Hate groups are targeting California’s LGBTQ+ youth. Here is how we can help them.

Sacramento Bee Op-Ed by Christine Stoner-Mertz, CEO, CA Alliance

It’s a scary time to be a part of America’s LGBTQ+ community. States are enacting transphobic and homophobic legislation aimed at controlling people’s lives and bodies. Children who never asked for their lives to be politicized must now grapple with the realization that some powerful people think their very existence is wrong.

California has long been seen as a refuge for people facing discrimination and persecution for simply living as their true selves. But lately, we’ve seen hate-filled efforts to erode that refuge. One bill currently in the legislature has become a target for anti-LGBTQ hate groups, and their opposition threatens to deny vitally needed mental health care to children.

Assembly Bill 665 by Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) would allow children ages 12 and older who are enrolled in Medi-Cal to receive outpatient mental health services without the consent of their parents. This has been the practice for children covered by commercial insurance plans since 2010 thanks to a law signed into effect by then-Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Still, right-wing extremists have seized on the bill with a misinformation campaign. They’ve called mental health care “state sanctioned kidnapping,” and say the legislation would allow children who identify as transgender to be taken away from their parents without notice. This is patently false, and our legislators must not allow anti-LGBTQ extremists to threaten progress on mental health care for youth, especially when we’re experiencing a mental health crisis among our youth.

We know how dangerous anti-LGBTQ activists can be. We’ve seen the rise in hate crimes and dehumanizing language. Carrillo and her staff have dealt with harassment and threats to their safety for simply attempting to provide children access to basic health care. But we know that AB 665 could be potentially lifesaving for youth who need it.

While AB 665 expands care access for all youth covered by Medi-Cal, the risks faced by youth who identify as LGBTQ+ illustrate how much is at stake. A 2022 national survey by The Trevor Project found that 45% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. The number was even higher for children of color, who are more likely to be enrolled in Medi-Cal.

Additionally, the survey found that fewer than one in three transgender and non-binary youth found their home to be gender-affirming. The sad reality is that many of these youth cannot count on their parents or guardians to get them necessary, life-saving mental health care.

Coming out to a non-supportive parent may be one of the most difficult and dangerous things our LGBTQ+ youth can do. And even youth with supportive families may find it necessary to coordinate their own care if their parents have multiple jobs and work long hours.

While we know mental health treatment can be game-changing for the kids who receive it, most do not have access in the first place. The Trevor Project survey found that 60% of LGBTQ+ youth who wanted mental health care in the past year were not able to get it. By ensuring that our children have easier access to treatment, we’re providing a service they both desperately need and want.

AB 665 may be a small legislative change, but it’s become about so much more: It’s about California standing up and fighting back against the extreme anti-LGBTQ activists who are trying to impose their bigoted and dangerous views on the rest of us. It’s about protecting our children and giving them access to the care they deserve. It’s about maintaining California’s role as a beacon of hope in a dark time. We cannot back down, and we cannot give up. The stakes are simply too high.