POLICIES THAT LIMIT SCHOOLS FROM DISCUSSING LGBT ISSUES COULD HURT THE HEALTH OF AT-RISK YOUTH
Williams Institute Releases Data and Analysis of “Don’t Say Gay” Provisions of Utah’s Abstinence Only Bill (HB 363)
SALT LAKE CITY – The Williams Institute has released analysis and data that provide important background and context for the ongoing debate on Utah’s abstinence only bill (HB 363), which includes provisions that limit discussion of LGBT issues at school. The Williams Institute is a national think tank and leading research institute at the UCLA School of Law that addresses issues of sexual orientation and gender identity law and policy.
HB 363 would require an “abstinence only” curriculum for sexual health education in the state’s public schools and prohibits discussion or provision of information about homosexuality by the state’s public school teachers and other school personnel. The bill was passed by the state Senate on Tuesday, March 7, 2012, and it is now before Governor Gary Herbert.
This initiative comes at a time when much is known about the experiences of LGBT students and the impacts of an anti-gay environment on their health and well-being.
- Hostile environments created by bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender nonconformity lead to adverse health effects for LGBT youth. Population-based studies have shown that LGBT youth indicate that they suffer from emotional distress, depression, self harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts at greater rates than heterosexual youth.
- Anti-gay stigma has been shown to be related to increases in violence against LGBT youth and adults, as well as to lower levels of health.
- Harassment based on sexual orientation and gender nonconformity is widespread with LGBT youth at heightened risk. An estimated 9,900 boys and 6,400 girls in Utah between the ages 12-17 may have some same-sex romantic attraction. Many thousands more may be perceived as possibly having a same-sex orientation, or being supportive of those who do, and may be bullied as a result. These estimates are based on findings from a U.S. national study showing that 7.3% of adolescent boys and 5% of adolescent girls indicated some same-sex romantic attraction. These figures were applied to Census 2010 tabulations showing that there were approximately 135,500 boys and 127,200 girls aged 12-17 in Utah.
- Research shows that states and locales that promote LGBT-inclusive school policies help reduce teen suicide, and enhance the health and well-being of LGBT youth. Specifically, schools that provide support services to LGBT students, aimed at increasing sensitivity and awareness by using culturally relevant, inclusive teaching materials, and allowing student support groups (such as gay-straight alliances) are effective in reducing threats and violence against LGBT students, and reducing LGBT students’ truancy, injuries at school, and suicide attempts.
- Laws with negative and discriminatory impact on the LGBT community could have a negative economic impact for business and the state economy. Policies designed to create supportive environment for LGBT people have been shown to yield broad economic benefits. Regions that want to attract innovative and entrepreneurial workforces and businesses do better when they are seen to be welcoming of their LGBT citizens.
Potential economic effects of discriminatory legislation are significant.
- Laws with negative and discriminatory impacts on the LGBT community could have negative economic effects for business and the state economy. In contrast, policies designed to create supportive environments for LGBT people have been shown to yield broad economic benefits. Regions that want to attract innovative and entrepreneurial workforces and businesses do better when seen as welcoming of their LGBT citizens.
Most states, including Utah, already have acted to protect youth from discriminatory harassment and bullying, with a smaller subset explicitly including anti-gay stigma and abuse.
- Forty-eight states, including Utah, have enacted legislation that prohibits harassment or bullying in schools. Some of these states specifically prohibit abuse based on particular personal characteristics, such as race, gender or religion. Of particular note, almost all of the states that enumerate particular characteristics in their anti-bullying or anti-harassment laws include sexual orientation and/or gender identity among the protected characteristics.
- Thirteen states and the District of Columbia explicitly prohibit discrimination against students on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in schools: California, Colorado, Connecticut District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
The bill may place licensed education professionals and others in conflicts between state law restrictions and their professional obligations to respond to student needs.
- The bill may be construed as restricting the ability of teachers and other school personnel to respond to students who are engaging in behavior harmful to themselves or others with age-appropriate, scientifically accurate information, as required by professional licensing standards.
- If restrictions on school professionals are too limiting, vague or confusing, they may chill the professionals’ willingness to address student needs in the ways required by professional licensing standards, thereby creating difficult conflicts both for the professionals and for local school administrators.
From a social science perspective, laws both reflect and shape social values and attitudes and therefore can enhance or diminish social stigma. Consequently, a policy that limits discussion of LGBT issues at school could have significant public health outcomes for the state’s LGBT youth and other at-risk students.
- Statement of Ilan H. Meyer before the United States Commission on Civil Rights briefing on peer-to-peer violence and bullying: Examining the federal response (May 13, 2011), available at http://dl.dropbox.com/u/8696742/Meyer%20Statement%20USCCR.pdf
- U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Peer-To-Peer Violence and Bullying: Examining the Federal Response (September 2011), available at http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/2011statutory.pdf
- Brad Sears and Christy Mallory, Economic Motives for Adopting LGBT-Related Workplace Policies (October 2011), available at http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Mallory-Sears-Corp-Statements-Oct2011.pdf
- Christy Mallory and Brad Sears, An Evaluation of Local Laws Requiring Government Contractors to Offer Equal Benefits to Domestic Partners (February 2012), available at http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Mallory-Sears-Local-Contractor-Ordinances-EBO-Feb-20121.pdf
- Stuart Biegel and Sheila James Kuehl , Safe at School: Addressing the School Environment and LGBT Safety through Policy and Legislation (September 2010), available at http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Biegel-Kuehl-Safe-At-School-Oct-2011.pdf
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About the Williams Institute
The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy advances law and public policy through rigorous, independent research and scholarship, and disseminates its work through a variety of education programs and media to judges, legislators, lawyers, other policy makers, and the public. A national think tank at UCLA Law, the Williams Institute produces high quality research with real-world relevance.