March 8, 2022

The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) stands in strong opposition to the national trend of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation typified by Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The legislation, which was passed by the Florida legislature, bans “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in primary grade levels; requires parental permission for any health care services students receive; and encourages parents to take legal action against school districts they believe to be in violation of the law.

Our nation is already facing a mental health crisis, in particular among young people. In fact, the nation’s leading experts in pediatric health declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. Banning classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity, especially during such a crisis will only exacerbate this emergency. According to a recent survey by The Trevor Project, 42% of LGBTQIA+ youth considered attempting suicide in the past year. Those who did attempt were disproportionately likely to be youth of color. The survey also found that half of students see their schools as “LGBTQ-affirming spaces,” as compared to only one-third who reported their home to be an affirming space. The loss of classrooms as accepting havens for young members of the LGBTQIA+ community will be felt by many, especially those who are not accepted at home and, often, have very few places to turn. 

Unfortunately, Florida is not alone in pushing this extremely harmful legislative agenda. Fifteen other states have joined them this year, further oppressing young members of the LGBTQIA+ community, restricting how teachers and curriculums teach around gender identity and sexual orientation, and diminishing support for LGBTQIA+ students. 

As mental health professionals, art therapists are obligated to ensure that clients have equal access to services. They play a critical role in the mental health treatment with school-aged children, particularly those experiencing trauma as children respond significantly better to visual communication than verbal. In school settings, art therapists regularly partner with teachers and school administrators to help students succeed academically, socially, and emotionally. School facilities are often the sole providers of mental health support, in particular for vulnerable communities.

AATA stands in opposition to legislative proposals that would harm the mental health of LGBTQIA+ youth. At a time when our nation’s young people are already facing a mental health emergency, further stigmatizing LGBTQIA+ youth will only make it more challenging for them to seek help, and may result in many spiraling into crisis. 

Mental Health Resources for LGBTQIA+ Youth