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To protect kids, tackle real issues by Jacob Grummer Special to the Democrat-Gazette | February 9, 2023 at 2:49 a.m.

"You're moving back to Arkansas? ... Really? Why?"

This is the response that my wife and I got from many people when we told them we were leaving Colorado, where we spent four years after college. We built a great community and got to spend our time biking, hiking and camping while I earned my master's degree in social work, but it was time to settle down and start a family.

For us, that meant going to the only place we ever truly considered home: Arkansas.

I'm sure many of you reading this have come back home at some point, too. Our state is small, but has so many incredible things to offer that are overlooked or disregarded by those on the outside.

Growing up, I remember how my parents always proudly shared Arkansas tidbits with out-of-towners and people they met on trips.

"Oh, have you tried a Cave City watermelon? ... You've never heard of our diamond mines? ... Johnny Cash is from Arkansas!" Calling the Hogs and annual trips to the Buffalo River were how I was raised. It was this love and pride that brought us back home.

But as wonderful as Arkansas can be, we are in the midst of legislative acts that make it difficult for some to call this place home.

I've been a social worker for a decade now, in our local schools, hospitals, and other institutions. I've sat with people of all ages and listened as they shared their accounts of horrible acts inflicted by strangers, loved ones, or trusted adults and friends.

I hear stories from adults who recently attempted suicide, still impacted by events that occurred decades before.

New bills such as HB1156 and SB 43--put forward with good intentions, I'm sure--are being pushed as a way to protect children.

But the worst issues I've seen facing the children of this state are not addressed in any way by this legislation.

Good intentions are not enough to protect children from the things that actually pose a threat to their well- being. We have to take an honest look at what we are wanting to protect them from.

According to a 2020 study, 80 percent of transgender youth have contemplated suicide, with about half actually attempting. These numbers are tragic, yet preventable.

I have cared for many transgender teens who have attempted or contemplated suicide, and I hear countless stories about the afflictions caused by the denial of gender-affirming care from a loved one. But I've never personally met or heard of a client for whom that affirmation was debilitating.

I have yet to have a fellow mental health professional discuss the trauma inflicted upon a client after they attended a drag show. It is simply not an issue affecting any of our children.

I am deeply concerned that the legislation currently being proposed or enacted would only make these problems worse.

Unfortunately, Arkansas has the earned reputation of a place that would pass these kinds of harmful laws. It's what people (including those who run global businesses, by the way) think of us. It's why people ask, "Why would you move back there?" It is behind the thought that we could leave again.

But in reality, leaving is not an option right now. When you love something, you don't run because it is going through a hard time; you stay and help build it back up. Because you know the small things that make it so special.

This may fall on deaf ears, as did testimony from multiple health professionals who expressed similar sentiments before these bills were passed, but I'd challenge our lawmakers to look at the issues causing us to fall near the bottom in almost every category that determines the quality of life, especially education and health care.

And for those who feel a dimming of pride, who may even consider leaving, but share my love for this state: Please know you are not alone. There are so many things to be proud of when it comes to this wonderful state. We just have to come together, solve real issues, and make sure everyone feels at home.

Jacob Grummer is a social worker in central Arkansas.

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