192: Helping LGBTQI+ Youth

Admiral Rachel Levine, the 17th Assistant Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, explains how recent negative rhetoric focused on gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom is impacting young people;...

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Admiral Rachel Levine, the 17th Assistant Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, explains how recent negative rhetoric focused on gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom is impacting young people; Sandy Noel, the Statewide Planning and Ending HIV Epidemic Coordinator at the Florida Department of Health, discusses the vast benefits of  ASTHO’s Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health program; and ASTHO has a new blog article focused on improving youth mental health. 

Webpage: The Trevor Project 2022 National Survey

Webpage: Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health

ASTHO Webpage: Placemaking Begets Youth Sports, Promoting Healthier Communities

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Friday, June 3rd, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


June is Pride Month in the U.S., and across the nation public health officials are thinking about how to improve health equity for members of the LGBTQI+ community.

Admiral Rachel Levine is the 17th assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services. We asked her how recent negative rhetoric focused on gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom is impacting young people.


I think the best answer that I can give is I want to point out that there are studies that show that if you are an LGBTQ child or adolescent—teenager—having mental health challenges, the difference between literally life and death is one single caring adult. It might be a parent or a family member, but it doesn't need to be a parent or a family member—it might be a teacher, it might be a coach, it might be a faith leader, someone that they know that is in their court. And it makes all the difference in the world to hear that one supportive person tell you that you are a valuable person, you're a valuable human being, your life is important, and that your life has dignity.

And so, that is what we need. We need supportive adults for vulnerable LGBTQI+ youth. These narratives, these actions taken by states are damaging to the mental health of our LGBTQI+ community at large and specifically to LGBTQI+ youth. So, remember: one supportive adult makes all the difference.


The most recent survey of the Trevor Project reports 45% of LGBTQI+ young people have considered suicide in the last year—a finding that Admiral Levine says is the result of discrimination.


LGBTQ youth are at risk of increased mental health issues and increased risk of suicide. But I want to make it very clear that there's nothing with being LGBTQI+—nothing with being on the rainbow, so to speak—that increases a youth's risk or anyone's risk of having mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicidal ideation, substance use.

It is the bullying, it is the harassment, it is the overt discrimination that LGBTQI+ youth face in the community, at their school, potentially even at home that leads to those mental health outcomes—which brings me back to the previous statement of one supportive adult can make all the difference.


It's a story the admiral reports hearing over and over since taking the job at HHS.


I've had the opportunity throughout the country to speak with trans youth, adolescents, and their families and the people who care for them—their medical providers, but also their parents or guardians and relatives. And this political drama is having a very, very negative effect on them. It's not helping youth, and it's not helping families be safer, it's not helping our communities be safer.


As for public health officials, the former state health official from Pennsylvania says everyone can help.


I think that medical professionals in those states and I think public health professionals in those states can weigh in on the medical, scientific basis for trans affirming care, again, as outlined in the WPATH and USPATH standards. They're also supported by organized medicine—the Endocrine Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, and more.

And so, I think that medical professionals and public health professionals can join those medical organizations in affirming and declaring the importance of gender affirming care carefully done by our institutions.


Read the Trevor Project survey using the link in the show notes.


Diverse public health professionals have until 11:59 p.m. Eastern time tonight to sign up for ASTHO's Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health program.

Sandy Noel from the Florida Department of Health is among the students graduating from the program's initial cohort.


So, DELPH has provided me with that—basically that start of gaining all the knowledge that I need from other executive leaders. I'm learning what to say, what not to say, learning how to acquire my personal brand, I'm learning how to even delegate. No one has actually taught me how to do that, and DELPH has literally provided all of those experiences for us.


Even though the deadline to apply is only hours away, Noel says:


So, yes, I'm telling everybody to apply. The least you can do is invest in yourself and invest in your growth, because what is taught at DELPH is not taught internally at my job.


Get more details about the DELPH program and submit your application using the link in the show notes.


Finally this morning, placemaking can lead to better access to youth sports, and that can help improve youth mental health. That's the conclusion of a new ASTHO blog article, now online.

The article considers the connection between these components of healthy communities and demonstrates how they're working together in Rhode Island and Washington state. There's a link to the article in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We are back Monday morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great weekend.

Sandy Noel MPH

Statewide HIV Planning Coordinator, Florida Department of Health

Admiral Rachel Levine MD

Assistant Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services