Supporting Trans Youth: Building A More Hopeful Future

by Nick Stevens

As fights for marriage equality have had sweeping victories across the United States, many LGBTQ activists ask, “what now?”

Some have answered that advocacy for the transgender community is logically the next step in our quest toward equality. 

As we work to answer this question, transgender advocates like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock are gaining unprecedented visibility in the media. They are advocating tirelessly on behalf of the transgender community, highlighting a variety of issues that transgender people face, but their messages have been clouded by journalists and news anchors that consistently ask the status of their transition.

Some argue that any attention is better than none, but I think it is time we expect more from the media. We must continue to push for conversations highlighting the importance of access to healthcare, the need to address homelessness for transgender youth, the impacts discrimination has on job stability for individuals who identify transgender among many more things.

Other stories must be told, stories like Riley Moscatel’s. Riley, a senior at Bucks County Technical High School, in Eastern Pennsylvania, took his own life last week. Riley was open with his school, friends, and family about his transgender identity. But his recent death sends a strong message. Riley did not have enough support.

The loss of another transgender youth strikes hard and deep. 

I identify as a transgender male like Riley did. I personally know the struggles that Riley faced up until his death.

Mills College recently became one of the first single sex colleges to accept applications from transgender women. Working at Catholics United we post often to our Facebook page about different social justice topics, this headline is just one example of the things we share. Most articles have positive reactions, however, this posting received negative backlash from individuals who cited scripture like Deuteronomy or other articles, calling transgender people abominations.

The post is just one small example of the oppression and judgment many transgender individuals often face. It takes a lot of strength and courage to speak out against these individuals who are so vocal in perpetuating discrimination towards transgender people. And it can get mentally and emotionally draining.

I have always valued stable mental health and made sure that I have had access to care in times of struggle. 

But not all transgender individuals have that privilege. Transgender people of color, transgender youth, transgender people living in rural areas or the inner city, transgender people suffering from poverty, transgender individuals who are raised in a conservative religious faith are just a few examples of people who might not have the same access to resources that I do.

Currently, in Pennsylvania, where Riley grew up, there are no protections against discrimination for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. I truly believe that when these protections are not in place it sends a terrible message to our youth. The message tells trans youth that the dream of growing up to be whoever you want to be is a dream only attainable for the “cookie cutter” youth.

When our society is sending this message, to so many people, resources and support for the LGBT community are even more necessary.

I am so grateful that I have found a supportive Catholic community.

While many people are searching for supportive religious communities, I know it is even more rare to have a supportive Catholic environment. Living in an intentional progressive Catholic community may be challenging but it is the most supportive environment I have ever known.

My intentional community in Washington, D.C. is very different from the hierarchy of the church. I can’t speak to the community in Riley’s town, but I do know that Riley did not personally identify as Catholic. I can’t help but wonder why.

As a Loretto volunteer and an employee at Catholics United, I work for justice and act for peace. We must demand justice for Riley and other transgender youth.

The lack of support individuals have in relation to their gender identity is alarming, including the lack of access to healthcare. 

Families, friends, and communities have already lost too many teens to suicide. It is time to take action.

Photo via flickr user Justin Kern