The meeting highlights the mental health of LGBTQ+ New Yorkers in the digital space
The meeting highlights the mental health of LGBTQ+ New Yorkers in the digital space

The Digital Spaces, Diverse Faces: Strengthening LGBTQ+ Communities and Mental Health Summit brought together elected officials, representatives of city agencies and non-profit organizations to discuss ways to improve mental health in LGBTQ+ communities.

The event, presented by Equality New York in collaboration with City & State, also focused on how to balance social media regulation while protecting free speech.

In keynote remarks at a summit held Thursday at New York Law School, New York City Councilman Eric Boettcher highlighted the challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community by calling out Manhattan’s largest neighborhood school board for the endorsement of a resolution banning transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports a day earlier.

“We’re not in Kansas, we’re not in Nassau County. We’re in Manhattan, shame on Public Education Board 2, shame on Maude Maron,” he said, referring to one of the resolution’s sponsors. The New York Post reported that Maron argued that the resolution was not transphobic, but would instead start the conversation about who should be allowed to play in girls’ sports.

“Shame on her and everyone on this committee who voted for what was passed overwhelmingly last night,” Boettcher, chair of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual Caucus, told the audience. “After we had people of trans experience and trans students stand up and share their experiences and talk about what this resolution means to them. Shame on them for voting for this.”

The first panel following his remarks, “Improving Mental Health in LGBTQ+ Communities,” discussed how racism, criminalization, and anti-trans attacks have affected New Yorkers and the strategies that have produced the most effective responses. The second panel, “Social Media Censorship and Legislation,” focused on the careful balancing act of social media regulation while protecting free speech.

Legislation highlighted at the summit included HB 7683, a federal bill sponsored by Republican Brandon Williams that includes provisions that could protect organizations that discriminate based on gender under the guise of free speech on campus.

“State law is key because it can either support or challenge these discriminatory practices, directly affecting the lives and mental well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals,” said Erin Brigid, community organizer at Equality New York, who participated in the second panel.

“And it’s fundamental for us to advocate for government policies that promote inclusion and respect for all identities,” Brigid added, “ensuring that every voice is heard and valued in our society.”

Panelists highlighted how youth are using technology in positive ways to build their communities and called for their voices to be heard on social media use and safety.

“The cloak of child protection is being used to take away a lot of youth autonomy and not allow young people to be able to use platforms that, if we were their age, we would want to use these things,” the participant said. panelist Danielle King, senior youth policy advisor at the National Lesbian Rights Center. “And we use a lot of that now as adults.”

“I think we have to be careful under the guise of trying to protect kids and wanting them to have a place that’s safe for them with their mental health,” King added. “They should have a voice and say… to… what it looks like. What will be of use and benefit to them. This is often left off the table for marginalized groups, and for many young people in general.’

The panelists also noted how broad restrictions using First Amendment arguments can be harmful to queer and trans communities whose content is flagged and removed.

“A lot of the bills are put under this guise that I talked about before about protecting children,” King told the audience. “We have to protect them in every way, but when you look, they don’t know the answers. They really don’t know how to defend themselves. A lot of initiatives, like widespread age verification, I don’t even know if it’s going to work or how it’s going to be implemented.”

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