Credit: Ted Eytan

‘Don’t say gay’ is gaining traction yet again in the United States

By Manos Antoninis, Director, Global Education Monitoring Report

2021 is set to “become the worst year for state legislative attacks against LGBTQ people in history,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign in the United States.

Our new paper, Don’t look away, just released with IGLYO, cited the 2017 GLSEN School Climate survey showing that two-thirds of students in the United States had not been exposed to representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people and their history in school. New bills in the pipeline this year risk blindsiding their needs even more.

States where students might benefit from having their eyes opened to diversity, keep their ears closed to lessons that can be taught from inclusion. Bills in Arkansas and Tennessee are going through that would allow parents to waive curriculum related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) for their children. Legislation in Idaho awaiting Senate approval also requires parental notifications and opt-ins, including for discussion of sexual orientation outside of sex education classes. Lawmakers in Missouri are considering measures that would require parents to be notified before instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity but would exclude historical references.

In Iowa, a bill requires parents to give written consent for gender identity to be discussed with their children, while a separate bill requires for curriculum covering gender identity to specify ’the potential harm and adverse outcomes of social and medical gender interventions’. A further bill in Arkansas passed the House last month obliging teachers to refer to students only by their ‘biological sex’.

A similar bill in Arizona was recently vetoed by the Governor. The alternative he suggests is for all sex education curriculum to be posted online, with no exceptions. “I’m proud that Arizona is one of only five states where sex education is “opt-in”, he says. “More states should follow our lead”.

Other legal forms of exclusion from education for LGBTQ students are being actively sought. In North Dakota, the Governor signed a House Bill into law last month, which will allow student groups that receive state funding through their universities to turn away LGBTQ students ‘under the guise of free speech’, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In Tennessee, House Bill 1182, which aims to prevent transgender people from using bathrooms aligning with their identity, has gone up to the Governor for approval.

There are also several bills related to trans athlete bans. Legislators in 28 states have already considered or passed bills, as in Arkansas and Idaho, that prohibit trans girls from playing on girls’ sports teams. A recent such law in Florida makes it possible for schools to require a genital inspection of student athletes suspected of being trans.  

These bills will have far reaching implications for children and young people’s lives.  The United States’ leading child health and welfare groups representing more than 7 million youth-serving professionals and more than 1000 child welfare organizations have just released an open letter calling for lawmakers in states across the country to oppose these bills. ‘All of our nation’s children deserve equal protection and treatment when accessing health care, and when attending school’, it said.

Without protection, bullying, discrimination and exclusion can run wild. In the United States, 12.5% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students reported not going to school at least once in the previous 30 days because they felt unsafe at or on their way to and from school, compared with less than 4.6% of heterosexual students.

Having an inclusive curricula matters to LGBTQ students’ safety in school. The 2020 GLSEN school survey found that students in schools with inclusive curricula were less likely to feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation (42% vs. 63%) or to be often or frequently exposed to biased language (52% vs. 75%).

According to the Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey, just over half of transgender and non-binary young people seriously considered suicide in the past year and 40% reported being physically threatened or harmed in their lifetime due to their gender identity. In addition, a peer-reviewed study by the Trevor Project found that transgender and non-binary youth who report experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity were more than twice as likely to consider suicide in the past year compared to others.

It is no secret that there are entrenched divides in public opinion in the United States over such issues. Yet, hope has to be found in the results of a recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll which found that two-thirds of Americans are opposed to laws that would limit trans rights. Perhaps the real hope, which may also be the fear driving the creation of many of these bills, is that hiding something doesn’t make it stop. There are laws, but there are also inclusive schools, inclusive teachers, welcoming students and inclusive communities that can make the difference. This is where each and every one of us reading this comes in. We all have a role to play in not looking away and in fighting unjust exclusion. Every student matters – no matter their identity, background or ability.

Originally published in The Hill


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