Q&A: LGBTQ+ advocacy leader discusses queer mental health in Colorado
Steven Haden is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Colorado-based Envision:You.
As a mental health and social justice advocate, Steven focuses on the disproportionate burden behavioral health concerns have on marginalized communities, especially those that identify as LGBTQ+. At Envision:You, Steven leads a team committed to addressing the mental health and well-being of individuals from the queer community.
The organization is focused on promoting awareness and understanding around mental health to reduce stigma and increase access to care, while ensuring providers receive comprehensive training to meet the unique needs of LGBTQ+ folks. Steven received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, his Master of Business Administration from New York University, and his Master of Social Work degree from Simmons University.
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State of Reform: What does the month of Pride mean to you?
Steven Haden: “Around the world, Pride celebrations take a variety of forms, from parades to parties to protests and proms. Since the start of the modern LGBTQ+ liberation movement in the 1970s, hundreds of independent Pride events have sprung up in cities worldwide, each distinctly local and tied in some way to the foundational Stonewall Riots in June.
The first official Pride took place in New York City over 50 years ago in June of 1970, one year after the Stonewall riots, by a community angry over discrimination, stigma, and mistreatment by their government and police. Today, it is true that many who identify as LGBTQ+ can live authentically without much hassle or harassment, but that is not the case for so many in our community and often depends on where they live, the color of their skin, their gender identity or expression, their access to capital and other resources, their age, or a variety of other factors. As a white, cisgender gay man I recognize the privilege I have and the ability to access resources that allow me to celebrate Pride openly and without fear of harassment or violence.
I appreciate that politicians across the country march in Pride parades in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, but what Pride truly means to me is time and space set aside for queer people to be authentic in a world and in a country that in many ways does not want us to thrive, or in some cases, live. It is LGBTQ+ people of all ages, races, gender identities, sexual orientations, abilities, and socioeconomic backgrounds having the right to be seen, and accepted, and celebrated for exactly who they are. It is amplifying the voices of those in our community who are less heard.
It is defiance in the face of legislation popping up all over the country that tells trans people they are not worthy of affirming health care, which tells trans youth that they cannot participate in team activities, which criminalizes parents for supporting their queer kids, and that prohibits teachers and students from discussing legitimate and legal family structures and accurate and well-documented historical figures and events. As LGBTQ+ people, we have made a lot of progress, but have a way to go, and Pride as an act of resistance and protest is as necessary now as it was back in 1970.”
SOR: How would you assess the mental health of the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado?
SH: “Earlier this year, Envision:You released in partnership with OMNI Institute the results of our Colorado LGBTQ+ State of the State survey, which collected behavioral health, substance use, and social determinants of health data for nearly 600 LGBTQ+ Coloradans. Statistically significant statewide data on our community around these specific inequities did not exist, and the results confirmed what we suspected—the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado is experiencing much poorer mental health and associated outcomes than their cisgender and heterosexual peers.
We know that Colorado’s overall mental health outcomes are among the starkest in the country. LGBTQ+ youth are more than twice as likely to feel suicidal and 4 times as likely to attempt suicide. LGBTQ+ individuals in general are 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. A third of our community experience disordered eating. The list goes on and on. It is true that many in our community are incredibly resilient and strong, and we have wonderful relationships with state agencies and community partners who are committed to closing these inequities. While the present may seem bleak at times, Colorado’s future looks bright, and we are encouraged by the Behavioral Health Administration’s focus on health equity as a true north for their work under the leadership of Morgan Medlock, MD.”
SOR: How will Envision:You meet its goals this year?
SH: “Envision:You’s mission is to close gaps in behavioral health outcomes for LGBTQ+ individuals through co-created community programming, advocacy engagement, public awareness campaigns, and evidence-based training. Our Behavioral Health Provider Training Program continues to grow, offering mental health professionals across the United States opportunities to build affirming practices and environments for their LGBTQ+ patients.
We are currently developing 4 population-specific modules that will provide community-informed and evidence-based training on the specific needs and traumas of LGBTQ+ youth and seniors, LGBTQ+ communities of color, and trans and non-binary individuals. Finding Hope, a peer-support program for LGBTQ+ Coloradans living in rural and mountain communities, will be relaunching in the fall with a renewed statewide focus and deeper community organizational connections in non-urban areas of the state.
Our How to Have the Talk program, an anti-stigma campaign that encourages folks to initiate difficult conversations around mental health and substance abuse, recently partnered with One Colorado to create a Mental Health Action Toolkit, with specific action steps that individuals can take to advance mental health for loved ones in their lives and their communities at large. Our policy and advocacy efforts will continue in the next legislative session, and we are excited to have staff in person at 7 different Pride events across Colorado this summer, from Grand Junction to Pueblo to Colorado Springs, as well as many across the Denver metro area.”
SOR: How is your organization working with the BHA to improve access to and outcomes of mental health care services for underserved children and youth?
SH: “Envision:You Vice President Brad Barfield was recently named a Fellow in the inaugural cohort of the Equity-Grounded Leadership Program sponsored by the Behavioral Health Administration. As part of that fellowship, Brad and the other Fellows will be assisting the BHA in a community-informed effort to select members of the BHA Advisory Council and the identity-and region-specific workgroups that will focus on specific marginalized and underserved populations.
We are also delighted to be a recipient of a multi-year grant from the Office of Behavioral Health’s Prevention team for our Q is for Questioning program, which will launch in late summer. That program is a series of three interactive, educational workshops facilitated by a licensed mental health professional, a co-facilitator from the community with lived experience, and a member of the Envision:You team, designed to give parents, caregivers, and other trusted adults the tools, language, and resources they need to create affirming spaces for the LGBTQ+ youth in their lives. We know that even just one supportive trusted adult in a child’s life can be the difference between suffering in silence and navigating youth and adolescence with confidence and resilience, which is tied to better mental health outcomes.”
SOR: Which policies to come out of this year’s session do you support and what reforms are still needed for LGBTQ+ individuals in Colorado?
SH: “We are excited about three bills that have been signed recently by Governor Polis. The first is HB22-1267 that Envision:You helped draft in partnership with One Colorado. The legislation creates a $900,000 grant program to fund the development of culturally relevant and affirming training programs for health care providers. The grant program will be administered by Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment Office of Health Equity and interested nonprofits will be able to apply for funding to develop these training programs for priority populations they serve and know best, including LGBTQ individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, veterans, and those with complex behavioral health needs.
The second bill is SB22-181, which requires the newly formed Behavioral Health Administration to partner with the Department of Higher Education and training centers to develop paid behavioral health job shadowing and internship opportunities. It also builds a partnership between the BHA and the Department of Regulatory Agencies to increase workforce opportunities for unlicensed behavioral health care providers. All of this is in service of expanding and diversifying the existing behavioral health care workforce in Colorado.
A third bill that we are really thrilled about is HB22-1157, [which] requires the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to collect voluntary information from data sources including information concerning race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. Without this data, the health inequities that we know exist for marginalized populations are unable to be properly quantified, and without that quantification, there will not be sufficient funding to address those inequities or the required information with which to build effective programs and solutions to combat them.
We can celebrate the progress in Colorado, while also continuing to close important gaps. The behavioral health care workforce shortage continues to make accessing convenient, quality, and covered care an impossibility for many Coloradans, and for oppressed populations with marginalized identities and specific needs like the LGBTQ+ community, communities of color, refugees, youth, and seniors, the likelihood of finding an affirming provider that is sufficiently trained with those populations in mind is even lower.”
This interview was edited for clarity and length.