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LGBTQ students share their plans, fears for new school year, amid growing backlash

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Rising high school senior Jameson Johnson is among the thousands of LGBTQ students returning to school at a time when conservative lawmakers and activists are pushing to ban or limit the rights of queer people in schools and beyond.

State legislatures considered dozens of bills targeting LGBTQ youth this year, with the number of proposed measures targeting access to bathrooms and locker rooms and transgender participation in school sports exploding, according to Education Week.

Florida and at least 10 other states have blocked the use of Medicaid to pay for gender-affirming care, though a few, including Hawaii, are expanding the same kind of care. In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott asked the state’s child protection agency to investigate parents who seek gender-affirming care for their children as child abuse, though a judge has blocked some of that order. A Utah judge last week blocked a ban on transgender students participating in school sports, but students now face a commission who will decide whether they can play on a case-by-case basis.

“I feel these laws are out of misinformation and ignorance of the queer community," Johnson said. "I'm lucky that I live in Colorado. … We don't have as many anti-queer youth bills or laws yet.”

The suicide rate among LGBTQ youth has escalated over the past three years, according to the Trevor Project. And about two-thirds of LGBTQ youth told the nonprofit that current and proposed state policies have had a negative impact on their mental health.

As a genderfluid person, Johnson, 17, recognizes the importance of using his voice for those in need for the upcoming school year.

Johnson, who goes by he, she or they, will be president of the Queer Student Alliance at his Denver high. For him, senior year of high school will be about advocating for LGBTQ students around the country who face new restrictions on their rights. He said he plans to create a safe space for the LGBTQ students on his campus in part because of a lack of counselors at the school.

"I think we need a safer place for queer students so that they can just have an area to relax," said Johnson, and "making sure they're okay because school can be really stressful for them."

He grew up in a family that was supportive: His mother allowed him to explore his identity. He used to play dress-up with his sister's clothes and would have tea parties and fashion shows.

"I was very feminine within my family setting, and I guess that carried over to the school and with my friends,” Johnson said. "It was nice to be raised without traditional gender roles."

He said he hopes to provide the same acceptance and comfort to his peers and that colleges and universities will also take notice as he begins the application process.

“I hope they can notice my journey and activism,” Johnson said.

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