Members of the Senate Health Care Committee sought to limit debate over the Parents’ Bill of Right Thursday by restricting comments to only the portion of the bill that deals with parental consent for treatment.
But even with that narrow focus, more than half a dozen speakers told lawmakers House Bill 755 would be harmful to LGBTQ students, who may not be out to their parents or peers.
The current version of the bill prohibits curriculum that teaches about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3. The measure also spells out parents’ legal rights to consent or withhold consent from participation in reproductive health and safety education programs.
If a child asked that a different name or pronoun be used, the school would be required to first notify the parents of the request.
Gretchen Phillips, a former teacher and Wake County parent, said she has real concerns about the health care implications of the bill.
“This is going to make it so teachers feel pressure not meet their students where their needs are, but to go by their parents’ comfort level, even when their parents’ comfort level is directly against the best interest of the mental health care of their children,” Phillips testified.
Iliana Santillan, executive director of El Pueblo, said as a queer activist and former teacher she was troubled by the message the bill sends to young people like her own teenage daughter.
“When she was in third grader her peers would ask her why she didn’t have a Dad, why her Mom was with another woman. I am proud of who I am today,” Santillan said.
Santillan said rather than fast track this measure, lawmakers should turn their attention to the Leandro school funding plan.
“Get more nurses, get more counselors in the school system. What you are doing now is wrong and it’s going to damage families like mine. It’s going to further exacerbate the anxiety of my child.”
Olivia Neal said the bill was laden with discrimination against North Carolina’s LGBTQ community.
“I was a queer student in North Carolina public schools,” Neal said. “If this bill were made law in my youth, I would have lost many of the outlets that I had to explore and understand my identity without the interference of the government or the school system.
“Even as someone with parents who supported my queerness, I would have felt unsafe seeking help in my school, even mental health care, if I was constantly worried about being outed by my counselors before I was ready.”
Neal said students should be focused on learning in school, not worried about the backlash and abuse they might be subjected to when they return home.
“In some cases, school may be the only place where LGBTQ students can access supportive mental health care, but this bill would force them to run the risk of outing. The reality is for LGBTQ students, parents do not always have their best interest at heart.”
Forty-five percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the last year, according to a recent survey by the Trevor Project.
“This bill is not about securing rights for parents, it’s about trying to eradicate LGBTQ identity from public life,” Neal added.
Taylor Cortes, a former educator, said the bill was unfair for LGBTQ youth and their families.
“Unfortunately there are many households where children are not safe coming out. Forcibly making children come out in environments that are hostile will absolutely put their lives at risk,” Cortes warned.
“Children are not their parents’ property. They are their own people. And if they are in an environment that is not safe to their authentic selves, they need to be protected.”
Ari Becker told lawmakers before she was a graduate student at NC State, she was a homeless LGBTQ youth.
“A student who discloses they want to use a different name or pronoun to their teacher or health care provider may have good reason not to want this reported to their parents,” Becker testified. “Forcibly outing children will put them in physical danger.”
Becker said the bill as written would allow for broad censorship, leaving some educators unable to teach about historical figures if they were part of the LGBTQ community.
“Would this result in people life me being ousted from the classroom?” Becker asked.
Senator Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) dismissed the concerns.
“Take a school nurse, how many hours do you think they have actually spent with a child?” Hise asked his colleagues.
“When it comes to health and those sorts of things, parents have been there since the children were born. They know the mental health issues they’ve gone through; they know the physical health issues and having a school professional on limited knowledge be able to make those decisions and not inform the parents should be criminal as a matter of fact.”
As for concerns a child might face physical abuse at home from being outed, Hise said teachers with proof have a duty to report that abuse to the department of social services.
HB 755 advanced on a voice vote Thursday and moves to the Senate Rules Committee next week.
Bonus content: Watch a sampling of some of the educators and LGBTQ advocates speaking out against HB 755.
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