One of the major barriers for LGBT youth from accessing mental health or substance abuse counseling is the need for parental consent, according to LGBT advocate and transgender Tyra Lyn Sablan.
For one, many youths do not have the money to pay for mental health or substance abuse counseling, Sablan said during the Legislature’s first CNMI Pride Talks that the House Committee on Health and Welfare recently hosted at the House of Representatives chamber. Also, many youths fear of repercussion from parents or guardians for receiving this kind of service, she added.
Sablan said the stigma of mental illness and anti-LGBT sentiments from inside and outside of the mental health and substance health system can be prohibitive. “From somebody who was out, who grew up LGBT, I can’t speak for everybody in the community, but for me and a lot of my peers, it would have been lifesaving,” Sablan said. “It would have helped us avoid so much trauma if we just had access, if we were able to seek help without our parents knowing and just being able to talk to a counselor, a therapist about drugs, about our sexuality. Sometimes we don’t even know it’s our sexuality,” she said.
Sablan said mental health professional counseling allows for therapeutic interactions to ameliorate mental health disorders or change problematic behavior arising from stress and trauma the youth has experienced.
“Not all sexual or gender non-conforming minority and questioning youth need mental health treatment, but may need support from a caring adult,” she added.
Aside from Sablan, the other panelists at the policy roundtable discussions were Pride Marianas Youth co-founder Dr. Jennifer Maratita, Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence associate director Kiki Igitol Benjamin, Community Guidance Center representative Tiara Evangelista, and student leaders Zenn Ichiro Tomokane and Jigger Parayaoan.
Sablan said one of the major barriers for acquiring identification that matches gender identification here in the CNMI is Public Law 15-50, which requires a doctor’s certification of gender affirming surgery to be able to change a gender marker on a birth certificate and/or identification.
In contrast, Sablan said, obtaining federal level identification such as a passport does not require a doctor’s certification or a court order to change the gender marker and may be self-selected.
Sablan said courts require for name changes to be published. The state of New York now allows courts to waive that requirement and records be sealed for transgender individuals for their safety against harassment, she said.
Citing studies, Sablan said sexual and gender minority youth who have been abused, neglected or bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity have higher rates of depression, have thoughts of and/or have attempted suicide.
“Lack of acceptance, understanding, and abuse at home often leads to youth homelessness. Family rejection during adolescence is associated with mental health and substance abuse problems,” she said.
Sablan said the rates of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and bullying of LGBT and questioning youth are consistently higher than that of heterosexual youth. “They are also more likely to skip school because they feel unsafe on their way to and from school,” she added.
Yet despite all these stressors, the LGBT people have found ways to survive, thrive, and be successful, she said. “We have to reclaim a positive sense of identity. We have to promote pride in our community. We must empower each other and love one another,” Sablan said.
Committee chair Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) said they appreciate panelists at the roundtable discussions for their stories, courage, and ideas, and for bringing their wisdom and insight to help guide the lawmakers and the community in better understanding how the Legislature can create spaces that are more inclusive, that are braver and safer, and more loving for everyone.
“I think all of the members of this committee see this roundtable as an excellent start, and the beginning of a thoughtful dialogue that should continue,” she said.
The lawmaker underscored the importance of the communication education process to continue. Sablan proposed that they form a policy working group to prioritize some of the action items that have been discussed that day and the previous meetings of the committee.