Anti-LGBTQIA+ Education Policies Put Students’ Health and Well-being at Risk
June 29, 2022
Pride month is supposed to be a celebration of identity and progress. This June, it’s a bit harder to focus on celebrating as we confront a flood of legislation seemingly aimed at erasing any progress the LGBTQIA community has made. A record number of over 300 pieces of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation have been filed this year alone.
These hundreds of bills, far too many of which are being ratified into law, are hundreds of steps backwards. Targeting especially transgender children, the legislation seeks to limit the rights of individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community. They limit vital healthcare coverage, such as the “Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act” in Arkansas and Ohio, or the “Vulnerable Child Protection Act” in Alabama and Florida that completely bans gender-affirming medical procedures for transgender youth. They restrict speech, such as the “Parental Rights in Education Act,” known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed in Florida; lookalike bills have been introduced in over a dozen states. This legislation seeks to silence conversations around sexual orientation and gender identity in Kindergarten through third grade classrooms. Other bills regulate student involvement in sports, like the “Save Women’s Sports Act” in South Carolina, Ohio and Oklahoma, which requires transgender youth play on teams of their gender assigned at birth. These bills, named with the air of protection despite clear homophobia, were created by a disconnected 73 percent male, 77 percent white and 98 percent straight congress to cut down the health and well-being of queer children.
These laws are not just political calculations for votes; they have an effect on our culture, particularly in our schools. It is no secret that students nationwide struggle with mental health. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that 21 percent of teens have experienced a major depressive episode and nine percent of children and adolescents experienced anxiety even before the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. Queer students face additional social and mental health challenges beyond these already distressing trends.
Historically, a lack of academic support leads queer students to truancy, disrupted education and generally feeling unsafe in schools because of their identity. Students in the LGBTQIA+ community are at a higher risk for bullying and a variety of chronic mental health challenges than their straight and cisgendered peers. These students are also sexually assaulted at higher rates than their peers, with 90 percent reporting being harassed or assaulted, compared to 62 percent of students who identify as straight, according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
All of this leads to chronic mental illness in the queer community. Data from The Trevor Project found that 45 percent of LGBTQIA+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year alone. This includes 59 percent of Black transgender and nonbinary youth, with more than one in four attempting suicide. The expansion of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation will only exacerbate this issue.
Sexuality and gender are intricate and fluid. The process of coming out to oneself and then the world is challenging and confusing. Students in the LGBTQIA+ community also have to face harassment and bullying from classmates — and, now, legislators too. When the core of who a person is, their identity, is silenced, there is an immeasurable loss.
Identity is inherently complicated. Respect does not need to be.