Guest Opinion: LGBTQ+ youth + mental health is top priority for Pride 2023

  • by Juanita MORE!
  • Wednesday June 21, 2023
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Juanita MORE! co-hosted Queer LifeSpace's "Truth in Pink" fundraiser in May. Photo: Gooch
Juanita MORE! co-hosted Queer LifeSpace's "Truth in Pink" fundraiser in May. Photo: Gooch

I've been a San Francisco resident for all of my adult queer life. Thirty of those I've spent inside my current tiny Tenderloin apartment — when I swing open the door, I pass by 20 feet of salon-style, self-commissioned artwork, images of adoring fans, and reminders of the community I call home. Yet, drag is more than just art and entertainment; it's about chosen family, political activism, and a conduit for change.

My annual Pride Party ( is the most anticipated event during June in San Francisco. This year will mark the 19th year of throwing one of the most significant nonprofit events in the city. The parties always focus on supporting some of San Francisco's most impactful organizations. For example, over the past few decades, the community has helped me to raise over $1 million for the LGBTQ+ community.

For my annual Pride Party beneficiary this year, I have chosen Queer LifeSpace, a San Francisco-based mental health nonprofit serving the LGBTQIA+ community. It has invested in keeping our community healthy with effective, affordable mental health and substance abuse services. It helps clients from all walks of life, regardless of their ability to pay, in a safe, non-judgmental environment for fellow members of the queer community.

As Queer LifeSpace points out, "Queer people often struggle with suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, trauma, and loss of family. Queer LifeSpace exists to be a solution to these problems by offering clients cutting-edge, queer-affirming care."

The issue is accessing mental health care can be incredibly challenging for LGBTQ individuals, particularly for younger members of our community. According to a recent survey by the Trevor Project, two out of three LGBTQ youth have reported a decline in their mental health due to negative news about anti-LGBTQ laws, like Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law. The same study also found that 56% of those surveyed who sought mental health services in the last year could not access them, which is concerning.

I have struggled with the issues I've listed above in my youth and as an adult, and the COVID lockdown years didn't make it any easier. During that time, we all know that social restrictions helped mitigate the spread of the virus. Still, they had severe psychological consequences, including anxiety, depressive symptoms, loneliness, and isolation. Of course, we are a social bunch; many of us have spent much time inside bars and nightclubs; these places have historically been our safe havens. But, these conditions disrupted our social presence, communication, and daily routines, a big part of our community's mental health. Now that the bulk of the pandemic is over, I see many people struggling to regain their old social habits, leaving them isolated and alone.

The rise in extreme anti-LGBTQIA+ hate rhetoric, and the laws rapidly evolving around them across the United States from far-right extremists, is ugly and unrelenting. Their message is poisonous and a sideshow to distract from more pressing issues. We must be vocal and diligent about fighting for the rights of our LGBTQIA+ community. These bills endanger the safety of all queer people — and, especially, our mental health.

Yet, as if these issues weren't problematic enough, government funding for nonprofits dealing with mental health issues has dramatically decreased. The decrease in funding is because their new model needs to address long-term-based services. That is what I think is so crucial about Queer LifeSpace. It also provides free services to some of the most marginalized members of our community — queer transitional-age youth and older adults.

I am excited that Queer LifeSpace has two unique programs explicitly geared toward LGBTQIA+ youth. The new program, Outlandish, aims to bring LGBTQIA+ youth into nature for daylong hikes and other activities. The participants, accompanied by qualified adults, will be immersed in the natural world, where they can learn about themselves and the complex ecosystems around them. And the Rural Youth Outreach Program provides support for LGBTQIA+ youth in areas of California where there is limited or no access to queer-affirming resources in the local community. In addition, the program aims to connect with students who feel isolated and supports them by providing access to individual and group counseling.

Thanks to the heartfelt generosity of our community, including the monies raised at this year's Pride event, Queer LifeSpace will be able to expand services later this summer. This heightened capacity is presently under development and signifies its commitment to better serve the community's mental health needs. Earlier this month, Queer LifeSpace reopened its intake process for adults and anticipates being able to provide placements by August; you can get more information online here.

Queer LifeSpace recognizes that some community members urgently need help, and sometimes the best support might be found outside its agency. With this in mind, it makes thoughtful referrals to other trusted groups within its more comprehensive network. For this list, you can find more information online here.

Though San Francisco seems safe for the LGBTQIA+ community, we must stay diligent. We must be strong to help our brothers and sisters across the country. A healthy queer community is a productive one.

This year marks Miss Juanita MORE!'s 31st year as an active member of our community as a mother, civil rights activist, and philanthropist. She has long been a soldier in stilettos fighting on the frontlines for awareness and LGBTQ+ rights. Sharp and gorgeous, she pulls all those around her into her fashion fantasy for raising visibility and funds for queer community charities.

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