The recent wave of anti-queer legislation in Florida is deeply concerning and threatens the health and wellbeing of queer youth and young adults.
Florida’s legislature is becoming less and less subtle about its distaste for queer kids. The recent “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the ban on gender-affirming medications for transgender youth, and the potential upcoming ban on gender studies and related majors in Florida colleges pose a significant threat to the well-being of queer youth and young adults in our state. These bills reflect a dangerous disregard for the mental health of the queer community and perpetuate harmful stereotypes and biases that further marginalize them.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prohibits teachers from discussing homosexuality in the classroom, creates a hostile environment for queer students by silencing their experiences and identities. This bill sends a message that being gay is something shameful and not to be talked about, which can lead to feelings of isolation and shame for queer students.
Similarly, the upcoming ban on gender studies and related majors in Florida colleges will limit the opportunities for queer students to study and learn about their own identities and experiences, which can be incredibly damaging to their sense of self-worth and mental health.
In addition, Florida has now implemented a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth under the age of 18, which went into effect recently. This ban prohibits healthcare providers from prescribing puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and other gender-affirming treatments to minors. This restriction is incredibly harmful to transgender youth and their families, as it denies them access to critical medical care and puts their mental health and wellbeing at risk.
Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics has shown that gender-affirming care is a crucial component of the mental health and wellbeing of transgender youth, as it can significantly reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. By denying access to gender-affirming care, Florida’s legislature is effectively denying transgender youth the right to live authentically and the opportunity to thrive.
Because of the growing pressure facing queer youth in this country, and my own experience as a queer adolescent growing up in Florida, I took it upon myself to investigate the coming-out experience for myself. As part of my senior thesis project with Dr. Alice Davidson, Ph.D., who holds her doctorate in human development and family studies from The Pennsylvania State University, two research studies were conducted, analyzing the coming-out experiences of LGBT+ youth to their parents. The first study collected 46 coming-out stories from young adults across the country who came out to their parents as children. The second study had multiple goals: 1) To create a quantitative scale for determining an adolescent’s parent’s reaction to the adolescent’s identity disclosure, and 2) to determine relationships between a parent’s reaction and the child’s rates of anxiety and depression at the time of coming out. To investigate these goals, we created a brief survey and distributed it to queer people who came out to their parents as children from across the U.S. using Prolific.com.
After analyzing responses from over 200 respondents to the second study, the numbers yielded definitive results: there is a significant correlation between an LGBT+ child’s mental health and their parents’ reactions to their coming out. Put simply, when queer kids do not feel accepted, their rates of anxiety and depression go up. Conversely, when a child is shown acceptance from their caregivers, anxiety and depression rates plummet. Acceptance is the key to the wellbeing of these kids.
The chain of events is clear: without acceptance comes depression, and from depression comes suicide among a group of youth whose rates of suicide are already higher than the national average. The Florida legislature knows this, and is doing everything in their power to drive these children to the edge. They’re taking away their opportunities to talk about their experiences with peers in class, they’re taking away their healthcare, and soon they’ll even take away relevant courses in upper education.
It is crucial to recognize the harmful impact of these bills and the importance of providing a safe and inclusive environment for all students. This includes allowing queer students to speak openly about their experiences and identities and providing them with opportunities to learn about themselves and their history. Additionally, parents and families must be supportive of their queer children to ensure their mental and emotional well-being. By supporting and uplifting the queer community, we can work towards creating a more just and equitable society for all.
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