The Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association response to HF 8, HF 9, and SF 83:
On behalf of the Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association we are writing to express our concerns over House File 8, House File 9, and Senate File 83. HF 8 and SF 83 are bills that would prohibit schools from providing any curriculum or discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3 or K-8 respectively. HF 9 would prohibit schools from providing any accommodations or affirmations of a students’ gender identity without parental consent. IMHCA is strongly opposed to these bills due to the negative impact this legislation can have on LGBTQIA+ students’ mental health.
LGBTQ+ students are at increased risk of mental health challenges and suicide attempts directly related to the impacts of bias, discrimination, and rejection. Safe, affirming, supportive schools are life savers for these vulnerable young people. Research from the Trevor Project has shown than LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues in the classroom had a 23 percent lower rate of suicide attempts. Additionally, affirming accommodations and use of a students’ appropriate pronouns and name lead to a 50 percent reduction of risk of suicide in transgender and nonbinary youth.
These proposed bills also violate existing state and federal laws. Iowa Civil Rights Code 216.9 states that “It is unfair or discriminatory practice for any educational institution to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability in any program or activity.” Federal Title IX state: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” If HF 8, HF 9, or SF 83 were passed it would ask school staff – including mental health providers working for or in schools – to violate one law or another, as well as asking them to violate their professional ethics of non-discrimination. These bills are discriminatory to students, and put professionals in an impossible legal and ethical bind.
IMHCA members and mental health counselors across the state actively serve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer clients and IMHCA’s mission statement states that we lobby efforts that impact counselors and their clients. Furthermore as counselors it is our ethical duty to engage in and advocate for non-discrimination and client welfare:
These bills will directly impact the sense of belonging and safety students have in their schools from the very beginning. Early experiences and relationships are critical for long-term mental health outcomes, and schools that refuse to acknowledge certain identities – including the identities of students’ families – will lead to long-term negative impacts for their mental health. As counselors we are fully aware of the long term effects discrimination, isolation, and low sense of belonging can have on one’s development and mental health over time and we urge law-makers to reject these bills that can so clearly harm students’ mental health.
The Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association (IMHCA) Board