Time and time again, Texas lawmakers have been rightfully criticized for the state of abstinence-only sexual education in classrooms. However, the lack of a comprehensive education program has proved especially detrimental to Texas’ LGBT youth population, which could have severe impacts on future health. In a system crying out for overhaul, sex education in Texas must evolve, and the curriculum must become more inclusive.
Texas’ so-called “no promo homo” policies ban any positive depiction of homosexuality in classrooms. Until April 2015, Section 85.007 of Texas’ Health and Safety code said educational materials for minors must “state that homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.” Seeing as how neither of those statements were true, since Lawrence v. Texas struck down sodomy laws in 2003, this policy was both grossly overreaching and unnecessary. However, while this section was amended to remove any mention of homosexuality, Texas remains one of four states that mandates anti-LGBT information in state-sponsored sex education programs.
By bypassing education relating to their demographic, these policies leave young LGBT Texans at greater risk in regard to their sexual health. Texas has the third highest number of diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS in the United States; LGBT individuals are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, with young men who have sex with other men comprising nearly 80 percent of new diagnosed cases among youth in the United States. By failing to provide information besides that which caters to cisgender and heterosexual teenagers, Texas lawmakers endanger LGBT Texans.
Furthermore, failing to acknowledge the validity of varying gender identities and sexual orientation has negative psychological impacts on LGBT teenagers. Schools in states with so-called “no promo homo” and other kinds of stigmatizing laws are more likely to foster hostile environments for vulnerable young LGBT students. Many curriculum materials used in classrooms condemn or promote fear towards homosexuality, and many more outright erase the existence of LGBT individuals. In an effort to combat homophobia and transphobia in Texas schools, there must be a normalization of LGBT issues through inclusion in educational discourse.
While the onus is on the state to amend its ways, in the meantime, resources exist to help LGBT youth. Geography freshman Vincent Carson, the co-founder of Not Your Tool, an organization that attempts to consolidate accessible, unbiased and scientific sexual education resources online, discussed potential resources that exist in Austin.
“After getting rid of abstinence-only education, Texas needs to improve its education for LGBT+ individuals,” Carson said. “In the meantime, Austin has resources like Out Youth, which is a space that offers support for young LGBT+ individuals.”
Ultimately, Texas must fundamentally alter the way it approaches sexual education. Texas lawmakers have an obligation to equitably provide educational resources regardless of sexual orientation. All students will benefit if Texas promotes a more comprehensive discussion about sexual health.
Nemawarkar is a Plan II freshman from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @janhavin97.