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Health Experts, Parents, And Teachers Warn Bill Could Harm LGBTQ+ Mental Health

Source: Associated Press, WRAL

Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly are fast-tracking their first education bill of the 2023 session, Senate Bill 49. Opponents of the measure have warned it could adversely affect the mental health of LGBTQ+ students.

Senate Bill 49 is one of over 200 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been filed nationwide in the first month of the new year. And one of 35 bills introduced across 14 states to limit instruction about LGBTQ+ topics or require parents to be informed if their child chooses to change how they identify.

According to the Associated Press, the measure would “require schools to alert parents, in most circumstances, prior to a change in the name or pronouns used for their child. It would also prohibit instruction about gender identity and sexuality in K-4 public school classrooms…”

On Thursday, several mental health experts, parents, and teachers spoke before a Senate Health Committee and warned the bill could “jeopardize the mental health and physical safety of LGBTQ students who could be outed to their parents without consent.”

The proposal would require schools to alert parents in most circumstances if their child requested a change in their name or pronouns at school. 

During the committee, Chelsea Johnson, a licensed therapist who works with LGBTQ+ minors, pointed out that students can find safety in coming out to school professionals if they fear coming out to their parents. Johnson said, “The reason they are often using school professionals to assist them in this is because they feel physically, mentally or emotionally unsafe, or at risk of harm for coming out,” 

Dr. Sarah Wilson, an assistant professor at the Duke University School of Medicine, said “My professional opinion as a licensed clinical psychologist is that this bill will make our children less safe.”

Several medical professionals who provided public comments on the bill warned the measure could have a devastating impact on students’ mental health. 

Karen Ziegler, a retired psychiatric nurse practitioner, said, “I know you believe this is about parents’ rights, but really, it’s right along with those 234 trans bills that are being passed all over the country by a party that is targeting the most vulnerable people among us. Trans youth are eight times more likely to commit suicide than other youth. And suicide is already the third leading cause of death among adolescents.”

Johnson said, “Suppression doesn’t keep individuals from discovering who they are, but it does increase the likelihood for lifelong mental health challenges, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidality,”

The measure advanced through the Senate Health Committee Thursday and will next be considered by the Senate Rules Committee. 

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