On Monday, LGBT students’ rights were vindicated in a comprehensive settlement with Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District over its policies that hindered teachers from effectively responding to anti-gay bullying—policies that may have contributed to some of the district’s recent suicides. Then on Tuesday, in the afterglow of this historic victory, the Utah Senate passed its own discriminatory bill (HB 363) prohibiting educators from teaching about, or even talking about, homosexuality.
How many schools must sacrifice the safety of their students before the lesson is learned—gag policies foster an environment where bullying and harassment often come to a tragic end. Brittany, an Anoka-Hennepin student, calls this environment “a nightmare” that ended in the suicide of her best friend.
Utah’s HB 363 will create just such a nightmare in Utah’s public schools by stripping LGBT students of school support and denying them access to essential information. Teachers, afraid of disciplinary action, will be unable to shield their students from peer harassment and bullying. STD rates will rise as student knowledge of safe sex practices declines. LGBT students will question their worth in a world where their legislators can openly proclaim “we as a society should not be teaching or advocating homosexuality.”
When prejudice is touted so openly by public figures, how can we expect anything but an increase in anti-gay bullying in schools? An upsurge in student suicides? And these are just the effects that are easiest to immediately track. We must also consider the life-long consequences of low self-esteem on students who are told they are defective and unworthy of our country’s educational efforts.
The list of states with existing or soon-to-be-implemented gag policies is long and growing, but conscientious educators are pushing back. Victories, like the one in Anoka-Hennepin, belong to the courageous students and teachers who risked their own safety to call these laws what they are—bigotry.
Utah’s HB 363 is in the hands of Governor Gary Herbert. It is essential that educators in Utah let him know laws that endanger our youth will not be tolerated—he should veto HB 363.
Unfortunately, the struggle is far larger than Utah. Educators, students and parents across the country must stand together. If you are an LGBT student experiencing discrimination in your school—or an educator or parent witnessing it—contact us. In the words of Brittany, “you are not alone.”
Pettway is associate editor for Teaching Tolerance.
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