GW Professor Warns of Dire Impact of Laws Targeting LGBTQ Community

Dwayne Wright said a mental health crisis is unfolding in America as regressive laws targeting the LGBT community fuel hate and division.

June 27, 2023

dwayne wright


As Pride events are underway in cities across America, what should be a time for celebration and community has been marred by an explosion in hateful rhetoric and threats targeting the LGBTQ community. 

This wave of anti-LGBTQ sentiment, set against a backdrop of regressive and prejudicial laws being passed, is having dire consequences on a vulnerable population, leading to an outcry from experts urging a need to push back against the hate. 

Dwayne Wright, an assistant professor of higher education administration and the director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives for the  Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University, said that in recent months lawmakers across the country have introduced harmful laws targeting the LGBTQ community. 

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) recently signed a slew of bills into law including one that restricts gender-affirming healthcare for transgender people under the age of 18, allowing the state to take temporary custody over any child who receives such treatment. There have been reports the law is not only impacting trans youth but also adults seeking gender-affirming care as well. 

Another measure passed in Florida requires transgender people to use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender assigned at birth. Similar laws have been proposed in other states. Not only do these laws violate civil liberties, Wright said, they will also pave the way for further discrimination against other vulnerable groups. 

“There may be Americans that are conscientious objectors to the idea of transgender Americans on religious or conservative grounds,” Wright said. “The question is not ‘Should they be allowed to make that objection?’ Of course, they should be. The question is, ‘Should the government tell the LGBTQ community that those beliefs should be imposed on them?’ No. And it's a slippery slope to empowering the government to decide for individuals who they are and what they should believe.” 

As anti-LGBTQ laws are passed, there is a surge in hateful rhetoric online, according to a study conducted by the Human Rights Campaign and the Center for Countering Digital Hate. After the Parental Rights in Education bill, called the "Don't Say Gay" bill by critics, was passed, there was a 400% increase on social media platforms referring to the LGBTQ community with slurs such as “pedophiles” and “groomers,” according to the study. 

Wright said he is extremely concerned when he thinks about the mental health toll the current political climate is having, particularly on LGBTQ youth.  

“The impact could be death,” Wright said. “We have seen since the passage of these laws the suicide rate and the report of suicide ideation in trans people of all ages, but particularly trans youth, go up.” 

The Trevor Project, a nonprofit institution focused on suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ youth, conducted a national survey and found that one-third of LGBTQ youth said their mental health was poor “most of the time or always” due to anti-LGBTQ policies and legislation.

 With the extent of the hateful rhetoric and proposed laws in the current political climate, the findings of the study are not surprising, Wright said. 

Referring to the Florida law that allows the state to remove trans children from their parent’s custody if they are receiving gender-affirming medical care, Wright said there aren’t words to describe the trauma and life-long damage it will cause. 

“We know that removing a child from their parents, even in justified situations, causes trauma,” he said. “Why are we removing a child from a household based on an identity trait? This population, trans individuals, lack political power, and politicians are taking advantage of that to score cheap political points.  If they truly wanted to do what's in the best interests of the child, they would ask the experts, and every expert on mental health and child well-being will tell you that separation from their parents is exactly the thing you don't want to do.” 

He believes such policies will only hinder trans youth in several ways, including impeding their learning. 

“Imagine having to do school knowing you could be ripped from your parents for being who you are,” Wright said. “You are placing a cognitive load on these students that is not fair.” 

Research conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), found that LGBTQ students may be more likely to drop out of school due to challenges outside of school caused by discrimination and stigma.

Wright said all children wrestle and learn how to grow into their identity. During that vulnerable time, every child or teenager needs trusted adults they can turn to for guidance. But the hateful rhetoric and laws are isolating LGBTQ youth by making it seem they can’t turn to trusted adults and paradoxically moving kids in a direction that will possibly get them hurt.

“It's incredibly dangerous if kids don't have adult figures they can trust,” Wright said. “They will go find other sources. That might be the internet or an adult that might want to hurt them. So, you have these laws which are supposed to be protecting kids, closing off safe avenues for intervention and development.” 

Wright said what is needed from lawmakers are policies that protect the LGBTQ community from hate and violence. 

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Indianapolis and The Ohio State University titled “The Association Between Hate Crime Laws that Enumerate Sexual Orientation and Adolescent Suicide Attempts,” found fewer youth attempted suicide in states with hate crime laws. 

Wright said that now is the time to act by protesting, getting involved with organizations taking a stand against anti-LGBTQ sentiments and working to create safe environments for everyone. 

“I don’t think we are all worried enough about these laws,” Wright said. “And we're about to go into an election season where it's going to be in the best interests of certain parties to hype this up rather than cool this down. So I am more worried than I've ever been in my entire life. I am worried for the LGBT community nationwide.”