A panel of young people discussed their experiences growing up as LGBTQ+ individuals at the City Club of Cleveland today, during a time when state legislatures are increasingly creating legislation they say targets LGBTQ+ youth.
In Ohio, as in other states, there are a number of laws under consideration in the Ohio Legislature that impact LGBTQ+ youth. House Bill 454, for example, would prohibit gender-affirming health care for youth under the age of 18 – care that is recommended for transgender youth by the American Academy of Pediatricians, among other national healthcare advocacy organizations.
Meanwhile, the State Board of Education is set to vote on a resolution Wednesday that rails against proposed Title IX regulations from the Biden administration that would extend protections to LGBTQ+ students.
Dan Rice, a transgender man who is an undergraduate student at Baldwin Wallace University, and trans youth ambassador for the Alabama chapter of the Human Rights Campaign, said during the panel that he was suicidal for much of his youth. He called the gender-affirming health care he received “lifesaving.”
“It wasn’t until I was able to be accepted by the people that I love, and get the care that I need, that I have, since receiving that care, have not for one day considered suicide at all,” he said.
Forum moderator Ken Schneck, the editor of the Buckeye Flame and a freelance contributor to Ideastream Public Media, said studies show LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. But when given access to “LGBTQ+ affirming spaces,” they reported fewer suicide attempts, Schneck said, citing research from the Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on LGBTQ+ suicide prevention efforts.
Alex Carbone, a genderfluid teen who uses “they/them” pronouns and is a senior at Hudson High School, said they worry about younger students who might have to navigate growing up LGBTQ+ under restrictive new state laws. Emma Curd, a senior at Hoover High School who was also on the panel, said she agreed.
Specifically, she was most worried about House Bill 616, which mirrors Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and prohibits schools from teaching about so-called “divisive concepts” around race, sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I’m just scared for our younger generations and people that still have to go through this whole high school, elementary school situation,” she said.
Amanda Erickson, education and training manager for Kaleidoscope Youth Center, a Columbus-based nonprofit devoted to supporting LGBTQ+ youth, said House Bill 616 doesn’t specifically identify what some of these “divisive concepts” are.
“It’s really kind of this bill that’s about controlling what we’re teaching students in our classrooms to fit a very, very specific mold of what a minority of folks would want to be taught in public schools,” she said.
Rice said LGBTQ+ identities need to be included in school curriculum.
“I did not learn of the term transgender until I was in seventh grade, even though that was what my experience was,” Rice said. “And I felt so incredibly alone. And when you don’t see yourself represented, you feel like either you don’t exist or you shouldn’t exist.”
Schneck noted at least two bills – including House Bill 722, called the “Parents Bill of Rights” – have language that would require teachers to “out” students to their parents, which can have harmful repercussions for students when parents are not supportive of their identity.
In terms of how to support LGBTQ+ students, the panelists said the main thing people can do is put in the effort to get to know them, and learn about their identities.
“We will help you, we will go along with you,” Curd said. “We will learn with you, essentially.”
The City Club panel was held in partnership with Honesty for Ohio Education, a nonpartisan Ohio coalition that opposes efforts to “restrict and censor education around the history and legacy of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism and other forms of discrimination.”
Corrected: October 8, 2022 at 12:30 PM EDT