The Noxious Psychological Effects of Anti-LGBTQ+ Legislative Bills Sweeping Across the US

The Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill will have a devastating effect on LGBTQ+ youth.

FROM OUR READERS

Just 3 months into 2022, 270 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced across the country, with the majority targeting children. One bill in particular—Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which is awaiting signature into law by the governor—will ban any classroom discussion regarding sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through 3rd grade, or in a manner that is “not age or developmentally appropriate.” It encourages parents to sue schools for any suspected violation. Even without finalization, bills like this have already increased psychological distress among youth, as two-thirds of LGBTQ+ youth report that recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender individuals have negatively impacted their mental health.1 This is only the beginning.

LGBTQ+ youth do not possess a predisposition for suicidality because of their identity or sexual orientation. Rather, their experiences of marginalization, discrimination, and peer and family rejection serve as significant factors for increased suicidality and mental health symptomatology—which is the epitome of minority stress theory.2 The Trevor Project estimates that 1 LGBTQ+ young person attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the United States. This past year, up to 50% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered suicide; transgender and gender-diverse youth are also 2 to 3 times more likely than their cisgender peers to experience discrimination and a lack of safety at school.1,3

Children begin to have an innate sense of their gender identity between ages 3 and 5, which coincides with when the bill proposes to ban discussions about gender identity. Child exploration of gender identity is healthy and part of normal development during primary school. This bill has no foundation in the understanding of child development and contradicts recommendations by the American Psychological Association for school environments to be open and affirming toward LGBTQ+ youth.4 Such affirming school environments can decrease negative mental health and substance abuse risks for LGBTQ+ youth, as those who learn about LGBTQ+ issues are 23% less likely to attempt suicide.1 Affirming space for the spectrum of gender identity and sexual orientation is suicide prevention.

The bill will also impact families and parents, based on the damaging rhetoric used by political figures in Florida that has implied LGBTQ+ people are “groomers” and that “gay is not a permanent thing.” The harmful intentions of bigoted transphobia and homophobia are clear. In order to truly improve outcomes for youth, state governments must trust scientific and professional organizations dedicated to the emotional and physical well-being of children (eg, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics) and eradicate bills attacking LGBTQ+ youth. Children do best when the adults in their lives show them that they are loved and accepted for who they are. The ability for children to share who they are is the first step, and this bill strips them of that opportunity. If we want to let kids be kids, we must create safe, affirming spaces for all children, particularly at school.5

Dr Poulopoulos is a pediatric psychologist at a children’s hospital in Miami. She teaches seminars and trainings regarding gender and sexual diversity and an affirming care approach within hospital systems across multiple medical departments. Dr Poulopoulos is a member of the Society of Pediatric Psychology and has coauthored several peer-reviewed publications and presentations.

References

1. The Trevor Project. National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2021. Accessed March 22, 2022. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2021/

2. Meyer IH. Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay and bisexual populations: conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychol Bull. 2003;129(5):674-697.

3. Kosciw JG, Greytak EA, Zongrone AD, et al. The 2017 national school climate survey: the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation's schools. GLSEN. 2018. Accessed March 22, 2022. https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2019-10/GLSEN-2017-National-School-Climate-Survey-NSCS-Full-Report.pdf

4. Worrell FC. APA president condemns Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. American Psychological Association. March 9, 2022. Accessed March 22, 2022. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2022/03/florida-dont-say-gay

5. Toomey R, Olson KR, Fish JN, et al. Gender-affirming policies support transgender and gender diverse youth’s health. Society for Research in Child Development. 2022:1-3. https://www.srcd.org/research/gender-affirming-policies-support-transgender-and-gender-diverse-youths-health