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Graduate Defense: Ollie Shannon

May 6 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm MDT

Thesis Information

Title: Queer Lives in Idaho and the Surrounding Region: Impacts of Anti-Discrimination Laws, High School Environment, and the COVID-19 Pandemic on Mental Health

Program: Master of Arts in Anthropology

Advisor: Dr. Kristin Snopkowski, Anthropology

Committee Members: Dr. Shelly Volsche, Anthropology, and Dr. John Ziker, Anthropology


The experiences of queer people in the Intermountain-West are under-documented by the scientific community. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It was responsible for more than 47,500 deaths in 2019. Members of the Queer community have higher rates of suicidal ideation and attempts than the general population. Theoretically, we may predict that people experience negative mental health outcomes under situations of reduced social contact and support or during periods of exclusion by conspecifics. My research explores mental health in the Queer community utilizing data collected in on online survey during the COVID-19 pandemic. With a sample size of 147 participants, this study examines whether rates of suicidal ideation and behavior are influenced by a person’s high school experience, specifically whether they experienced positive curriculum related to queer identities or if they have supportive teachers, their protection under the law, and the impact of COVID-19, particularly related to a lack of pride festivals. Analysis found that mental health declined during the pandemic, and when sexual and gender identity are included in anti-discrimination laws queer people’s mental health improves. These findings are supported in the high school environment as well, people who heard anti-queer slurs almost every day were 5 times more likely to have engaged in suicidal behaviors. Access to a supportive community improves mental health and suggests that the adaptive use of technology to create social connections in novel ways may be key to thriving during times of cultural change and unpredictability.