We’ve all felt down since Donald Trump took the White House, but researchers have uncovered higher rates of anxiety and depression among queer women and trans people since the election.
Ironically, Cindy Veldhuis, a researcher at Columbia University’s School of Nursing, had originally planned on a more uplifting study.
“We thought that there would be all these positive effects from same-sex marriage being recognized,” Veldhuis tells NewNowNext, “And then the election happened and we realized all those positive effects, we just were not seeing. So we regrouped and added a bunch of questions about the election to capture that duality—both the positive effects of marriage recognition and then the potentially negative effects of the election.”
In December, Veldhuis and her team surveyed some 930 adult women who identified as lesbian, bisexual, queer, or otherwise not exclusively heterosexual, as well as trans men and women. Trump was still a month away from being inaugurated, but the effects were clear: Many participants used words like “terrified,” “scared,” and “shell-shocked.”
“I definitely knew people were going to be upset because that’s what I was seeing all around me,” Veldhuis says of the study, published last month in Sexuality Research and Social Policy. “But some of the quotes that we got were really quite staggering. Some people talked about how they felt like they shouldn’t even exist anymore because of the way that the Trump administration has talked about people from marginalized groups.”
One woman wrote she was scared of both having her rights taken away and facing targeted violence: “I’m afraid not only because I’m a lesbian, but because I’m a woman, a Jew, and an activist.”
Transgender respondents, in particular, were afraid there was no place in this country for them anymore. “Mike Pence believes that the only good tranny is a dead tranny, and he thinks the world would be better off if I were dead,” wrote one. He doesn’t even believe I exist—I should just kill myself now.”
In both short-answer and open-ended questions, respondents were asked about their identities, demographics, and state of mind between Trump’s election and being sworn in. They were also queried about how safe they felt; feelings of sadness, depression or anxiety; their level of comfort with their identity; and how the election had affected their relationships.
“I was really surprised at how much time people took in their responses,” says Veldhuis. “Clearly, people wanted to communicate about how they were feeling… All the rhetoric used by Trump in the election [hand an affect] and some people still probably haven’t even recovered from it. They feel even more marginalized just by the words that people were using to get elected.”
Cisgender lesbians felt somewhat less anxious and depressed than trans people, in part, Veldhuis theorized, because they could to “pass” better. “People with more marginalized identities were more aware of how others with even more marginalized identities were going to be affected.” She also found that participants with partners from multiple marginalized communities were more likely to report challenges in their relationships.
The study creates a compelling portrait of actual lived experiences of people facing discrimination from the highest levels of government.
“Even the way people talk about LGBT people in light of marriage-equality policy can make people depressed,” says Veldhuis. “It’s not something we pay attention to a lot: Politicians use rhetoric about other groups without thinking it has an affect on actual people’s lives and wellbeing.”
Participants had the option of remaining anonymous or sharing contact information, and Veldhuis hopes to conduct followup research in the months and years to come.
“We need to look at this longitudinally and figure out how people are doing longterm,” she says. “This is a snapshot in time, but those affects didn’t go away. It’s an ever-shifting landscape,” with Trump in the White House now. “So it’ll be hard to really capture well what has happened and how people are reacting since every day is a new policy or a new Tweet.”