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'Sad for our youth and for our state' | LGBTQ advocates worry for youth as HB 1608 becomes law

The signing of House Bill 1608 into law comes as a major victory for the GOP supermajority advocating for more parental rights in schools.

INDIANAPOLIS — A hotly contested bill that would prevent human sexuality education for young kids now has the governor's signature.

It would also require schools to notify parents about a student's name or pronoun change.

The signing of House Bill 1608 into law comes as a major victory for the GOP supermajority advocating for more parental rights in schools. But LGBTQ advocates say this new law is hurting the students most in need of support.

With the stroke of a pen from Gov. Eric Holcomb Thursday afternoon, HB 1608 went from bill to law in Indiana.

Chris Paulsen, CEO of Indiana Youth Group, said she wasn't surprised by the governor's actions, but instead is concerned for students. "Sad for our youth and for our state. I know this will force some families to leave the state and force kids back in the closet," Paulsen said. 

The new law offers strict rules for Indiana schools and classrooms requiring human sexuality not be taught to students in Pre-K through third grade, even though that subject is not currently taught to students in that age group. A new provision in the law also requires schools to notify parents if students ask to use a different name or pronoun, effectively outing LGBTQ students.

“All of our youth are having mental health challenges and targeting LGBTQ youth who already have an increased rate of suicide due to societal non-acceptance, this will increase their mental health issues. Once again, they’re being othered and told they don’t belong here,” Paulsen said. “We know this is going to lead to increased rates of homelessness, suicide ideations and mental health issues and I don’t know why a state would want to pass laws that worsen those outcomes for youth in a state that already ranks second in the nation in youth who consider suicide."

Studies show 1 in 4 teens are forced to leave their homes after coming out. And 20% of homeless youth are LGBTQ.

Paulsen said with schools no longer safe spaces for students, she hopes they feel comfortable turning to outside services for support.

“Hopefully, they’ll reach out to Indiana Youth Group," Paulsen said. "We've seen a 319% increase in attendance in the first four months of the year. So we're glad they're reaching out, but also we know there's capacity issues with those who do support LGBTQ youth, so we'll fight through those."

Today's bill signing is a victory for a supermajority GOP that proposed a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills this session.

Credit: WTHR

After signing HB 1608 earlier today, Holcomb said in a statement, “I believe in parental rights. I also just believe its common sense that sex education should not be taught in pre-kindergarten through third grade.”

But Paulsen and other LGBTQ advocates are worried that this new law is only the beginning.

"We expect another onslaught of the 'slate of hate,'" Paulsen said. "And I think it will continue until somebody just says enough is enough and this isn't who Indiana is."

HB 1608 is expected to take effect July 1. 

Following the governor signing the bill into law, the ACLU of Indiana sent a statement to 13News:

“The Indiana legislators behind HB 1608, and the Slate of Hate, have had one goal all along, to use our laws to control what youth can and cannot read, what they can and cannot learn, and—most troublingly— who they can and cannot be. 

“Not every child can be their true selves at home without risking their physical or emotional well-being. For trans youth, especially those who cannot be safe at home, school may be one of the few places to be themselves. Trans youth thrive when they are affirmed in their gender identity, which includes being called by a name and pronouns that reflect who they are. 

"LGBTQ students exist at all ages and in all grade levels and their stories belong in Indiana schools. Our schools should protect all students—including LGBTQ students—so they can learn and thrive in a safe environment. ACLU of Indiana attorneys are assessing this law and will do everything in our power to protect the rights of LGBTQ students.”

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