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SPLC Action Fund testifies that Georgia Senate bill puts LGBTQ+ youth at risk

Brian Núñez, the Georgia policy associate for the SPLC Action Fund, was among dozens of people who spoke at a hearing in Atlanta last month against reintroducing the “Parents and Children Protection Act of 2023” (Georgia Senate Bill 88). The bill would restrict teachers and counselors in Georgia from discussing gender identity with students unless there is written consent from a parent. SB 88 is referred to as Georgia’s version of the “ Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Núñez delivered the following oral remarks on Aug. 23: 

Good morning, chairman and members of the committee. My name is Brian Núñez, and I’m the Georgia policy associate for the SPLC Action Fund. We are dedicated to safeguarding the civil and human rights of all people. 

The bill adds another layer of legal responsibility for educators and school personnel who, although untrained, are required to report a child’s expressions of gender dysphoria to their parents. This puts school administrators in the position of outing students who are in dangerous home situations, possibly putting them in the face of abusive or hostile parents. 

This legislation would essentially prevent young teens struggling from seeking any advice from trusted adults in their lives. This is a recipe for youth suicide. Suicide rates among transgender youth are significantly higher than their peers. Requiring a math teacher or coach – who may be the child’s only trusted adult mentor – to violate the child’s trust could have devastating consequences. In fact, at least four transgender youth attempted suicide following a similar bill’s passage in Arkansas. 

This legislation is a solution in search of a problem. Kids are not being made trans by schools. Schools that have policies which recognize the civil rights of trans kids are following federal law, and any attempt to interfere in those rights might put a school at odds with federal statutes and the Constitution. 

Schools that recognize the humanity of trans kids by affirming their identities are not creating other trans kids and shouldn’t be penalized for putting the well-being of kids ahead of those who attack with debunked pseudoscience one of the most vulnerable populations in the country for political capital. These kids don’t wear red or blue jerseys. They simply want a shirt that says, “Me.” 

Rather than imposing artificial barriers to helping LGBTQ youth because of inaccurate sex stereotypes and prejudice, we should be providing age-appropriate resources for students who are struggling. This legislation communicates to our LGBTQ kids that we’d rather harm them than help them. This committee should not express to our LGBTQ kids in the state that your priorities are to harm them rather than to help them. 

The “parental rights” framing is nothing new, but it is one that perpetually threatens to abolish the separation of church and state. Schools have a duty to teach and serve all the kids in the state. Yes, parents can choose to exercise their right to instruct their kids, but the small number of parents who support anti-LGBTQ policies in Georgia do not mean their religious belief should usurp the rights of all the other parents in Georgia. Our civil institutions must work for all of us or they will crumble, jeopardizing not only our educational system, but our democracy itself. 

Thank you.

Photo at top: (Credit: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)