LGBTQ Nevadans find mental health solace in the outdoors amid rise in anti-LGBTQ policy
This story is the fourth installment of the KUNR series Mental Health in the Silver State.
On a cloudless and hot Saturday morning, a dozen hikers embark on a six-mile journey around the base of a mountain at Red Rock Canyon, about 20 minutes outside of Las Vegas. The group is part of LGBT Outdoors, and this is the Nevada chapter’s first organized hike.
Las Vegas resident Tim Heidorn said being outdoors helps him refocus.
“To know that all the things that I may be dealing with at work, or in my personal life, they’re so small,” Heidorn said. “Look at where we are, like, in nature, seeing how vast and wide it is, we are just a small drop in the bucket.”
Being in nature can reduce stress, improve your memory, and increase feelings of happiness, according to the Mayo Clinic. Heidorn doesn’t consider himself an avid hiker, but the invitation to join an organized hike was the motivation he needed.
“It’s awesome to find a safe space,” Heidorn said. “As members of the LGBT community, it’s hard to find that just in the world, and so when you can find that community in something that’s as simple as hiking, it’s really important.”
LGBT Outdoors started as an Instagram page in 2019. By 2021, founder and executive director Justin Yoder established it as a nonprofit in Texas. There are now local chapters in more than a dozen states. Yoder says if an LGBTQ person doesn’t have supportive family or friends, it can be difficult to find a community.
“A lot of times they turn to the gay bars. I’m not putting that down in any way, but if you are having a difficult time and you are around alcohol, potential drugs, it can be a slippery slope for some people,” Yoder said. “Whereas with LGBT Outdoors, we can provide a healthy place for them to get plugged into.”
LGBTQ individuals face mental health disparities
LGBTQ individuals are two and a half times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse compared to heterosexual cisgender people, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
Janet Glaittli, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Northern Nevada, said social stigma and lack of support contribute to mental health disparities for LGBTQ community members.
“Society puts these stigmas in place for what they don’t understand,” Glaittli said. “It results in our LGBTQ community members not seeking early intervention, which then leads to not getting treatment in a timely manner. They basically suffer in silence.”
Glaittli says it’s nearly impossible to address mental health by oneself, and if someone doesn’t get the care they need, the ramifications could be lethal.
Negative mental health outcomes and discrimination are being exacerbated by a record amount of legislation targeting the rights of LGBTQ people, particularly transgender individuals, according to a poll by The Trevor Project. The nonprofit is focused on suicide prevention efforts for LGBTQ youth. Casey Pick, the director of law and policy, said despite living in a red or blue state, the impacts are being felt far and wide.
“Whether it is anger, fear, sadness, or stress, that’s a lot of different ways of saying that our young people are hurting,” Pick said.
The ACLU is tracking roughly 500 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed across the U.S. in 2023. Pick said being visibly supportive of LGBTQ community members is one of the most helpful things you can do.
“I honestly love going to my doctor when I see that she’s wearing a lapel pin with a rainbow flag,” Pick said. “She’s never had to say a word to me, but I know that she has taken a stand to say that she cares about people like me.”
Northern Nevada HOPES offers physical and behavioral health care for people from marginalized communities, including LGBTQ patients. The clinic accepts patients insured with Medicaid and those without. This includes therapy, support groups, and gender-affirming care. Behavioral Health Coordinator Amanda Prina said creating a safe culture starts with who you hire, and being a safe space is a top priority.
“In order to have any type of healing take place within our emotional bodies or physical bodies, we have to first feel safe,” Prina said. “I’ve really just heard countless inspiring stories from patients about how sometimes they felt safe at HOPES for the first time in their life.”
For the love of the outdoors
LGBT Outdoors Nevada Ambassador and Las Vegas resident Chase Carter had to seek therapy due to the stress of the pandemic, the isolation of quarantine, and pressure from work. After an extremely bureaucratic process to find a therapist, he opted for one familiar with LGBTQ issues.
“I don’t think he was a member of the community, but I do know that he worked with other queer people. I didn’t necessarily need that, but I did find that to be a starting level of trust between us where I knew I felt comfortable and free of judgment,” Carter said.
Carter said something he took away from therapy is mind and body wellbeing, and leaning into his passions.
“I really love the outdoor space,” Carter said. “Not to be Pollyanna about it, but when you recognize that the sun is beautiful, recognize that in your heart. What better way to do that type of mindfulness then enjoying the incredible beauty of Nevada.”
Carter hopes LGBT Outdoors catches on in Northern Nevada, too.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. More resources can be found at Northern Nevada HOPES, The Trevor Project’s 24/7 hotline for LGBTQ Youth, NAMI Nevada, and LGBT Outdoors.