Padilla talks mental health, hate crimes at SF LGBT center

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 28, 2023
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U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, center, spoke about LGBTQ mental health issues June 28 at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, where he was joined by District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, left, and the center's executive director, Rebecca Rolfe. Photo: John Ferrannini
U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, center, spoke about LGBTQ mental health issues June 28 at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, where he was joined by District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, left, and the center's executive director, Rebecca Rolfe. Photo: John Ferrannini

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-California) showed up at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center Wednesday morning for a private discussion with community members on the mental health of queer youth as Pride Month comes to a close.

Padilla, a straight ally, joined the center's lesbian executive director, Rebecca Rolfe, and gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes both the center and the nearby LGBTQ Castro neighborhood, to answer questions for reporters afterward.

The senator, who was elected in his own right last year after having been appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to replace Kamala Harris after she became vice president, told reporters he is planning on introducing a mental health caucus to the U.S. Senate. (Padilla previously served as California's secretary of state.)

"We are going to form, soon, a mental health caucus in the U.S. Senate," he said. "Among all the needs the young members of the LGBT community need is mental health support, given the trauma they experience in life and the trauma and challenges they experience every given day."

The results of a recent survey, released by the Trevor Project in May, found that discrimination, physical harm, and conversion therapy all corresponded to a higher rate of mental health challenges for LGBTQ youth, including suicidality, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

Half of LGBTQ people ages 13-17 — 46% — considered suicide in the last year and 17% attempted suicide, according to the report. Among those ages 18-24, 34% considered suicide and 9% attempted suicide, the report stated. Eighteen percent of those who "felt discriminated against due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in the past year" attempted suicide compared to 7% of those who did not, according to the report.

Padilla said this was one reason he recently re-introduced the Equality Act, which would codify anti-discrimination protections against LGBTQ people into federal law; however, due to GOP control of the House of Representatives, the act is generally considered dead-on-arrival there even if it made it through the Senate.

The B.A.R. asked Padilla what, if anything, he thinks he can accomplish with his Republican colleagues.

"The effort to create a mental health caucus will be, has to be, a bipartisan effort," Padilla said. "For over 30 years, Congress waifed on guns. That began to change last year with the Safer Communities Act. For the first time in decades, Congress came together on a bipartisan basis — and one of the elements of that was an investment in mental health services."

The act, signed by President Joe Biden (D) last year, was the first federal gun control legislation since 1994. Initially introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), it provided mental health funds to state governments, required the federal government to instruct states on providing telehealth services as part of Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, required the federal government to provide instruction on providing mental health care in schools, and gave $50 million in grants.

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed by former President Donald Trump (R), designated 988 as a national suicide prevention and mental health assistance hotline. It went into effect last July.

'Alarming increase in threats'

Padilla said the June 27 state hate crimes report from California Attorney General Rob Bonta — which showed a 29% increase in hate crimes based on sexual orientation over 2021 numbers, and a 55% increase in hate crimes against trans people in the same timeframe — shows how much work there is to do.

"It's alarming and absolutely unacceptable — the increase in hate crimes generally and those targeting LGBTQ youth, queer youth, trans youth," Padilla said. "So I appreciate the attorney general stepping forward and making this a priority."

Mandelman agreed, saying even his district isn't immune.

"We've seen in San Francisco an alarming increase in threats to queer-serving nonprofits, queer people, our state senator has had bomb threats at his home," Mandelman said.

Mandelman was referring to bomb threats made against gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), a Castro resident and former District 8 supervisor himself, and likely to threats made against LYRIC (short for the Lavender Youth Recreation & Information Center), a queer youth organization based in the Castro.

When asked about the Castro by a reporter, Mandelman said, "I hear anecdotally people are getting harassed, catcalled and attacked on the streets in the Castro."

Indeed July 5 is the scheduled trial date of Muhammed Abdullah, whom the San Francisco District Attorney's office charged with hate crimes and other counts after he allegedly hit a gay, trans man with a bottle in the Castro. Abdullah, who has pleaded not guilty, said in court that "what the LGBT community is doing to kids is disrespectful to everyone who stands for God."

Rolfe thanked Padilla for coming to the center so he could get what he called "on the ground" experience. Ninety-two percent of LGBTQ San Franciscans have experienced violence, she said.

"Over the years, we've experienced a lot of violence and vandalism," Rolfe said, adding that the conflagration of hate speech, anti-LGBTQ legislation around the country, and hate crimes is hurting youth.

"We really see that impact [on] our young people showing up here for services," she said.

The State of California offers help for victims or witnesses to a hate crime or hate incident. This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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