We Breathe: Thoughts on the Rise of Anti-LGBTQ+ Hate

Tobacco prevention in California has been a decades-long effort with many successes across the state. One of the most notable successes was the recent statewide ban on flavored tobacco products in 2022. Now the majority of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, are banned in all retailers and cities in California. 

There have been countless local and statewide achievements made in California through the work of our dedicated peers and colleagues; however, our work as LGBTQ+ tobacco prevention advocates remains incomplete. There are stressors that uniquely impact tobacco-use rates among  LGBTQ+ populations in our state.  California has been experiencing a series of setbacks  for LGBTQ+ rights, and impacting the state’s  reputation as a safe haven for LGBTQ+ communities . This can be exhibited with multiple school districts passing policies to out transgender and non-binary students to their parents. Unique stressors like this can be directly linked to an increased amount of tobacco use among LGBTQ+ communities. 

There is still a need for improving LGBTQ+ inclusion within tobacco prevention and other spaces, especially those of us who are gender-nonconforming. This need is especially essential to address as anti-LGBTQ+ hatred and bigotry are only increasing in our state. There was even a demonstration at the Los Angeles Unified School District Headquarters where bigots called our community “groomers” and “pedophiles.” 

We have already seen the direct consequences of anti-LGBTQ+ vitriol from the likes of Libs of TikTok and many others, with the murder of Nex Benedict in Oklahoma on February 7th, 2024 being particularly resonate. There is strong evidence to indicate bullying and harassment in schools can lead to higher rates of substance use and other negative mental health issues, including  LGBTQ+ youth smoking at higher rates. After Nex Benedict’s death, it was shown that the LGBTQ+ Youth Crisis Hotline’s calls from Oklahoma increased by 300% due to the growing distress about their safety. As we continue to see an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and violence, queer youth will only become more stressed and likely to use tobacco as a way to cope. 

We Breathe, together with LGBTQ+ regional projects and staff, continues to push for more inclusive tobacco prevention policies and for advocates to be cognizant of the increasingly stressful reality many LGBTQ+ people are facing. We Breathe, alongside OUT Against Big Tobacco Los Angeles, recently facilitated workshops to help LGBTQ+ youth in Los Angeles  handle stress and anti-queer bigotry. In addition to the incredible policy efforts many projects are working on, having conversations about the reality LGBTQ+ people are living in and how to create healthy coping strategies is an essential step towards eliminating tobacco use in California. 

We Breathe is organizing a monthly social space for CTPP-funded projects to come together as LGBTQ+ advocates and allies to share space, discuss challenges, and celebrate victories big and small. This space is open to all projects every month. We will be hosting trainings and other opportunities for projects to learn how to engage the LGBTQ+ Community. The reality is that it is more dangerous for LGBTQ+ advocates to be speaking in public, engaging youth, and making our presence known even online. This is why we need our cisgender and straight allies to show up and be present.

Now more than ever, our communities need each of us to be prepared to fight together against anti-LGBTQ+ hate and bigotry. We need the support of all projects during these trying times to help us reach the Endgame for all LGBTQ+ Communities.

Join We Breathe at the monthly CTPP LGBTQ+ Advocates and Allies Space held every Third Tuesday of the month. Reach out to Ryan Oda (he/they) at roda@health-access.org for any questions!