Experts warn NC bill could harm LGBTQ youth mental health

By HANNAH SCHOENBAUM – Associated Press/Report for America

RALEIGH, NC (AP) — Critics of a North Carolina bill tabled Thursday in the state Senate say it could endanger the mental health and physical safety of LGBTQ students, who could be outed without their parents’ consent.

Promoted by the sponsors to give parents greater control over their children’s education and health care, the bill would require schools to warn parents about changing the name or pronouns used for their child in most cases. It would also ban teaching about gender identity and sexuality in K-4 public school classrooms, except for “student-initiated questions.”

Several mental health experts, parents and teachers told the Senate Health Committee that the bill would force teachers to betray their students’ trust and could create life-threatening situations for children without acknowledging the home environment.

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“My professional opinion as a licensed clinical psychologist is that this bill will make our children less safe,” said Dr. Sarah Wilson, assistant professor at Duke University School of Medicine. She said schools are no longer safe places for children to explore their identities.

The proposal went through committee on Thursday and now goes to the Senate Rules Committee. It is one of 35 bills introduced in 14 states aimed at restricting teaching about LGBTQ issues or alerting parents to changes in their child’s identification.

Chelsea Johnson, a North Carolina therapist who works with transgender and gender-nonconforming youth ages 9 to 18, said students and teachers may feel they need to censor themselves when talking about their families or identities , which could lead to confusion, shame, and psychological distress.

“Oppression doesn’t stop people from figuring out who they are, but it does increase the likelihood of lifelong mental health problems like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidality,” Johnson said, noting that she’s seen more than 40 cases of it in her career .

One of the main reasons students confide in a school professional, she said, is because they feel physically, mentally or emotionally insecure or at risk of harm if they come out at home.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican, dismissed claims that doing so would prevent students with LGBTQ parents from speaking about their families, saying certain safeguards were included to prevent harm.

The proposal includes an exemption from disclosing school records to parents if there is reason to believe that disclosure would lead to the child being abused or neglected.

Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that brings journalists into local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

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