with and resolve their own struggles. 

 A September 2022 meta-analysis of 26 studies in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found social media may help LGBTQ youth with connection to LGBTQ communities,  identity management and support from peers, which all contribute to better mental health and well-being. However, researchers concluded that more robust studies are needed. 

Don McClain is a 16-year-old Baltimore youth advocate, social media entrepreneur and artist of multiple mediums, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. They said it’s important for them to “be able to engage with queer influencers because it shows me that it’s okay to be authentically me.” 

“It makes me feel loved and even makes me smile,” they said. “Seeing people like you always helps.”  

McClain’s favorite queer influencers include Jewish social justice and LGBTQ+ activist Matt Bernstein, who has 1.3 million Instagram followers, trans woman Zaya Perysian, who chronicled her transition on TikTok, where she has 4.5 million followers and Ve’ondre Mitchell, a trans woman with 6.6 million TikTok followers who is an advocate for Black and transgender people. 

Engaging with queer content creators can help viewers with acceptance, reassurance, and even safety. And it can provide answers to the questions that frequently overwhelm queer youth.  

Washington, D.C.-based clinical psychotherapist Rose Shelton, who owns Your Thought Center in Washington, D.C. and often treats LGBTQ patients, discussed mental health trends in queer youth.  

”Questions around self-worth, anxiety – usually associated around acceptance – violence and violent response…contribute to high levels of depression,” said Shelton. 

She also cited insecurity around who’s “a real ally,” “a verbal ally” and “an actual actionable ally.”  

This can have deadly consequences.  

Forty-five percent of LGBTQ youth seriously contemplated attempting suicide between September of 2020 and December 2021, according to survey of LGBTQ youth conducted in late 2021 by the LGBTQ suicide-prevention nonprofit The Trevor Project. The survey also found that 78% experienced symptoms of anxiety in the past year and 58% experienced symptoms of depression. 

Of the LGBTQ youth surveyed by The Trevor Project, 45% were of color and 48% identified as transgender or nonbinary. 

The study, released last year,  also found that 89% of LGBTQ youth reported that seeing LGTBQ representation in TV and movies made them feel good – a key indicator of the importance of representation to queer youth and seeing yourself reflected in the media. 

“The fact that very simple things — like support from family and friends, seeing LGBTQ representation in media and having your gender expression and pronouns respected — can have such a positive impact on the mental health of an LGBTQ young person is inspiring, and it should command more attention in conversations around suicide prevention and public debates around LGBTQ inclusion,” Amit Paley, Trevor Project’s CEO, wrote about the survey.  

These serious trends in mental illness for queer youth are influenced by a variety of factors, but a primary issue is not feeling accepted, which is largely due to a lack of acceptance at home, the report concluded. The lack of adequate representation in media including television and film makes matters worse.  

Representation is important, but incomplete if it does not accurately paint a whole picture, experts say. Representation in traditional media, such as in books, films, and shows for the queer community often presents a portrayal that’s different from reality. In roles beyond the typical typecast queer character, the focus is usually on sensationalizing the struggle to come out or the struggle to combat anti-LGBTQ action.  

Canadian writer Katelyn Thomson published an analysis of LGBTQ representation in TV and film in 2021 in Ontario-based Wilfrid Laurier University’s Undergraduate journal, Bridges.  

“Ultimately, anxious displacement is how TV shows try to ‘normalize’ the lives of LGBT characters,” Thomson wrote. “However, the process ends up taking away from the identity of the LGBT characters and enforces negative codified stereotypes of LGBT people and their lives.” 

While film and television depictions of the community can cause inaccurate portrayals, having queer representation is crucial to queer youth to feel accepted and allow them explore different identities and expressions. 

 “When used correctly, media can be a vital tool for representing, accepting, and discussing minority groups in society,” Thomson said. 

McClain agrees.  

“I believe queer youth can be better represented in the media through the displaying of our stories and breaking the stigma around our everyday existence,” they said. “For instance, we need more accurately queer characters and not the ones who are poorly stereotyped.” 

So while there is frustration with social media, there are benefits too, especially because it lacks some of the flaws that can arise with queer representation in other forms of media, experts say. Social media can help break through the often one dimensional narratives and depictions of the community presented in film and television through its authenticity. Rather than the creation of a writer or director, it is more often an expression of raw authenticity. Queer influencers shouldn’t be taken as a way of how you should feel, how you should present yourself or how you should look, but instead as a way of seeing that there are many ways of doing so, making it beneficial to follow multiple queer influencers. 

“I think sometimes the reason it’s important for social media, instead of…through media itself, is that media also has its own bias,” Shelton said. “And it loves to create stories and narrations and create characters out of people. So with social media, a lot of times people are just presenting their true self.” 

Through different faces, forms, and presentations, queer influencers offer an impressive look at queer culture and talent. Here’s a look at some of them: 

Noah Schnapp (He/Him)  

The 18 year old actor, Noah Schnapp, is mainly known for his role as Will in the wildly popular Netflix series, Stranger Things. Noah is not only known for his acting, but also his very popular TikTok and Instagram accounts. He has cultivated more than 50 million followers between both accounts, where he often posts funny videos, TikTok dances and pictures with his castmates and friends. The Gen Z star recently came out as gay, sparking many of his co-stars, friends and fans to share their positive messages to Noah on social media. Seeing celebrities congratulated for accepting and embracing their sexuality helps other queer youth feel not only more represented in their favorite media but also confident in themselves knowing that their sexuality is something to celebrate and share. 

Bretman Rock (He/Him) 

Bretman Rock is a 24 year old Filipino beauty influencer, who is openly gay. He currently lives and produces content from Honolulu, Hawaii. His YouTube channel, which has more than 8 million subscribers, includes comedic lifestyle and beauty videos along with content including his family, friends and collaborations with other influencers. He also has over 18 million followers on Instagram as well. His charismatic and energetic personality and loyal fan base has helped him win many influencer awards and become the first gay man on the cover of Playboy magazine.  

Tom Daley (He/Him) 

The British gold medalist diver and openly gay 28 year-old has become famous not only for his incredible athletic capability but also his internet personality. He has over 3.2 million followers on instagram and is known for his lifestyle, cooking and knitting content. He is a father to one child, married to American screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and very open and proud of his sexuality. 

Dylan Mulvaney (She/They) 

The 26 year old trans influencer began to rise to fame on TikTok with their viral series, “Days of Girlhood” that documents each day of Dylan’s transition. The series began to become so popular it has helped Dylan generate 10.8 million followers on TikTok. Beyond being a content creator on TikTok, Dylan is also an actress, comedian, model and trans rights activist who was recently featured in what’s been described as a “polarizing partnership” with Bud Light.  

Sarah Schauer (She/They) 

Sarah Schauer is a popular queer social media influencer known for her Instagram and TikTok accounts, YouTube videos and podcasts with influencer Brittany Broski. She is also known for her previous Vine account. Sarah’s lifestyle and comedic videos helped her grow her fan base into what it is today – more than 3 million on the three social media platforms combined. 

Emily Hawkins and Shane Gomez are juniors at Annandale High School working with the DMV-based Youthcast Media Group. YMG founder and former USA TODAY health policy reporter Jayne O’Donnell contributed to this report.  



Veterans with substance use disorders need our help

Many return home to face a new battle with addiction, trauma



(Photo by SCPhotog/Bigstock)

On Memorial Day, millions of American families honored the memory of the men and women who lost their lives fighting in one of the nation’s wars. It can be challenging for families who have recently lost a loved one.

We must also never forget the countless veterans who made it home but are now fighting a new battle with substance use or mental health disorders. Unfortunately, suicidal ideation is all too common and fueled by drug addiction.

It can be a particularly challenging problem for U.S. military self-identified as LGBTQ. A health survey released by the RAND Corporation found 6.1% of people in the U.S. military identified as LGBTQ. Suicide risk within this community varies considerably depending on the intersection between sexual identity and other aspects of identity.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 3.9 million veterans nationally have a substance use disorder or mental illness. Unfortunately, substance use disorder significantly increases suicidality among veterans ages 18 and older.

Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are common among veterans ages 18 to 49.

“Early intervention is critical, and it saves lives. Yet, it is also important for families to know where to look and how to find help when needed,” said Michael Leach of

Numerous causative factors lead to substance use among veterans. For instance, many veterans struggle to adjust to civilian life. They may experience financial hardships, difficulty finding employment, or accessing benefits.

Many other veterans battle mental and emotional health problems. This can often be compounded with physical injury or chronic pain leading to pain medication use. Untreated trauma, for example, leads to drug and alcohol use to cope with unwanted feelings.

Outside of the usual resources provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA facility locator, other options may include:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides specific resources for LGBTQ veterans;
Helpful hotlines include the Veteran Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, option 1 and the Lifeline for Vets, 1-888-777-4443;

SAMHSA has a treatment facility locator where veterans can find specific treatment options.

Families also play a vital role in supporting a loved one struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. It’s OK to express concern about their substance use. Speak to them openly and honestly about it and help them find treatment. Be patient and show compassion for what they are experiencing. Remember, substance use disorders are treatable.

When families and communities come together, amazing things happen. Veterans with substance use disorders need our help; it’s never too late to offer a helping hand.

Veronica Raussin is a Community Outreach Coordinator for, passionate about spreading awareness of the risks and dangers of alcohol and drug use.

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Non-alignment or hypocrisy: South Africa’s non-alignment costing Africa’s human rights discourse

Country must take stronger stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law



LGBTQ and intersex activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. South Africa must take a stronger stance against the Anti-Homosexuality Act that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has signed. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

In the past several months, South Africa’s foreign policy has been in the spotlight for essential and existential reasons that significantly impact geopolitics and the continent’s stability. 

The foreign policy for South Africa discussion document by the Department of International Relations highlights the “advancement of human rights and the promotion of democracy” as the pillars on which South Africa’s foreign policy rests. This document emphasizes the role that South Africa is expected to play in the “promotion of human rights and democracy.”

Minister Pandor echoed this document in her 2022 end-of-year remarks

“We will continue with our unwavering position to advocate for a balanced Sustainable Development Program within the human rights framework as underlined in the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action (VDPA). In this regard, South Africa will be one of the chief proponents of a balanced agenda of the HRC, which reflects, among others, the primacy of achieving the realization of the right to development as well as moral human rights issues such as the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment.” 

South Africa has long been known for its commitment to human rights and its leadership in the fight against apartheid. However, its foreign policy continues to be viewed as ambiguous and nonresponsive to developments in African affecting the growth of the continent.

In 2021, President Ramaphosa — as chair of the SADC Organ Troika — committed to a national political dialogue in Eswatini to resolve the political killings in that country. However, the South African government has never followed up or called on the Eswatini government to adhere to its commitment, even as renowned human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko was mercilessly assassinated in January 2023. At the very least, this has not been seen publicly, which would be comforting to those political activists and citizens constantly living in fear in Eswatini. 

On May 29, the president of Uganda enacted the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act. The new law is a throwback to colonization, where religious fanatism was the basis for the persecution and killing of many Africans. While Africa seems to take the posture of “fighting against imperialism,” it is saddening that this law is the brainchild of American zealots funding hate across Africa, whether it is in Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi or Namibia. These zealots, the Fellowship Foundation and many others, are well coordinated in their attacks on the judiciary and the African human rights framework, backed by the 75-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

In an era where Africa is seen to be taking a stance against imperialism, I shudder to contemplate that hate may be the only imperialist agenda Africa is not actively standing up against. We know the history of petty offences like homelessness and loitering, sedition laws, and anti-LGBTI laws. These are remnants of colonization to keep Africa inferior and the colonial masters superior. Today, the hate continues through repressive and backwards sentiment being paraded as religious values. Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law criminalizes what it calls “aggravated homosexuality” with the death penalty. It would be hard to imagine what “aggravated homosexuality” even means. 

This is another opportunity where South Africa’s posture and foreign policy must be spotlighted. With the growing conversation about the ICC arrest warrant of President Putin, South Africa has reiterated its foreign policy as non-alignment and non-interference. 

However, when the question of human rights and democracy is at play, all must take a stand. This law has been widely criticized by human rights organizations and the international community for violating the rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals and hindering the fight against HIV. It further impedes what Minister Pandor called the “balanced agenda of the HRC,” which speaks to sustainable development within the human rights framework. 

It should be worrying if South Africa continues to maintain a policy of non-alignment and non-interference in the face of the new law in Uganda. While this policy may have its merits, it raises questions about South Africa’s commitment to human rights and its role as a leader in Africa. A foreign policy that neglects the promotion of human rights and democratic principles is hypocritical. On the one hand, South Africa is seen as a leader in promoting LGBTIQ+ rights and has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world regarding protecting the rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals. However, on the other hand, it has failed to take a strong stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law, which is a clear violation of human rights.

By maintaining this policy, South Africa is essentially condoning Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law and undermining the fight for human rights in Africa. This is particularly concerning given South Africa’s leadership role in the African Union and its commitment to promoting human rights and democracy.

South Africa’s foreign policy regarding Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law raises questions about its commitment to non-alignment and human rights in Africa. While non-interference may have its merits, it should not come at the expense of human rights and the fight for equality and justice. 

South Africa must take a stronger stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law and work towards promoting human rights and democracy in Africa.

Melusi Simelane is the Southern Africa Litigation Center’s Civic Rights Program Manager.

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Republicans prove how vile and frightening they can be

Attacks will continue if we don’t defeat right-wing figures everywhere



Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Day after day we see Republicans trying to outdo each other in how vile and frightening they can be. From the fight over the debt ceiling, to their presidential primary, they continue to try to take the nation backwards. 

In the debt ceiling fight, they clearly say, “We will protect the wealthy in our country at all costs, and instead will cut, or eliminate, programs to help the poor.” The far-right wing crazies like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Chip Roy (R-Texas), and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), are threatening their own speaker, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), with the loss of his job if he doesn’t go along with what they want. Now that a deal has been cut, we will see how they, and left-leaning Democrats who have been putting pressure on President Biden to reject all Republican demands, will vote. These are facts of life in our nation today. Any person with a shred of decency should be embarrassed. I don’t envy President Biden for what he has to do to keep the nation from defaulting on its debts. The political reality is that he had to give in on some issues. Democrats should not fault him, but rather blame Republicans. 

It is scary when you see what Republicans are doing around the nation with regard to abortion rights, civil rights, and LGBTQ rights. One recent example being Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proudly signing the bill making abortion only legal until six weeks. There are women who don’t even know by then they are pregnant. Also, it’s time men start understanding how this impacts them. Women need to remind the fathers what their responsibility will be if they both aren’t ready for a child but are forced to have one.

One ignorant parent in Florida complained, and according to politico was able to have “A Miami-Dade elementary school limit some access to Amanda Gorman’s presidential inauguration poem, ‘The Hill We Climb,’ complaining that it contained indirect “hate messages.” This is insanity and the clear result of Trump’s impact on the culture of the nation. He made it OK to once again have hatred spewed from the public square, frightening decent people. 

Like the threats against Target. CNN reported the company was “removing some products that celebrate Pride month after the company and its employees became the focus of a “volatile” anti-LGBTQ campaign. The company told the Wall Street Journal that people have confronted workers in stores, knocked down Pride merchandise displays and put threatening posts on social media with video from inside stores. Some people have thrown Pride items on the floor, Target spokesperson Kayla Castaneda told Reuters. CNN went on to report “Prominent right-wing activists, Republican political leaders, and conservative media outlets, have focused their attention on a women’s swimsuit that was described as “tuck friendly” for its ability to conceal male genitalia. Misinformation spread on social media that it was marketed to children, which it was not.” Again, insanity, promoted by the right wing. The people doing this should be arrested and prosecuted.

It only gets worse as Republican candidates running for president try to outdo each other with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, trying to improve their poll numbers. DeSantis can tout his “don’t say gay legislation.” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a Black man, who says the country is not racist, touts his opposition to marriage equality. Then there is Mike Pence who will quote the Bible to you, claiming it tells us how terrible it is to be gay. 

The Daily News recently reported “Following last year’s more than 220 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced across the country, a poll by The Trevor Project found 71% of LGBTQ youth — and 86% trans and nonbinary youth — said they were negatively impacted by the flurry of proposals to restrict their rights.” They went on to report, “As of May 23, more than 520 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in statehouses across the country, according to the Human Rights Campaign. More than 220 of those specifically restrict the rights of transgender and nonbinary people. These are all Republican bills.

This will continue unabated if we don’t defeat Republicans everywhere. In sharp contrast, Democrats in the Maryland legislature, led by Delegates David Moon (D-Montgomery County) and Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore County) and State Senator Howard Lam (D-Baltimore and Howard Counties), managed to repeal the states sodomy law and pass gun-control measures.

Republicans will continue to carry out their agenda of hate across the nation unless we say with our votes, “We won’t take this anymore.” The United States is better than this and we will show the world we will not tolerate hate; we will fight it.  

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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