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LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health and Resilience


Hopelab’s team of researchers, strategists, designers, and communicators are building tools to support the health and happiness of LGBTQ+ teens and young adults. Queer youth want a world in which they feel free to express themselves; where they aren’t faced with judgement, harassment, or discrimination and where they can explore and embrace their sense of self and their multiple intersecting identities.

But for many young people, the stress of being LGBTQ+ in a cisnormative, heteronormative world can be harmful to their mental health and overall well-being. So, in the spirit of co-creation and collaboration, we’ve set our sights on inspiring hope for the future. The milk collaborative, a partnership between Hopelab, CenterLink, and the It Gets Better Project, is working to build, test, and scale a digital mental well-being tool to measurably improve the health and happiness of young queer people.


milk label
Teen holding a pride flag over their head.
The root of all my ‘aha’ moments have been like, putting a name to the face. Like this is intersectionality, this is what queerness is, and it's kind of legitimizing it almost, helping put things into concrete terms.
Alex, VA
Person with makeup on

What We’re Doing

Launched in January 2020, our team has been traveling the country (physically and virtually), chatting with young queer people, stakeholders, and academics to learn more about their needs, challenges, and experiences. With input from more than 350 LGBTQ+ youth (with a primary focus on teens), we prioritized representation from BIPOC, trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming youth as we conducted listening and co-design sessions. Now, we’re co-creating a science-backed digital tool for queer teens to explore and affirm their identity.

Send a note to if you’re a young LGBTQ+ person interested in co-creating with us. Stay up to date with the latest news from the milk collaborative and sign up for our newsletter. 

Why This Matters

The stress of being LGBTQ+ in a cisnormative, heteronormative world can be profoundly harmful to queer youth. Forty-two percent of LGBTQ+ youth report having seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth. Sixty-five percent of LGBTQ+ youth reported symptoms of moderate to severe depression, twice as likely as their non-queer counterparts.

While there are excellent crisis services like Trevor Project, Crisis Text Line, and Trans Lifeline, there are fewer options like Q Chat Space for those who are looking for support in navigating the day-to-day experience of growing up queer. More evidence-backed, non-crisis options are needed to bolster the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ young people.

I always feel like people are staring at me and they just know I'm trans … My inner voice is just telling me like 'Yo they know. You better change the way you're doing this before they say something'.
Devon, Cunningham, VA
My grandmother expressed concern that I'm straying from God. These are things you hear from religious folks, but it's just different from your own family, people that you admire and adore. And it just made me feel bad and small and almost helpless.
Addie, Houston, TX
I’ve been harassed online by people that don’t even know me or what I look like. I get called names, hate speech, and threatened over Xbox Live because of the way I talk.
Noel, Cedarville, OH

What We’re Learning

As we’ve travelled the country—places like Anchorage, Birmingham, Chicago, and Los Angeles—and talked to queer youth, we’ve learned that young queer people are actively exploring their identities and their communities. This mode of exploration is a journey towards embodying their whole selves. They seek understanding of feelings and observations of societal norms: What identities exist? What resonates with me? Who resides within my queer community? How do I understand how others react to my identity? How do I form a sense of self? How do I fully embrace and love who I am, even if there are those around me or larger societal forces that do not affirm my identity?

Because we live in a cis-het society, queer youth are often left to create their own tools to cope and build up their resilience. They collect resources and make their own guides to share with friends and family. They leverage technology and share pieces of their lived experiences on social platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Their stories and makeshift guides help connect them, and provide one another support.

We see an opportunity to build science-backed digital health products and programs based on many of these self-made tools. We want queer teens to feel heard, seen, and accepted. Our goal is to support queer youth who are in this explorative phase and give access to those who need mental health and emotional support as they move through this formative time in their lives.

Multilevel Research to Improve Equity

Our own team of researchers is partnering with the Penn Program on Sexuality, Technology, and Action Research (PSTAR) to leverage their expertise in research and intervention methods aimed at policy solutions for sexual and gender minorities. We’ll work directly with José Bauermeister, MPH, Ph.D. and Jesse Golinkoff, MPH, whose research interests include health inequities affecting LGBTQ+ communities, qualitative methodologies, and technology-based health interventions, as we co-create, develop, and iterate on our science-backed intervention. Together, we’ll engage with academics, policy stakeholders, and queer youth to create innovative, engaging, and evidence-backed tools. 

What’s Next

Sign up for our newsletter and stay up-to-date with the latest news from the milk collaborative. You’ll learn about the results of our prototype test, our research partnership with PSTAR, and exciting upcoming developments such as the upcoming product pilot launch.

More than ever, we need to expand our investments in the well-being of sexual and gender minority youth. We are thrilled to partner with Hopelab and evaluate an innovative tool that celebrates their diversity and supports their development and health.
José Bauermeister, MPH, Ph.D.
A person sitting on a curb
Topless young man with yarn wrapped on chest and face.
Together, we’ll engage with academics, policy stakeholders, and queer youth to create innovative, engaging, and evidence-backed tools.
Transgender teens looking at mobile phone together, happily.

Queer Content

A Reading and Riffing with Stuart Getty, Author of How to They/Them

Stuart Getty (they/them) joins two of our youth contributors, Will Coleman (he/him) and Sam Dinga (she/hers, they/them) to unpack the ways we might better support queer and gender non-conforming people.

Watch the recording (90 mins)

Queer & Thriving Panel

On September 1, 2020 Hopelab, along with CenterLink and Headstream, hosted a virtual panel and Q&A with leading experts in  LGBTQ+ teen and young adult mental health discussing what we need to know from research to support resilience among queer young people. The panel featured host, Arianna Taboada, MSW, MSPH and panelists, Shelley Craig, PhD, LCSW and Lance T. McCready, PhD.

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