Texas’ anti-gay sex-ed laws hurt kids

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Photo Credit: Katherine Na | Daily Texan Staff

Texas Health and Safety Code Section 163.002 lays out the guidelines regarding the instructional elements related to sexual education and STDs in public schools within the state. Hidden under points regarding an emphasis on abstinence-based sex ed is a restriction profoundly damaging to LGBTQ kids throughout the state of Texas.

Specifically, this law states that sex ed instruction should include an emphasis “ … that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense.”

Imagine being forced to sit in a classroom while your sexuality is criminalized by your teachers and peers. This is what hundreds of thousands of queer kids in Texas experience annually.

This Texas mandate has come to be popularly characterized as a “no promo homo” law. GLSEN, an organization dedicated to inclusivity in K-12 schools, defines “no promo homo” laws as those that prohibit the promotion of homosexuality. These laws bar teachers from discussing topics surrounding the LGBTQ community in a positive manner, preventing the possibility of inclusive sex ed topics in classrooms.

The states of Alabama, Texas, Arizona, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi currently have laws that allow educators to speak negatively about the queer community. In order to retain their commitment to fight bullying and represent all types of people, Texas policymakers must repeal these laws.

Recent findings show that “no promo homo” laws have negative implications for LGBTQ kids. In one study by GLSEN, 22.6 percent of students in states with “no promo homo” laws reported having been taught negative things about LGBTQ topics and people in a school setting. Furthermore, only 8.4 percent of educators in these states incorporate LGBTQ topics in their curriculum.

LGBTQ kids report a significant lack of support from their school community. Only 23.5 percent of these students felt that their school administration was supportive of LGBTQ students.

These laws also raise public health concerns, as they result in a lack of health services available to LGBTQ kids in public schools. Only 13.9 percent of school health professionals in these states reported that medical and mental health services specific to LGBTQ students were provided in their school — half that of states without “no promo homo” laws.

Attending public school for LGBTQ youth is hard enough, even in places without “no promo homo” laws. A 2007 study reported that 86 percent of LGBTQ youth are bullied at school, while 64 percent feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. Furthermore, LGBTQ teenagers are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts. The state of Texas must not make it even more difficult on these kids by perpetuating stigmas in classroom discussions regarding sexual education.

“No promo homo” laws have no place in schools. The public education system should be representative of everyone — LGBTQ kids included. Doing away with these laws is both urgent and necessary, as they are degrading to a significant portion of the population.

Forty-three states don’t have these hurtful, demoralizing laws. For the sake of its kids, Texas must join them.

Braaten is an international relations and global studies junior. She is a senior columnist.