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Queer Youth Are Powerful, Diverse, and Engaged—but Struggling with Mental Health

Politically active and worried about policies that affect them, queer youth embrace civic participation but face distinct challenges.

Authors: Katie Hilton, Kelly Siegel-Stechler
Contributors: Alberto Medina, Peter de Guzman, Sam Searles


At A Glance: Major Findings

Large and Diverse Group

Queer youth made up 21% of our survey sample, and nearly half of them are young people of color.

Active and Engaged

Queer youth are more likely to participate in marches or protests, and to talk politics online.

Mental Health Struggles

Queer youth are significantly more likely than non-queer youth to feel alone or unsupported.

Queer youth (see below for our definition) make up a significant proportion of the youth voting block in the upcoming 2024 election. According to the Williams Institute, 15% of 18- to 24-year-olds and 9% of 25- to 34-year-olds are LGBT. In Gallup’s 2023 Gen-Z poll, 22% of gen Z (born 1997-2012) considered themselves LGBTQ+. In our most recent poll, out of 2,017 young people, 420 identified as queer in some way—about 21% of our sample.

In this analysis, we use data from that CIRCLE Pre-2024 Election Youth Survey to provide insights about queer youth's identities, views, and political engagement. Overall, we find that queer youth are diverse, issue-focused, Democratic-leaning voters that are politically engaged and hopeful they can effect change. However, they are disillusioned with the political system, feel disconnected from their communities, and are struggling with mental health challenges far more than non-queer youth.

How We Define Queer Youth

Throughout this analysis , we aim to use the term “queer” in the same way we outlined in our CIRCLE Growing Voters report (see link below), as an umbrella term to refer to young people who identified as asexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, pansexual, or another identity that is not heterosexual or straight. Because of the limits of survey wording, we define a respondent as queer when they meet at least one of three conditions: the person's sex at birth and gender identity don’t match, their gender identity is not man or woman, or their sexuality is anything other than heterosexual (straight).

We acknowledge that this descriptor is not one chosen by the individuals, and that queer is not a phrase wholly embraced by all individuals because of its historical pejorative use. The participants highlighted in this analysis may not identify with the word queer, and there may be participants in the survey who do identify as queer that we are unable to capture due to the constraints of the survey.

For more context on the word queer, please see the links below:

Queer Youth Are Numerous and Diverse

Of the queer youth in our survey, 48% identify as bisexual or pansexual, 23% as gay or lesbian, and 8% as asexual. The rest are a combination of undecided, “other,” or straight—which includes straight transgender individuals. In addition, 53% are women, 31% are men, and 16% selected “different identity.” These were the only three options included in the survey. 


Queer youth are not demonstrably different in their demographics from our nationally representative sample of all youth. They come from the same diversity of backgrounds, geographies, and experiences as all other youth. They have similar rates of college experience and live in urban/rural areas at the same rate. Queer youth are also just as racially diverse as non-queer youth, with 46% of queer youth being people of color, though there are  significantly more queer youth identifying as Latino than non-queer youth.

Queer Youth Are More Focused on Climate, Abortion, Racism

When asked to select the three issues that they are currently most concerned about, queer youth ranked cost of living, climate change, jobs that pay a living wage, and expanding access to abortion and reproductive health care as their top four  priorities. The most common concern, by far, was cost of living, which was chosen as a top-three issue by 50% of queer youth. 

In general, queer youth were much more likely to say they are concerned with access to abortion, climate change, and fighting racism than non-queer youth. They are much less likely to say they are concerned with securing the border and reducing the national debt.

We know that some of these issues affect queer youth differently than non-queer youth — particularly access to abortion. Bisexual women are three times as likely to have gotten an abortion compared to straight women, according to a study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Lesbian women are more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy compared to straight women, according to a study from the University of Utah. One in five trans people who get pregnant consider ending the pregnancy without the support of a clinic, according to one study from several reproductive health experts.

Queer youth’s higher concern about racism may be partially due to the intersecting challenges that can affect queer young people of color. The death of Nex Bennet, a trans high school student in Oklahoma, has brought attention to the challenges Native trans youth face in states that have passed restrictions against trans youth. Research from The Trevor Project shows that Native youth who are two-spirit or queer are consistently at the highest suicide risk, with 23% of Native queer youth attempting suicide in the past year. The Human Rights Campaign, in its 2024 Black LGBTQ report, found that 75% of Black queer youth have experienced racism within the queer community.

Moreover, a survey from the Center for American Progress in 2020 found that queer people of color are more likely than white queer people to encounter discrimination in various spaces like accessing healthcare and buying a home - leading queer people of color to avoid stores, restaurants, travel, and necessary services to avoid discrimination. About one in six (16%) queer people of color in the survey postponed having children to avoid discrimination, compared to 8% of white queer people.

Queer Youth Are Civically Engaged On and Offline

According to CIRCLE’s pre-2024 election poll, the majority of queer youth plan to vote in 2024, with 55% saying they are “extremely likely” to vote and 14% saying they are “fairly likely” to vote. Queer youth are also more likely to identify as Democrats: 53% compared to 34% of non-queer youth. Only 9% of queer youth (compared to 29% of straight youth) identify as Republicans. 

As opposed to being motivated by candidates or parties, queer youth tend to be issue-based voters. Fifty-nine percent of queer youth say that they vote to make a difference on issues that matter to them. In general, queer youth tend to not be inspired by candidates and feel disillusioned with the political system. They are more likely than non-queer youth to want to vote to fire politicians who are trying to harm their communities, and much less likely to say they are going to vote to support candidates they believe in.

Queer young people’s issue priorities, political views, and desire to engage in civic action may be strongly influenced by a political context that includes attacks against queer people and communities. This includes efforts to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court case that guarantees same-sex marriage, as well as  efforts to ban trans youth from bathrooms, sports, and other aspects of public life. These  may also be impacting queer youth’s wellbeing and their sense of belonging, which can be a critical aspect of civic engagement. In states where anti-LGBTQ bills have passed, hate crimes against queer folks have quadruped. Increased anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has also been linked to findings that queer youth may not feel safe or accepted at school or in their communities. At the same time, there is evidence that anti-LGBTQ legislation has led to a rise in activism and engagement in opposition to these policies, especially in online spaces.

On and offline, queer youth take action on issues they care about through various forms of civic engagement, including boycotting, signing petitions, attending demonstrations, and contacting elected officials. For all of these actions, our survey found that queer youth are more likely to engage in them than non-queer youth. While queer youth had relatively high levels of engagement across a wide range of measures, these multiple forms of engagement set them apart as highly engaged and willing to take action in ways that extended beyond voting and electoral engagement, including an interest in running for office.

As for online engagement, 15% of queer youth said they had used social media to post about elections, politics, or social views—compared to 9% of non-queer youth—in the 30-day period before responding to our survey.  In addition, 11% percent of queer youth said that they had created and posted content about social issues online (compared to 5% of non-queer youth). This may be the result of queer youth seeking community and like-minded peers online, especially those who live in areas where they are isolated from other queer people or may face discrimination and a lack of belonging.

It is also possible that high levels of engagement among queer youth may be driven by the belief in the power of their actions and optimism about their role in civic life. In general, queer youth tend to be hopeful about the future and believe in the power of their engagement, with 65% of them agreeing that  “as a group, young people have the power to change things in this country."

Queer Youth Are Facing Mental Health, Other Challenges

As mentioned above,  some queer youth are lacking a sense of community belonging. Only 33% of queer youth in our poll agreed with the statement: “I feel like I belong to this community,” compared to 48% of non-queer youth. In addition, nearly half (48%) of queer youth said they feel unsupported by those around them, such as friends and family, compared to 26% of non-queer youth. This lack of connection and support  is not due to lack of interest in their communities: 55% of queer youth say they would “volunteer at a community event or with a community organization” if given the opportunity and 57% say they would “attend a meeting where residents engage in a discussion about local issues “ if given the opportunity. 

Finally, many queer youth face mental health struggles and worry about the future. The majority of queer youth say they lack confidence, feel alone/lonely, and feel their life or choices are outside of their control. Compared to non-queer youth, queer youth are less likely to describe their financial situation as good and less hopeful that their financial situation will get better.

Queer young people are a large and potentially influential part of the youth electorate heading into the 2024 election. They also face unique challenges that must be understood and addressed to ensure they can fully engage in their communities and in democracy. This analysis, which provides a snapshot of issues they care about and how they currently show up to effect change, provides some insights into how to better support them. Because they are a racially and economically diverse group, a singular method of outreach will not work for all queer youth, but understanding their common threads as motivated, issue-based voters is important.

The mental health and community belonging challenges faced by queer youth are especially concerning, especially in a context in which their rights are being challenged. For example, the fact that queer youth civically engage at high rates online highlights the importance of healthy media ecosystems and access to broadband.  Moreover, queer youth want to be invested in their communities but often lack the familial or community support to do so. Building up political homes in a variety of spaces where young people can feel supported and take action together will allow them to show up more fully both online and in person.