Suicide is currently the leading cause of death for Oregon youth ages 10 to 24, according to the Oregon Health Authority. A bill proposed last month in the state Legislature seeks to address that alarming statistic.
Senate Bill 52, or Adi's Act, would legally require school districts in Oregon to adopt policies on suicide prevention.
The bill is named after Adi Staub, a transgender Portland student who died by suicide in 2017.
Her parents, Lon and Christine Staub, will testify at the bill's first hearing in Salem on Wednesday. In 2017, they wrote in a blog post, "Adi found purpose in advocating for others, so we'd like to honor her by sharing her story and continuing her efforts to promote a world of kindness and acceptance."
Basic Rights Oregon, the state LGBTQ advocacy group behind the legislation, says suicide prevention regulation is especially important for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students.
"Adi's Act will ensure that all K-12 public schools in Oregon have access to model suicide prevention policies and requires that school districts have policies and plans for suicide prevention, intervention, and healing that specifically address youth at particular risk like LGBTQ youth," BRO's spokesperson Liz Sauer says. "The bill sends a clear message that all young people, no matter how they identify or who they love, should see a future for themselves in Oregon."
Data from OHA show that the annual youth suicide rate in Oregon has increased sharply over the last decade, and remains well above the U.S. average. OHA's 2017 Healthy Teens Survey also shows that nearly half of the state's lesbian, gay or bisexual eighth graders have contemplated suicide, and a quarter of those students have attempted suicide. As well, close to a third of transgender eighth graders in Oregon have attempted suicide.
"Many LGBTQ youth are isolated because of harassment, bullying and family rejection," a statement from proponents of Adi's Act reads. "Unfortunately, Oregon is one of only three states that do not have suicide prevention regulations for schools in statute."
BRO, along with groups like the Oregon School Boards Association and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, is pushing for state school districts to adopt prevention policies that mirror national best practices.
SB 52 is sponsored by more than 25 lawmakers in the House and Senate.
One of the bill's chief sponsors, Rep. Karin Power (D-Milwaukie), tells WW in an email, "We know [Adi's] family is not alone in experiencing this tragedy. In my own district, there was a suicide attempt at Rowe Middle School last year during the school day."
She continues: "Life is hard enough for youth who are growing into themselves and learning so much about themselves and the world during their adolescence. When we add on the particular difficulties Oregon faces in unmet mental health and housing needs, it can be too much to ask sometimes to get through that without help. I know for most people the Capitol feels far away, but I hope this legislation sends a message to each kid in Oregon that your legislators care about you and want the very best for each of you."