The long history of child development research tells us that, in order to thrive, all children must have their physical, social, emotional, and educational needs recognized and addressed. When children see themselves and their identities reflected in their schools’ curricula, are told they are explicitly protected by schools’ anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies, and are able to engage and participate in school activities—particularly those that actively affirm their identities—their academic achievement improves and their risk for negative outcomes, such as suicide or school drop-out, significantly decreases. Despite this research, over half of state legislatures are actively advancing policies to deny lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning students (LGBTQ+) access to the curricula, protections, and activities that affirm their identities and promote their ability to succeed.
Since the start of 2021, at least 32 state legislatures have proposed bills to authorize discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals. These bills range from denying children’s access to gender-affirming health care, requiring active parental permission for any discussion of LGBTQ+ topics or people in public school classes, and, in at least 21 states, restricting the participation of transgender students in school athletics. In a few notable cases, governors in North Dakota, Arkansas, and Arizona have vetoed such legislation. If enacted, however, these policies may exacerbate hostile, unsupportive, and inequitable climates for LGBTQ+ students.
The more that children and adolescents are made to feel that their identities are not accepted, the more they are at risk for abusing alcohol and other substances, engaging in risky sex behaviors, and contemplating or attempting suicide. On the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, high school students who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual were over three times more likely than straight-identified students to contemplate suicide (46.8% vs. 14.5%). Continuing to promulgate explicitly anti-LGBTQ+ policies will only place youth at further risk.
Instead, we must focus on ensuring that all children have the supports they need, including those who are LGBTQ+. Affirming children’s sexual and gender identities by using their chosen names and stated pronouns, providing equal access to school facilities and activities, and showcasing positive examples of LGBTQ+ individuals in curricula can significantly mitigate the disparate negative outcomes that LGBTQ+ children and adolescents face.
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