Tom Price Is Harmful to the Mental Health of LGBTQ Youth
January 30, 2017 - Editorial from The Trevor Project Vice President of Programs, David W. Bond
It’s time we talk about the serious danger posed to the mental health of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community if Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) is confirmed as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Price’s beliefs and actions are being appropriately scrutinized by the media and through congressional hearings, but little attention has been paid to the impact his confirmation will have on the mental health of the general population, let alone of vulnerable populations like LGBTQ youth. Price’s record as a seven term congressman provides a wealth of insight into his personal views and policy positions. Unfortunately, it’s a record of discrimination and hate which can have very real impacts on a young person’s mental health.
LGBTQ youth face significant challenges today, whether they’re struggling with coming out, facing family rejection, or dealing with bullying. If Tom Price becomes head of HHS and is allowed to put his beliefs into practice, dire consequences will follow. Price is a supporter of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), which, despite its lofty sounding name, actually allows businesses and individuals to discriminate against sexual orientation and gender identity minorities. It’s no secret that he is also a vitriolic critic of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But repealing the ACA, which contains nondiscrimination protections, could decimate the LGBTQ community’s access to psychological services that play a critical role in achieving and maintaining positive mental health.
Picture a bisexual young person going to counseling for an issue unrelated to her sexual orientation only to be told that the counselor doesn’t treat LGBTQ people. Picture a transgender female teenager that needs to be admitted to a psychiatric facility for a suicide attempt but the facility says they will only allow her to be admitted to the male program.
In reviewing past legislation Price proposed as an alternative to the ACA, many concerns were revealed. Under Price’s ACA replacement plan, young adults who were previously covered under their parent’s health insurance may lose access to covered healthcare and part-time workers would lose the ability to purchase affordable healthcare for themselves. Perhaps worst of all, however, is that bans on “pre-existing conditions” could become legal again, except in limited circumstances, and youth with illnesses like depression or anxiety would not be able to get insurance coverage for those conditions. People who are HIV-positive might not have access to covered care and life-saving prescription medications, which can not only have a devastatingly negative impact on their physical health, but their mental health as well.
As if that isn’t enough to send mental health spiraling downward, Price’s record on LGBTQ issues indicates that conditions will rapidly deteriorate under his direction. He voted against the Violence Against Women Act because it contained nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He voted against ending employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. He’s also publicly balked at the idea that schools should be required to allow students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. These are the ideals that will pervade HHS under his leadership.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the HHS agency that administers grants to states and educational institutions to provide mental health services to youth. Under the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, SAMHSA gives colleges money to provide services to prevent suicide. Many grantees use that money to provide LGBTQ specific suicide prevention programming because of the community’s disproportionate risk of suicide. Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth attempt suicide at more than four times the rate of their heterosexual peers, while 40% of transgender individuals report having attempted suicide at some point in their lifetime. With Price as HHS director, it’s not hard to imagine that specialized services for LGBTQ youth experiencing suicidal ideation could be taken away.
Finally, Price also voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added sexual orientation and gender identity to our federal hate crimes statute. This “no” vote flies in the face of facts which reveal that LGBTQ people are more likely than any other group to be the victims of hate crimes. Add that to the knowledge that every act of victimization increases an LGBTQ youth’s risk of suicide and the insight into the threat to their mental health under Price becomes too painful to contemplate.
The Trevor Project is the nation’s leading crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization focused on LGBTQ youth. Immediately after the election, the organization experienced the highest call volume it’s ever received in a single day in the history of the organization. LGBTQ youth were overwhelmed and frightened of the possible increase in discrimination, violence, and hate they might face under this new administration. Those issues alone are difficult enough to navigate without adding the risks that Price’s confirmation will have on their mental health. This cost to a young person’s mental health is simply a price we cannot afford. Contact your senators today and tell them to oppose Price’s nomination as secretary of HHS.
The Trevor Project Vice President of Programs, David W. Bond, LCSW, B.C.E.T.S., is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress.
ABOUT THE TREVOR PROJECT:
The Trevor Project is the only national organization focused on crisis intervention and suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ youth. Every day, The Trevor Project saves young lives through its free and confidential crisis intervention lifeline, text, and chat services. We work to help alleviate the causes of the need of crisis services via our educational materials, online resources, research, and advocacy programs. We also offer a peer-to-peer support network for LGBTQ youth under the age of 25 via our TrevorSpace site. For more information, visit www.TheTrevorProject.org.