Say “Gay”: Why Legislation Should Protect Queer Students

by Jordan Sweet

In 2017, my oldest brother, thankfully unsuccessfully, attempted suicide. This devastating family event is what initially opened my eyes to the field of mental health. Furthermore, I realized and understood the desperate need for increased attention on an individual’s mental health. Thus began my journey into this vast field of study. Since then I have completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from UCF and I am currently enrolled in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate program at UCF. The ‘end goal’ that I had in mind at the time was to increase awareness so there would be less stigma around it. And while that is still my ultimate goal, I now see it through a slightly different lens. A rainbow-tinted one if you will.

More recently, this passion for mental health has evolved into rage and anger. This frustration of mine was sparked by the passing of HB 1557 (Don’t Say Gay Bill). “Critics of HB 1557 have said it could reverse progress and cause emotional harm to LGBTQ youth and create confusion for children around sexual and gender identities that can’t be discussed at school.” (“How Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Could lmpact LGBTQ Youth Mental Health”). Taking away the ability for individuals to openly express their sexual orientation or gender identity is like taking away the light inside a queer child. You are telling them that it is not okay to be who they want to be. You are telling them it is not okay to express themselves. We live in a world where there are children who are scared of using the restroom at their school because they might be subject to verbal or physical assault based on their sexual preference, identity, orientation, etc. Meanwhile, we have elected government officials who are more scared of children ‘turning gay’ if they even hear a whisper about their friend having two mommies. 

The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider committing suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempted suicide every 45 seconds. These statistics are absolutely mind-boggling to me. Read that last part one more time. Every 45 seconds. How many more LGBTQ people need to kill themselves? I’ll put this into layman’s terms for you. If you have something ‘on your chest,’ so to speak, and you are forbidden from the discussion on any related topic, it is bound to eat away at you. You cannot deny a queer child of living their queer existence without expecting them to retaliate in some way. With the passing of HB 1557, along with other numerous anti-LGBTQ legislation that has recently been passed, there is no doubt in my mind that suicide rates amongst the LGBTQ population will increase. That’s a sad reality that I don’t want to witness. 

LGBTQ children need to be protected from politicians just as much as the policies they are passing. These children are at an increased risk for suicide and depression and I refuse to sit around, doing nothing about it, while suicide attempts are happening every 45 seconds. As a future mental health counselor, I’ve made it my personal mission to increase advocacy for this population, and I will continue through my journey and studies to educate others.