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Group’s CEO: Indiana measure will make school harder for LGBTQ youths

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — There is concern from leaders of the Indiana Youth Group that House Bill 1608 will make school more difficult for youths questioning their sexuality or youths from LGBTQ households no matter the grade they are in.

“And that’s just telling these youth that they’re ‘less than’ and we can’t even talk about them or their families,” said Chris Paulsen, the Indianapolis-based group’s chief executive officer.

Indiana Youth Group serves people ages 12-24 who self-identify as LGBTQ+ as well as their ally peers. Services include housing and food, due to lack of acceptance from family, to emotional support.

“We see a lot of parental rejection, withholding food, withholding housing, educational neglect when kids do come out,” Paulsen said. “We know that happens and we need schools to be a safe place where kids can feel like they can be who they are and they can say that out loud.”

After taking more than three hours of testimony, a House committee voted Monday along party lines to approve House Bill 1608. The measure originally would have prohibited schools from teaching about sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender roles in kindergarten through Grade 3.

The committee voted to replace that original language with a ban on instruction on “human sexuality” at that age and added a provision that stated teachers could still respond to a student’s questions on the subject. It then added language that requires schools to notify parents if a student wishes to be referred to by different pronouns and get written permission from the parents to do so, as well as providing legal protections to teachers who refuse.

Paulsen says kids in kindergarten through third grade should be allowed to learn about all family types because there are kids in those grades that come from all family types. “This legislations says we can’t even talk about families or a teacher to say, ‘No, it’s alright for this child to have two moms or two dads or a mom and a dad. We can’t talk about those things.’”

Paulson says this bill and others similar to it spike mental health issues for LGBTQ youths the group serves. “There’s definitely a higher rate of suicide ideation and suicide attempts in LGBTQ youth, but not inherently because of mental health problems with LGBTQ youth other than the rhetoric that they hear about them and the laws that we try to pass that say they are ‘less than.’”

Paulsen says when LGBTQ youths have supporting adults in their lives the chances of them attempting suicide decreases by 40%, and this legislation and rhetoric make it difficult for teachers to be those people.

The Indiana Youth Group leader says the organization is embracing all families and it’s important to make sure everyone feels accepted.

News 8’s Garrett Bergquist contributed to this report.