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Adverse childhood experiences are a pervasive issue that affect millions of individuals worldwide. For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer (LGBTQ+) individuals, the experience of identity-related childhood adversity can be particularly devastating, leading to a range of mental health challenges in adulthood. Our study sheds light on the impact of childhood identity-related abuse on mental health outcomes among 563 LGBTQ+ individuals in Spain. Some examples of LGBTQ+ identity-related abuse by a parent or caregiver include being pressured to act masculine or feminine against their will, or being slapped, hit or physically injured because of one’s LGBTQ+  identity. In our study, we found that nearly 62% of participants indicated exposure to LGBTQ+ identity-related abuse during childhood, and nearly all participants had at least one prejudicial or discriminatory experience in the past year. The study also found that nearly 20% of participants were likely to experience depressive symptoms, and around 46% had suicidal behavior. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ identity-related abuse was linked to experiences of LGBTQ+ identity-related discrimination and harassment, and mental health problems during adulthood. Our study highlights the need for supportive policies that address the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly those who have experienced identity-related abuse during childhood.

Our study findings are cast in sharp relief when we consider global backlash to progressive LGBTQ+ policies, and the current political landscape in the U.S. attacking parents and caregivers supportive of trans kids. In some U.S. states, parents supporting gender affirming practices and care—ranging from adopting and using a child’s preferred pronouns or name to medical interventions such as puberty blockers—are embroiled in ongoing legal battles and are being investigated under new law that misrepresents gender affirmation of trans kids by parents and guardians as “child abuse”. Other ongoing legal changes, under the umbrella of “parental rights,” include requiring schools to report youth who self-identify as LGBTQ+ to their parents, and “don’t say gay” bills preventing teachers from discussing, and thus affirming, LGBTQ+ experiences and identities within school environments. Our research suggests that these policies, which claim to be motivated to “protect children,” are likely to lead to adverse childhood experiences that have lifelong impacts on the mental wellbeing of LGBTQ+ young people as they transition into adulthood. These policies prioritize the parental rights of non-affirming parents while actively restricting the parental rights of LGBTQ+-affirming parents. Our research highlights the negative impact of identity rejection by parents and caregivers, but other research suggests that supportive school environments and caring teachers are protective for the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth. Outing kids and restricting support in schools puts LGBTQ+ young people across the U.S. and globally at considerable risk that runs directly counter to the welfare of youth. In a world where parental, teacher, and other adult support of LGBTQ+ youth is being attacked as “grooming” or “abuse”, are we recognizing the very real harm LGBTQ+ young people experience when their identities are rejected by parents and caregivers?

Jennifer Tabler, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Wyoming. Her research and teaching interests include the sociology of health, health disparities, gender and sexuality, and rural experiences. Her current work examines LGBTQ+ erasure in the rural West (U.S.), and seeks to center the lived experiences of multiple marginalized LGBTQ+ people in rural regions. Twitter: @jenni_tabler Bluesky: @jennismovingcastle.bsky.social

Ruby Charak, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Science and Director of the Adversities in Childhood and Trauma Studies Lab (ACT Lab; http://www.utrgv.edu/actlab/) at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg since 2016. Her research interests pertain to childhood adversities, including, child abuse and neglect, family violence, sexual victimization in adolescents and young adults, and posttraumatic stress disorders.

Rachel M. Schmitz, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Oklahoma State University. Her research and teaching interests include gender and sexuality, the family, LGBTQ+ youth and young adults, human-animal interactions, and qualitative methods. Her current work emphasizes the voices and lived experiences of multiple marginalized LGBTQ+ people in rural regions and their understandings of health.