Senator Bill 354: LGBTQ youth are at risk

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Indiana State Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, authored and prepared a now-proposed bill on Dec. 26, 2022, that would require Indiana Public Schools to notify parents if a student, “Changes, expresses a desire to change, or makes a request to change the student’s name, attire, or pronoun, title, or word to identify the student in a manner that is inconsistent with the student’s biological sex at birth.” 

According to Indiana Captial Chronicle, the bill would also require school staff to notify parents if a student expresses difficulty or conflicting feelings with gender identity. Senate Bill 354 is dangerous to students’ well-being and was proposed by someone with a known history of voting on anti-transgender bills according to BillTrack50. Furthermore, it highlights a potentially dark future for transgender and nonbinary youth.

The first issue with SB 354 is how it could be used essentially to “out” transgender and nonbinary youth to their parents. According to WebMD, the term “outing” means to reveal someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their, which can have detrimental effects on the person’s physical, mental or even financial well-being. Young LGBTQ+ people have a greater risk for suicide than their peers,” according to WebMD. “Transgender youths, specifically, are twice as likely to think about suicide or attempt it, compared to cisgender lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and questioning youths. Clearly, outing a student who is expressing a change in gender identity may harm that person.

Another issue with SB 354 is that it is being proposed by someone who has sponsored other bills targeting transgender and nonbinary youth. For example, Raatz sponsored a Senate bill titled, “Dignity and nondiscrimination in education,” according to the Indiana government website. Raatz sponsored this bill that would require that schools “shall not promote certain concepts as part of a course of instruction or in a curriculum or instructional program, or allow teachers or other employees to use supplemental learning materials to promote certain concepts regarding age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, mental or physical disability, religion, or national origin.” Now he proposes a bill that would make schools report transgender students to their parents. I find this disturbing and disgusting.

According to Indiana Captial Chronicle, Raatz turned down a request for an interview about the bill but said in a written statement that “parents should know if their child is struggling and shouldn’t be kept from the situation.” Raatz, and people who believe this idea, may think the child’s best interest is served by parents’ knowing about their child’s gender identity concerns, but this can actually work against the child. According to the Movement Advancement Project, transgender youth who come out and are not accepted are more likely to develop depression, suicidal behavior and other negative health outcomes. What is “best” for the parent may not be what is absolutely best for the child. Rather than focusing on the parent, the focus should be on the child, who is most affected by the consequences of coming out, whether voluntary or not. After all, it is the child’s identity, not the parent’s.

As a non-binary individual, I feel no one should have to come out if they do not want to. They should feel free to express themselves in spaces and situations where they feel safe. If I were not able to express my gender identity in school for fear of being outed, my mental health would have been in shambles. Notifying parents of something so sensitive and personal as gender identity is dangerous and an unnecessary measure. A school’s environment would become even more hostile to transgender students than it currently is, according to an NBC report. I believe that rather than forcing students to hide their gender identity, a bill should be passed in Indiana to increase resources for helping transgender students feel comfortable in their schools, such as using the GLSEN pronoun guide or referencing the Schools in Transition guide. 

Transgender students should not have to live in fear of the the next bill drafted or the next law passed that negatively impacts their lives. It has been proven time and time again that transgender youth who are accepted, or even have a safe space, are able to grow and flourish in their lives. I may not be a lawmaker, but I do know that, if I were an Indiana lawmaker, I would focus more on the current housing crisis than on outing students’ gender identity.

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