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Forced outing policies increase risks of major depression in LGBTQ+ youth

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States and school boards continue to debate and pass policies requiring school administrators to out LGBTQ+ students to their parents, and new research shows why doing so is a bad idea.

A study from the University of Connecticut found that a third of youth who were forcibly outed had a greater likelihood of experiencing major depression as well as low family support. Additionally, more than 65% of youth said being forcibly outed was “highly stressful.”

“For future research to examine the ways that families can protect or disrupt some of this stress could be really important,” study author Peter McCauley told CT Insider.

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Trans youth reported feeling the most amount of stress compared to cisgender gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth. The study also found that kids with parents who were well-educated in LGBTQ+ issues experienced less stress even after being forcibly outed.

“I think parents and caregivers who are very supportive should make that known,” McCauley said. “And I think once they make their support known that kid will pick up on that… that can really make the disclosure process much easier for a lot of kids.”

Data for the study came from the 2017 LGBTQ National Teen Survey by the Human Rights Campaign, which included more than 17,000 nationwide respondents ages 13 to 17.

“Students do in fact have a constitutional right to privacy,” said ACLU spokesperson Gillian Branstetter in the wake of the new study. “It’s not about subverting the parents’ will. It’s about protecting the young people who face very real, very great risks.”

McCauley also said that states with these policies may give non-LGBTQ+ students “a way to rationalize their prejudice or rationalize their harassment.”

“I’m really hoping that these findings can bring to light the real health consequences of these experiences,” McCauley continued. “And really drive home the message that this is a very intimate, important, and strategic process for many kids.”

New Haven Pride Center youth services coordinator Ta’LannaMonique Lawson-Dickerson pointed out, “We are asking a group of humans to do something we’re not asking another group of humans to do. We don’t ask people who are heterosexual to come out and let us know they’re hetero.”

The forced outing policies being debated today are almost exclusively focused on trans and nonbinary students. According to the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), five states — North Dakota, Iowa, Indiana, Alabama, and North Carolina — currently have laws requiring schools to forcibly out trans youth to their parents or legal guardians.

In North Carolina, for example, a “Don’t Say Gay” law both prohibits educators from acknowledging LGBTQ+ identities in kindergarten through fourth-grade classrooms and also requires educators at all grade levels to alert parents of any “changes” related to their child’s well-being and the school’s provision of safe, supportive learning environment. 

This means educators must out transgender students if they begin using pronouns or names other than those they were assigned at birth, potentially endangering the student’s well-being if they have unsupportive parents.

MAP said that six other states do not legally require forced outings but do promote the policies. Those states are Montana, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Kentucky, and Florida.

Forced outing laws typically require schools to alert parents if their children request to use a different name or pronoun in school than those associated with what they were assigned at birth. For trans kids, this means either hiding who they are all day every day or being forced to come out to their parents before they’re ready – something that can be especially problematic for kids who would be in unsafe situations if their parents knew they were trans.

LGBTQ+ advocates are vehemently fighting against these policies.

In October, for example, a California judge blocked a school district’s policy requiring teachers to out trans and nonbinary students to their parents without their consent after Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) filed a lawsuit against the district.

However, some schools are determined to continue endangering trans youth.

Just this week, a defiant conservative majority on the board of the Murrieta Valley Unified School District (MVUSD) voted to ignore an order from the state of California to rescind a discriminatory policy that requires teachers and school administrators in Riverside County to out any trans or nonbinary student that asks to be called by a name or pronoun different than the ones listed on their birth certificate.

The right-wing board members undertook the defiant vote despite a warning from the district’s law firm to board President Paul Diffley, who sponsored the outing rules. The law firm warned that “‘going ahead (with the policy) in such an environment’ could cost the district $500,000 in legal expenses.”

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat at The Trans Lifeline (1-877-565-8860) is staffed by trans people and will not contact law enforcement. The Trevor Project provides a safe, judgement-free place to talk for youth via chat, text (678-678), or phone (1-866-488-7386). Help is available at all three resources in English and Spanish.


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