“We’re really talking about saving these kids’ lives,” said Rep. Sharice Davids, who introduced the bill.
Nationwide, conservatives have spent the past year attacking LGBTQ+ communities through legislation like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It’s exhausting enough to see these bills as a grown adult, but imagine being a child or teenager during this time. In response to what’s now an acutely growing crisis, progressive lawmakers are introducing a new bill to address LGBTQ+ mental health.
On Wednesday, Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, introduced the Pride in Mental Health Act. The act has been endorsed by The Trevor Project, Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, and GLSEN.
Ultimately, the legislation seeks to amend existing child abuse laws to include LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit youth and their families. Among the new provisions would be a measure on how agencies at all levels can better identify youth who are either experiencing or at risk of child abuse or neglect due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
This bill coming from Davids is no surprise. In 2018, Davids made political history with her election, when she became the first openly LGBTQ+ person and the first Native American woman elected to Congress from Kansas.
“Mental health is a growing concern for families and communities across the country, and frankly, we are failing many of our most vulnerable children on this issue. When we talk about improving mental health, we’re really talking about saving these kids’ lives,” Davids said in a statement. “This bill takes a comprehensive and data-driven approach to tackling the mental health crisis among youth in the LGBTQ+ community.”
The bill’s introduction comes only a month after a CDC report found that nearly half of LGBTQ+ teens said they considered committing suicide during the first half of 2021, compared to just 14% of their peers. But thanks to rampant homophobia, transphobia, and other factors, LGBTQ+ youth have faced a mental health crisis long before the pandemic.
Additional studies from organizations like The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention group for LGBTQ+ youth, have found that LGBTQ+ young people face elevated rates of mental health challenges like major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. In 2019, The Trevor Project released its national survey on the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth that included over 34,000 respondents. The survey found 39% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months. For transgender and non-binary youth specifically, that number rose to more than half.
“LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system and among youth that are unstably housed, but the absence of sexual orientation and gender identity measures in data collection makes it challenging to assess the full scope of vulnerabilities and needs of LGBTQ youth including for mental health support,” David Stacy, the government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.
He added: “The Pride in Mental Health Act takes several important steps to address these inequities such as ensuring inclusion of LGBTQ+ youth in research programs and data collection as well as funding training for personnel who work with LGBTQ+ youth.”