The San Mateo County LGBTQ Commission, in conjunction with the San Mateo County Health Department’s Office of Public Health, Policy and Planning, released a wellness assessment of the county’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning residents earlier this year. It was the county’s first survey of its LGBTQ community members in more than 15 years.
In 2014, the Board of Supervisors established the commission to foster a supportive and welcoming environment for the county’s LGBTQ residents. At the time, there had not been any assessment of the San Mateo County LGBTQ community since 2001.
“What is clear from these surveys is that San Mateo County has done much to promote a welcoming and safe environment for the LGBTQ community,” said Supervisor Dave Pine, the board liaison for the commission, in a prepared statement. “That said, it is equally clear that much work remains to be done, particularly with our youth.”
The survey results, which included separate questions for adults and adolescents, reflected the participant’s strong desire for inclusion and visibility in their respective communities. Out of 479 respondents, 41 percent of adults surveyed thought that most people in San Mateo County are not accepting of LGBTQ people.
“We feel so underground that it is easy to assume that the larger community is uncomfortable or not accepting,” one respondent wrote. “I feel invisible here,” noted another.
Other questions focused on safety issues. While more than two out of three respondents reported feeling safe in their homes and at work, less than one out of three felt safe in senior housing, transitioning medical care or in the military.
The results also showed serious concerns among younger respondents. Eighty percent of the youth surveyed heard negative messages about being LGBTQ at school. In a similar vein, more than 90 percent of younger participants said they do not hear positive messages from leaders in their communities.
More than 75 percent of the youth surveyed reported that they had considered harming themselves in the last year.
“This is striking data that I think, if the community focuses in on, we can really turn around,” said Jenny Walter, a Half Moon Bay resident and member of the LGBTQ Commission. “Especially by focusing on the school climate. I know that there are school leaders who are already doing that.
“We can build on the strengths that we already have in the Coastside community,” she continued. “But to have a real, focused conversation with (community) leaders would be really, really useful.”
Walter said that the commission plans to leverage the survey results to organize a structured community conversation this spring.
That feedback will then be used to develop policy recommendations to the Board of Supervisors later this year.
“It’s not easy to reach everyone,” she said. “For that reason, we really want to have follow-up conversations to see if what we learned resonated with smaller groups of people. And, if it does resonate, what would (residents) like to see implemented, locally.”
For more information about the survey results, contact Tanya Beat at (650) 363-4467 or Jenny Walter at (650) 867-4337.