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Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Puts LGBTQIA+ Youth's Mental Health In Danger

Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

For the past while, it has felt a little bit like the world is somehow sliding back into a less tolerant age, even while marginalized people such as the LGBTQIA+ community are publicly accepted more than ever. And perhaps that’s the curse of living in a social media echo chamber, where confirmation bias is king. I certainly know that I surround myself with queer people and fellow allies because I believe in the diversity of gender and sexuality, and quickly prune any such people I find morally repugnant.

Maybe that’s why I was so horrified by recent news. In Florida, Rep. Joe Harding introduced the Parental Rights in Education bill, also known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which could open districts to potential lawsuits from parents who believe LGBTQIA+ discussions aren’t appropriate for their children. A proposed amendment to the bill, thankfully withdrawn, would have required schools to out students within six weeks of learning that they are queer.

Then, there exists Texas Gov. Greg Abbot’s call for “licensed professionals” and members of the general public to report the parents of transgender minors by virtue of only receiving gender-affirming medical care. Two U.S. politicians, proposing laws that would effectively declare open season and witch hunts on queer people across America.

The danger isn’t only in the despicable moral ramifications, though, but also in the ramifications that this will have on the mental health of the estimated 9 million young people in the U.S. who identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

The Mental Health Risks of the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

A recent survey conducted by the Trevor Project found that 42% of LGBTQIA+ youths seriously considered attempting suicide in 2021. This rises to 50% for transgender and gender-diverse children, who are between two and three times more likely to experience a lack of safety at school. The Trevor Project also estimates that at least one LGBTQIA+ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the U.S. They also found that, since many report multiple suicide attempts in a given year, “this estimate likely underrepresents the extent of how often LGBTQ youth attempt suicide in the U.S.”

These are stark figures that are often unreported alongside Rep. Joe Harding’s push for stricter control in schools, despite his repeated assurance that the bill is more about “empowering parents,” not prohibiting students from talking about LGBTQIA+ families. It is, he said, not about hate. It is about “creating boundaries at an early age of what is appropriate in our schools.”

But creating a culture of fear and silence around the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly in light of the withdrawn amendment, does not create a place where queer youth feel safe. Writing for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, pediatric psychologist Natasha L. Poulopoulos, Ph.D., said that children have an innate sense of their gender identity between the ages of 3 and 5, and that: “Gender exploration is a crucial aspect of development, and gender diverse children often feel alone, misunderstood or unsupported.”

She continues: “Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill will undoubtedly have detrimental psychological and physical impacts on children and their families. Many LGBTQ+ children live in nonaffirming environments, and this bill will perpetuate the idea that gender identity and/or sexual orientation are shameful and to be hidden. This will further marginalize LGBTQ+ children, which will have long-term psychological impacts into adolescence and adulthood.”

Conversely, LGBTQIA+ children who learn about queer issues at school are 23% less likely to attempt suicide.

But Rep. Joe Harding wants to take away the safety that young people find in gender-affirming environments, under the guise of empowering parents to be involved in conversations about their children’s sexual or gender identity — knowing that these children are perhaps growing up in unsupportive or toxic environments where they are either forced to hide their identity or face the danger of revealing it.

The bill has already passed in the Florida House and, if signed into law, goes into effect July 1.

It’s hard to know which is worse; Florida’s attempt to silence what they see as indoctrination of youth in schools, or Texas Gov. Greg Abbot’s call for members of the public to report the parents of transgender minors to state authorities if they are receiving gender-affirming medical care, which can involve hormone therapy or surgeries. This is child abuse, he said, effectively declaring a witch hunt for parents simply trying to deliver affirming and supportive medical care for their transgender children. This has been condemned by Frank C. Worrell, Ph.D., president of the American Psychological Association. He said:

“This ill-conceived directive … will put at-risk children at even higher risk of anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide. Gender-affirming care promotes the health and well-being of transgender youth and is provided by medical and mental health professionals, based on well-established scientific research. The peer-reviewed research suggests that transgender children and youth who are treated with affirmation and receive evidence-based treatments tend to see improvements in their psychological well-being.”

He goes on to say that asking licensed medical and mental health professionals to report parents who are trying to give their children evidence-based care would also violate patient confidentiality and professional ethics.

These two political opinions, taken together, serve to diminish the strides society has taken in the last decade toward a world where gender diversity and sexual orientation are celebrated, welcomed, and understood — a world where people can live as their authentic selves in relative safety. They risk the mental health of millions of Americans — not only the LGBTQIA+ youth growing up in a world that seeks to erase them but also the adults watching society take two steps forward and one step back.

The “Don’t Say Gay” Bill, along with Abbot’s call to report parents and the more than 170 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills already filed by conservative state legislators this year, make it clear to queer youth that some of society meet them not with love, but with hatred. 

What the LGBTQIA+ Community Says About Mental health

Facts and statistics are great but don’t take my word for it. These queer Mighty contributors speak directly on the threat to young queer people’s mental health.

Update: 3/4/22, 12:25 p.m. ET: Since the publication of this article, it has come to light that the Texas Department of Health and Human Services appears to have removed resources for LGBTQIA+ youths from its suicide prevention web page. The page contains a number of suicide prevention resources and crisis lines. On February 1, the page included the Trevor Project, the nonprofit providing suicide prevention support to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual youth. As reported by NBC, this was subsequently removed — the only crisis line to be removed from the list.

Lead photo by Immi Thrax via LGBTQIA+ Wiki. (CC-BY-SA)

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