Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in multiple cases of employee LGBTQ discrimination, and advocates for the community in Indiana say the stakes for young people are as high as ever.
One in five young people seriously consider suicide in Indiana. Chris Paulsen leads the Indiana Youth Group – an organization to support and advocate for LGBTQ youth. She says among LGBTQ, those rates are even higher, especially for transgender or nonbinary kids.
“Those stats become very alarming; 35 percent of trans youth will attempt suicide,” she says.
Paulsen says she’s seen progress for LGBTQ rights and issues, like more representation in government and in the media, but several problems persist. Things like bullying from peers and teachers, homelessness, and open discrimination in schools or jobs remain common hurdles for young people and LGBTQ adults.
In the Hoosier state, a teacher is suing his former district claiming his job ended over a refusal to use a transgender students’ correct pronouns, and discrimination complaints against private Catholic schools that receive state funding through vouchers have made national headlines.
Paulsen says she understands some teachers or educators have different religious beliefs in their personal lives. But, she says it’s important for public schools to support all youth, not just those that align with a certain belief system.
“The education system is not built to spread our personal beliefs it’s built to spread knowledge,” she says.
And more kids are exploring what gender means to them at younger ages. Paulsen says a decade ago, it was more common to hear about people focused on sexual orientation, but now more young people are beginning to publicly explore and announce their gender identity with increased awareness and resources.
Because of that, Paulsen says it’s more important than ever for school leaders and employees to take steps to show their support for students. She says trainings through IYG focused on boosting cultural awareness of LGBTQ issues are an option. But teachers can also do free, smaller things to help too, like using a student’s correct name or pronouns and labeling classrooms as safe spaces for all kids.