By HANNAH SCHOENBAUM Associated Press/Report for America
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Critics of a North Carolina bill that advanced Thursday in the state Senate say it could jeopardize the mental health and physical safety of LGBTQ students who could be outed to their parents without consent.
Promoted by the sponsors as a means of granting parents greater control over their children’s education and health care, the bill 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, with an exception for “student-initiated questions.”
Several mental health experts, parents and teachers told the Senate health care committee that the bill would force teachers to violate the trust of their students and could create life-threatening situations for children without affirming home environments.
“My professional opinion as a licensed clinical psychologist is that this bill will make our children less safe,” said Dr. Sarah Wilson, an assistant professor at the Duke University School of Medicine. She said schools would no longer be safe places for children to explore their identities.
The proposal advanced through the committee Thursday and now heads to the Senate rules committee. It’s one of 35 bills introduced across 14 states that seeks to limit instruction about LGBTQ topics or alert parents of changes in how their child identifies.
Chelsea Johnson, a North Carolina therapist who works with transgender and gender-nonconforming youths, ages 9-18, said students and teachers could feel like they have to censor themselves when talking about their families or identities, which could cause confusion, shame and psychological distress.
“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,” Johnson said, noting that she has seen more than 40 cases of this in her career.
One of the main reasons students confide in a school professional, she said, is because they feel physically, mentally or emotionally unsafe or at risk of harm for coming out at home.
Bill sponsor Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican, refuted claims that it would stop students with LGBTQ parents from talking about their families and said certain safeguards are included to prevent harm.
The proposal includes an exception to sharing school records with parents if there’s reason to believe the disclosure would cause the child to be 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 places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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