Expert: Policies that target LGBTQ+ students harm development
Barring schools from teaching about gender identity or sexual orientation will likely increase risky behaviors among students in the LGBTQ+ community, says one child development expert.
Further harm could be done by restrictions targetted transgender athletes and bans on gender-affirming health care, says Deborah Temkin, the vice president for youth development and education research at Child Trends.
“All children need to see themselves reflected in the curriculum in order to feel affirmed and this is true regardless of whether we’re talking about sexual orientation, gender identity, race, or even when kids have quirky interests,” Temkin says. “Children want to understand they have a place in this world.”
This year, lawmakers in 32 states have proposed laws that would restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals.
These bills range from denying gender-affirming health care for children to requiring parental consent for classroom discussions of LGBTQ+ to restricting the participation of transgender students in school sports.
In some cases, governors have vetoed these bills.
These bills may be a pre-emptive strike of sorts. Lawmakers may be expecting the Biden Administration to review Title IX school discrimination regulation in the wake of a 2020 Supreme Court ruling, Bostock v. Clayton County, that protects gay or transgender employees from discrimination under Title VII.
A Trump Administration finding that Bostock did not apply to schools has been rescinded by the Biden Administration, which may soon clarify Title IX protections for gay or transgender students.
“When officials put in place policies that officially say you are not allowed to talk about something you identify with, it can be a real threat to self,” Temkin says. “When students are not affirmed, high-risk behaviors increase.”
Those behaviors include substance abuse and suicidal thinking, both of which students in the LGQTQ+ students are already at a higher risk.
Even in schools that are prohibited from teaching about LGQTQ+ topics, educators can affirm students’ identities by using their chosen names and pronouns, and allowing them to form pride alliances and similar groups, Temkin says.
Administrators can also work to extend awareness in their districts that affirming child’s identity is paramount to their development, she says.
“Children can know they are gay or transgender from a very early age but a lot of folks don’t think we should be talking about that,” Temkin says. “If we demonstrate, from a very early age, that being gay is OK, children are much more likely to be comfortable with their identity and talk about challenges they’re facing.”