Respect Equality

Representative introduces legislation addressing LGBTQ+ mental health crisis

“Mental health is a growing concern for families and communities across the country, and frankly, we are failing many of our most vulnerable children on this issue,” the bill’s sponsor said Wednesday.
Rep. Sharice Davids, (D-Kan.) speaks in Kansas City, Kan. in 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Story at a glance

  • The “Pride in Mental Health Act,” set to be introduced Wednesday, would amend existing child abuse law to include explicit protections for LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit youth and their families.

  • The bill would also improve federal, state and local data collection related to the mental and behavioral health of LGBTQ+ youth.

  • The measure’s introduction comes just a month after a CDC report found that nearly half of gay, lesbian and bisexual teens seriously considered taking their own life during the first half of 2021.

Rep. Sharice Davids (D), co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, is prepared to introduce legislation Wednesday broadening mental health support for at-risk LGBTQ+ youth.

The “Pride in Mental Health Act” would amend existing child abuse law to include explicit protections for LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit youth and their families, according to a copy of the bill obtained by Changing America.

Specifically, the measure would provide recommendations for federal, state and local agencies to improve data collection related to the mental and behavioral health of LGBTQ+ youth and better identify youth who may be at risk of experiencing – or already experiencing – child abuse or neglect because of the their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

“Mental health is a growing concern for families and communities across the country, and frankly, we are failing many of our most vulnerable children on this issue,” Davids said Wednesday. Davids in 2018 became the first openly LGBTQ+ person and the first Native American woman elected to Congress from Kansas.


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“When we talk about improving mental health, we’re really talking about saving these kids’ lives,” Davids said. “This bill takes a comprehensive and data-driven approach to tackling the mental health crisis among youth in the LGBTQ+ community.”

Davids’ bill would create a new program within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to award grants to “eligible entities” aiming to improve mental health and substance abuse outcomes among LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit youth.

Funds may be distributed to programs dedicated to developing resources like school bullying prevention guidelines or family acceptance and support models, according to the bill. Grants will not be awarded to any entity providing or promoting conversion therapy.

Under the bill, SAMHSA would also be required to deliver a one-time report to Congress on the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth in foster care, as well as LGBTQ+ young people who are beneficiaries of other federal social services programs.

The measure’s introduction comes just a month after a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report found that nearly half of gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers seriously considered taking their own life during the first half of 2021, compared with just 14 percent of their peers identifying as heterosexual.

Additional studies from organizations like The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention group for LGBTQ+ youth, have found that LGBTQ+ young people face elevated rates of mental health challenges like major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

LGBTQ+ youth are also overrepresented in the child welfare system, with some studies estimating that roughly 30 percent of youth in foster care identify as LGBTQ+. That number is likely larger, researchers say, as youth in foster care may feel pressured to hide their identity from others in fear of being harassed or abused.

A recent Williams Institute report found that lesbian, bisexual, queer and questioning women and girls of color, specifically, are overrepresented in both the foster care and carceral systems.

“LGBTQ+ children and teens, especially youth of color, are facing a mental health crisis,” Equality Caucus Chair David N. Cicilline (D) said Wednesday. “These kids face rampant discrimination and stigmatization each and every day – and now, with the recent wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in state legislatures across the country, are left to feel all the more isolated and othered.”

More than 300 bills targeting LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. have been introduced this year in state legislatures nationwide, according to advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign.

Additional research from The Trevor Project in January found that two-thirds of LGBTQ+ youth believe recent efforts by states to limit the rights of transgender and nonbinary people have negatively impacted their mental health.

“Representative Davids’ Pride in Mental Health Act will provide the critical data and resources we need to improve mental health resources and treatment for LGBTQ+ youth and will help us help these kids nationwide,” Cicilline said.