First, all sexual orientations and gender identities should be affirmed. All major professional medical and mental health organizations in the United States recognize individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and queer as part of the spectrum of psychologically healthy identities.
Second, bills like House File 348, which prohibit educators from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity, are harmful to children, according to the Journal of Research on Adolescence. If this bill passes, research suggests that children in Iowa will experience increases in bullying, isolation and mental health problems as a result, according to the Archives of Medical Research. Supportive teachers and LGBTQ+ inclusive curricula are associated with less victimization and harassment of LGTBQ+ students by their peers, greater self-esteem, higher GPAs and fewer missed school days, according to the Journal of School Violence. Inclusive sex education programs improve feelings of safety at school and reduce negative mental health outcomes all students according to the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Iowa families are diverse, and children with LGBTQ+ family members should be supported and invited to discuss their families and identities at school. Tragically, youth suicide is at its highest level seen in over a decade; we cannot ignore that additional social stressors, such as bullying and lack of social support, are known to increase the risk of suicide, as Current Psychology and others have reported. Compared to cisgender and heterosexual individuals, LGBTQ+ students experience higher levels of mental health problems.
Often supporters of these bills claim a need to protect our youth. However, the research clearly shows that anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and social attitudes have been linked to increased stigma, discrimination, and negative mental and physical health outcomes for LGBTQ+ youth. Research from the Trevor Project, which collects data from 34,000 LGBTQ+ youth, shows that 45% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, but LGBTQ+ youth who found their school to be LGBTQ+ affirming and those who lived in inclusive communities reported fewer suicide attempts. Discriminatory legislation has a cumulative effect, leading to a general decline in the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ people, including depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, greater substance use, and increased social isolation and stigmatization.
Finally, bills like House File 348 are wrong for Iowa. They are hateful, discriminatory and divisive. Research indicates that living in areas with anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is associated with increased healthcare costs. Similar legislation passed in other states has discouraged business, tourism and movement into the state. For example, North Carolina’s passage of anti-transgender legislation has been estimated by many to cost the state between millions and up to billions in revenue. A 2022 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research found Iowa’s “brain drain” to be one of the worst in the United States. People are less likely to choose Iowa as home for their careers and families if these bills succeed.
Anti-LGBTQ+ policies are harmful to the health of Iowans and the health and prosperity of our state. We urge legislators to vote no on these bills to protect the mental health of our children and families.
These statements reflect the views of the undersigned and not their employers or affiliates: Nicole Taylor-Irwin, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, Clive; Sarah Fetter, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, Des Moines; Carolyn E. Cutrona, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Iowa State University; Warren H. Phillips, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, Ankeny; Nicole Holmberg, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, Des Moines; Corrine Schwarting, MS, psychologist in training, Iowa State University; Sierra Lauber, MS, Doctoral Candidate, Iowa State University; Angelica Castro Bueno, MS, Doctoral Candidate, Iowa State University; Valerie J. Keffala, Ph.D., ABPP, licensed psychologist, Iowa City; Nicole H. Keedy, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, Dubuque; Barry A. Schreier, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, Iowa City; Amanda Berns, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, North Liberty; Maya A. Irvin-Vitela, BA, Psychologist in Training, Iowa State University.
This article originally appeared on the Des Moines Register: Opinion: Research shows harms of not affirming LGBTQ+ identity