From The Desk Of...

Gaining Ground's Staff Blog

Anti-LGBTQ+ Laws and Mental Health

Contributors: All Staff

May 10th, 2022

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Not Just Florida. More than a dozen states propose 'Don't Say Gay' Bills

Adrianna Beck, MHC Desantis and Florida have created an environment crafted for the comfort of the closed minded. By signing into law that restricts what kids can learn, it also restricts how they are allowed to express themselves. Looking into the Desantis restrictions I came upon a moment of protest. A group of teachers who came together and drafted a letter to the parents of their students. In this letter they addressed the bill and stated they would follow this bill to the best of their abilities. Pronouns, gender, and sexuality are the forefront of what is not allowed to be addressed in Florida schools. Thus, the teachers stated all books that have gendered pronouns would be removed from the classroom. All discussion of moms and dads would also cease ,considering that words like mom and dad are gendered and would go against this bill. They stated that any discussion that would insinuate gender or sexuality would not be tolerated whether is is heteronormative or otherwise. They are following the rules. However, the parents were upset. But why? Is this not what they were seeking? This is why this bill fails. It is not only because it is sexist, homophobic, and unhealthy. It is flawed in its own rhetoric. We don’t want to acknowledge gender unless it is fitting with our christian beliefs and conservative values. Comfort for the closed minded. We don’t want our children to learn unless it is what we want them to learn. Comfort for the closed minded. We don’t want to expand our beliefs to include everyone because we are good christian people. Comfort for the closed minded. As someone who speaks with my clients about the struggle of understanding their own seuxality well into their 30’s I would say that learning about it at a young age would be beneficial. Finding yourself later in life is so much harder than having support in exploring it while still young. Sexuality is not a construct, the government is. So thus constructs can evolve whereas sexuality is who we are fundamentally. I do believe that at one time wise men told us to keep the agenda of church and state separate. This is one of those moments where that should have been upheld. Children who need a space to explore their sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation should be granted that within our education system. We have taught lies in our classrooms for too long, now is the time to tell our kids some truth. Queerness exists, Gender is a spectrum, and it is ok to express who you are. We should teach to expand the mind and learn from our pasts. But Desantis wants to teach to close the mind and repeat our pasts. If we do not learn from the past we will be doomed to repeat it. So we shall be doomed.

Meaghan Confer, MHC This past week, guidelines were issued by the Florida Department of Health, as approved by Governor Ron DeSantis, recommending that transgender people under the age of 18 should not have gender-affirming treatment. Not having gender-affirming treatment means not offering surgery, prescription of hormone therapy or puberty blockers, and not recommending social transitions such as name or pronoun changes. These guidelines are one of several recent movements against the LGBTQ+ community, including the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prevents public school teachers in Florida from teaching students about sexual orientation or gender identity. These recent updates are shocking, hurtful, and pose a significant threat to LGBTQ+ youth. Major organizations including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, all support how crucial gender-affirming care is for improving the mental health and well-being of transgender and nonbinary youth. This makes sense, as we understand gender dysphoria describes the stress a person feels when their gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. So, offering options to allow youths' appearances to correspond with how they identify is crucial in alleviating this stress and supporting their mental health. Without these treatments, we are invalidating the identities of youth, who are at greater risk for mental health concerns and suicide. This will likely increase the risk of mental health issues and suicides in LGBTQ+ youth. According to The Trevor Project, national suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ youth, 42% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth considering suicide (The Trevor Project, 2021). The Trevor Project research also shows that offering gender-affirming treatments to youth lowers rates of transgender and non-binary youth attempting suicide (The Trevor Project, 2021). These treatments include medical treatments, being able to change legal documents to reflect their identity, and having their pronouns respected by others. These recent actions in Florida are eliminating gender-affirming spaces and preventing youth from having the opportunity to learn about and safely explore their identities. This also makes gender and sexual identities a taboo topic when this is actually an integral part of every person's life. Everyone deserves to be their authentic self and be accepted for who they are. Everyone deserves the right to make informed choices about their medical care, their appearance/expression, and how they identify. There is absolutely no reason why anyone should be denied these rights. Given these facts, it is more important than ever to create affirming spaces for members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially youth. Here are some tips for creating a gender-affirming space: Share your pronouns- When we all share our pronouns, it normalizes and creates a safe space for others to share their pronouns. This also increases the likelihood of using the correct pronouns when addressing others, which is crucial for helping people feel safe and affirmed. You can even put your pronouns in your Zoom display name, Instagram bio, or email signature to normalize this when communicating with others virtually. Use gender-inclusive language- In the United States, gendered language is deeply embedded in our everyday vocabulary. Using gender-inclusive terms instead can look like saying “ hey friends” instead of “hey guys” or saying “everyone” instead of ladies and gentlemen. This breaks up the gender binary these terms endorse to be more inclusive of those who are non-binary. Interrupt harmful language/behavior or microaggressions against the LGBTQ + community- Part of being an ally is to interrupt behavior or statements that target the LGBTQ+ community. Doing so shows that this behavior is unacceptable and supports the person who is being targeted. However, we should always be careful about calling out harmful language or behavior if a person is not out about their identity. For instance, if someone misgenders a person who is not out, we only want to correct pronouns with the consent of that person, which should be a private conversation first with the person. Share your support and ask what the person needs to feel safe and supported- Simply sharing with others that we accept them and are here for them is a great way to show support. Asking what a person needs to feel safe and supported, practicing active listening, and assisting them with the support they request, allows each person to make informed choices about what they need, and shows them you care. If you are interested in learning more about being an ally to transgender and non-binary youth, check out this guide created by The Trevor Project: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Guide-to-Being-an-Ally-to-Transgender-and-Nonbinary-Youth.pdf References The Trevor Project. (2021). 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. West Hollywood, California: The Trevor Project.

Nadi Sawinski, MHC May I begin this by sharing that I am heartbroken. I am torn between speaking with love for those who have been so heavily impacted by recent changes in law, and speaking with disgrace towards those who have voted for and signed these laws. I find myself feeling blocked in expressing, or effectively communicating, just how much the darkness in American culture is destroying, cruelly mocking, and ultimately killing our youth. Trans, and other gender non-conforming people, have existed since the beginning of time, yet contemporary U.S. aims to categorize and/or eliminate anyone who identifies beyond the binary. Particularly since 2021, our society has picked up the pace in criminalizing the systems in place which protect and create safe spaces for youth who are navigating life after being assigned the incorrect gender at birth. As someone who profoundly cares about the well-being of our nation’s future and the individual lives of the millions of children who are being impacted by these laws, I would like to be clear: your queer kids will be queer regardless of whether or not you let them talk about it. Furthermore, not talking about it is what casts your queer child aside, creating confused and negative beliefs about who they are, causing them to not only question, but to receive confirmation that they have no right to safely exist in their most true and natural self. I believe your biggest fear should not be who they love, how they love, who they are, and how they express their true self, but rather it should be that they may never reach adulthood. The “don’t say gay” bill, which bans discussion of LGBTQ topics in classrooms through grade 3, deems such self-discovery as “not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” for grades 4-12, with the exception of cis-heterosexuality, which is exclusively taught instead. If you have ever supported a child watching Cinderella kiss Prince Charming, but would stand in the way of a child watching Prince Charming kiss another man, I must say: you don’t care about protecting your children from learning about sexuality at too young of an age, but actually care about keeping LGBTQ material from them so you can avoid your own discomfort around this topic. If you cared about protecting your children, you would know that the most predictive factor of whether or not an LGBTQ kid will become suicidal is whether or not they have supportive parents. In 2021, 94% of LGBTQ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health and 42% seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year (Paley, National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2021). The rate of attempted suicide was cut in half for transgender and nonbinary youth who reportedly had their pronouns respected by all those with whom they lived compared to those children who did not have their pronouns respected by anyone in their home. What I believe: You are not your body. To identify as what has been assigned to you is perhaps convenient, and possibly even an outright denial of your spirit’s identity. Have you considered the energy that resides within your body? Minding the lingo you use (spirit, light, the highest self, whatever goes to the heavenly paradise my origin family imagines exists after our deaths, etc.), you are the essence of loving-kindness and compassion. I encourage you to tap into your own intrinsic nature. I do not believe an essence has a singular gender, but is rather beyond the binary. This subtle divinity flows within and without your body, which you can use to express and share love in whatever way feels most true and right for you. I do not believe creating laws that prevent children from learning how to love, respect, and take care of their own bodies is protecting them, but rather teaching them to hate who they are, unsure of how to show up in a world that refuses to see them for who they truly are. Legislative tracker: https://freedomforallamericans.org/legislative-tracker/anti-transgender-legislation/ The Trevor Project: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2021/?section=Introduction