Texas removes LGBTQ suicide prevention resources from state websites

Mar 03, 22
Texas removes LGBTQ suicide prevention resources from state websites

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Advocates say the move is dangerous, especially in light of Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive on gender-affirming care for transgender minors.

Image: Demonstrators protest a Texas policy to regard gender-affirming treatments for transgender youth as "child abuse," at the State Capitol in Austin, on March 1, 2022.

The Texas Department of Health and Human Services appears to have removed resources for LGBTQ youth from its suicide prevention webpage.

On Feb. 1, the webpage included a subhead for the Trevor Project, describing it as “the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning young people under 25.” The section provided the organization’s website, phone number and text line.

A few days later, on Feb. 5, the section was gone. Of the four suicide prevention phone or text lines, only The Trevor Project was removed.

Now, there are three crisis lines listed: the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Veterans Crisis Line and the Crisis Text line. The Trevor Project’s phone number is still included in a PDF of resources under “Parent and Youth Suicide Prevention” as it was previously, but it isn’t as easily accessible as the section that was removed was, and doesn’t state that The Trevor Project is an LGBTQ-specific organization.

The Health and Human Services Department has not returned a request for comment.

Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said mental health is not a partisan issue, and removing suicide prevention resources from a government website “because they are specific to LGBTQ youth is not only offensive and wrong, it’s dangerous.” 

“We’re talking about a group of young people who are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide compared to their peers,” Ames said, citing Trevor Project research. In another survey, the group found that more than 80% of LGBTQ youth said it was important that a crisis line include a focus on young LGBTQ people.

“Especially during this time of unprecedented political attacks against LGBTQ youth, we encourage all youth-serving organizations and government agencies to learn more about The Trevor Project’s lifesaving crisis services and to publicize them to the youth and families who most need support,” Ames said.

This isn’t the first time Texas officials have removed suicide prevention resources for LGBTQ youth — and The Trevor Project, specifically — from state websites. 

In August, following criticism from one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Republican primary challengers, Texas officials removed a webpage titled “gender identity and sexual orientation” and a page devoted to Texas Youth Connection, a program run by the Department of Family and Protective Services, which included a link to The Trevor Project.

The page on sexual orientation and gender identity still shows an error message. The Texas Youth Connection website also displays the same message that it did in October: “The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content,” the website says. “This is being done to ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.”

Patrick Crimmins, the director of communications for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said in October that the review of the webpages “is still ongoing” and would not provide further comment about why the pages were removed. He has not responded to a request regarding when or whether the pages will be restored.

Cameron Samuels, a senior at Seven Lakes High School in Katy, near Houston, and an activist, said the removal of LGBTQ-specific resources from state websites is “part of this larger attack on LGBTQ youth in Texas.” 

As an example of this “larger attack” — which Samuels, who uses gender neutral pronouns, said is causing widespread fear among trans people in Texas — they cited a directive issued last week by Abbott that called on the state’s child protective services agency to investigate the parents of minors who are receiving gender-affirming medical care for child abuse. Abbott’s directive also called on “licensed professionals” and the general public to report the parents of trans minors if it appears that they are receiving gender-affirming medical care.

RELATED: Trans teens who get gender-affirming hormones are healthier, happier as adults

Last year, the state Legislature considered 50 anti-trans bills, with Abbott signing one that bans transgender girls from competing on female school sports teams

Samuels has also fought censorship of LGBTQ websites within their school district, the Katy Independent School District.

After student activism, they said the district removed its block on the website for the Montrose Center, a local LGBTQ group in the state, in December. In January, it removed restrictions on websites for three national organizations: the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in the country; GLSEN, which advocates for LGBTQ students; and PFLAG, which supports LGBTQ people and their families, among other sites. 

Samuels said the district has “remained insistent” that The Trevor Project continue to be blocked due to its chat function. But they noted that the chat feature is what allows students to message a trained counselor. 

The district has not returned a request for comment, but an official told the Houston Chronicle in January that the Children’s Internet Protection Act has a requirement of “ensuring safe communications including electronic mail, chat rooms and other forms of direct electronic communications.”

“The Trevor Project website has a community space to ‘get advice and support within an international community for LGBTQ young people ages 13-24,’ which is available to anyone who chooses to ‘join now,’” said Maria Corrales DiPetta, manager of media relations for the district. “Minors communicating with adults, unmonitored, online is an area of concern for communication and chat rooms as outline in CIPA.”

Samuels said it’s disappointing to see Health and Human Services officials making decisions that “are very harmful to students and youth who they represent.”

“And this is in addition to the governor’s efforts to investigate parents of trans youth for child abuse and to remove LGBTQ books from school libraries,” they said. “It’s really concerning and disturbing to see this.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com.

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