Finding Community | Mental Health for LGBTQI+ Students in Rural America

Now that we’re in July, we’ve gone through Mental Health Awareness Month (May) and Pride Month (June). In these two months, we’ve seen so many examples of efforts around the country to support LGBTQI+ youth and provide these students with more access to high-quality mental health support. However, we don’t hear a lot about rural LGBTQI+ students. What is being done to make sure that students from some of our most isolated communities have access to the community and resources needed to flourish? 

Being a queer student in a rural area comes with a unique set of challenges. In my experience, to be queer in Wyoming is to be isolated and alienated. We face the challenges of having little to no access to mental health professionals specializing in our needs, having low acceptance and support from peers and/or family, and growing up hearing heartbreaking stories like Matthew Shepard’s

These factors have led to generally poor mental health and higher suicide rates among queer youth in rural areas. There is a constant struggle of feeling both ignored in the ways we need support and targeted in areas where we are weaker by political forces and societal bias. Wyoming’s LGBTQI+ youth community faces increasing levels of bias as information about the queer community and our many identities becomes more accessible.

While queer students face a lot of struggles, it isn’t all bad. I’ve found that it can be isolating to be queer in Wyoming, but it can still be possible to have a close community with those around you. Our community has built itself to withstand the challenges that come our way and support each other in times of struggle. With youth-centered events put together by Laramie PrideFest and various student clubs centering queerness across Wyoming, many students have the opportunity to connect with and build community if they actively seek it out. This comes in the form of weekends with students from Laramie and Cheyenne, gathering together for conferences, queer history trivia, and events like Pride flag making or book clubs throughout Pride month. 

While my journey has had and continues to have its challenges, I am fortunate that I have been able to find community and support from my family. Many of my rural peers have not had access to this support and face an uncertain and often scary future as a result. Work from the U.S. Department of Education to support the mental health of students, particularly queer students in rural America, is incredibly important and potentially lifesaving, along with the Department’s resources like Creating Inclusive and Nondiscriminatory Environments for LGBTQI+ Students in School. There needs to be not only more mental health providers in our rural schools, but also ones who are prepared to support the unique needs of rural LGBTQI+ students. I am eternally grateful to the mental health experts who have supported me on my continuing journey to affirm my identity, and every rural and queer student deserves the same.

Kai Edwards is a sophomore at Laramie High School. He is focused hard on his goal to educate those around him and create a safer, more comfortable world for himself and his peers.