Lawmaker: LGBT Youth Need Help to Avoid Suicide, Utah Law Prevents Outreach

Sen. Jim Dabakis
Sen. Jim Dabakis

On Wednesday, lawmakers in the Education Interim Meeting tackled the very serious issue of suicide in the state of Utah. Though the overall trend in suicides per yer is leveling off, Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) expressed deep concern over the apparent glossing over of LGBT youth suicide rates in a recent report from the Health and Human Services titled Suicide Prevention Programs.

“This is a subject very close to my heart,” Debakis began, “over the last year or so I have been to three funerals: One in Weber County, one in West Valley, and one in Utah County. And to watch those children – one of the kids was 13 years old in that casket.”

“I want to call [The Utah Department of Human Services] to task to some extent because I don’t think you, I don’t think the state, I don’t think the legislature is saying the ‘gay’ word.” Dabakis continued before punctuating his comments by telling the committee of a story he heard from a West Vally City principal who had to turn away a student from receiving help because the student happened to mention that he was gay.

“You’ve got to be bold, you’ve got to be strong, you’ve got to tell the truth. You don’t have to make it up, but you can’t shy away from the fact that a lot of these kids are gay and they are not getting the help [they need]. It is illegal for them to get the help they need,” Dabakis added.

Representative Mike Noel (Republican – Kanab) was genuinely surprised by Dabakis’ claim.

“It seems almost unbelievable,” Noel would tell the committee, wondering if there was a misunderstanding about state law.

However, the law is quite clear. Dabakis is referring to 53(A)-13-302(1) of Utah Code that states that “Policies adopted by a school district or charter school…shall include prohibitions on the administration to a student of any psychological or psychiatric examination, test, or treatment, or any survey, analysis, or evaluation without the prior written consent of the student’s parent or legal guardian, in which the purpose or evident intended effect is to cause the student to reveal information…concerning the student’s or any family member’s…sexual behavior, orientation, or attitudes.”

In short, administrators are stuck in a legal Catch 22 – If a student reports that they are suicidal, administrators are required to tell parents of this fact – but telling a parent that as child suicidal, and therefore providing an evaluation, because they feel rejected for their sexual orientation is also illegal. An administrator may know, but they are legally prevented from taking action.

“I would hope that you will be strong and bold as you begin to investigate you will tell the truth even if it is a little bit awkward,” Dabaskis would conclude.

Jeremy Christensen, Assistant Director with the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health noted that targeted discussions surrounding LGBT youth have been a constant theme at state and national conventions and that the he was “very aware that the rate of suicide among youth in the LGBT population is many times higher than the general population.”

Christensen then made the promise that LGBT discussions will be specified in future reports.

Kathy Davis, Youth Suicide Prevention Specialist with the Utah State Office Of Education would end the LGBT-specific remarks by informing the committee that LGBT youth are six times more likely to commit suicide compared to other populations.

No further action was taken on the issue. A lawmaker, such as Senator Dabakis, would have to propose a bill to change the law this January during the 2016 session.

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