The Utah legislature passed a bill (HB 363) yesterday that makes teaching sex education optional for schools and prohibits any instruction about homosexuality or the use of contraception. Parents will now have to opt their children in to such classes as opposed to having the option to opt-out, and the classes can only teach abstinence.
During Tuesday’s short debate in the Senate, Sen. Ross Romero (D) pointed out that the bill will likely deprive many young people of sex education if they don’t have parents who provide it at home. He offered an amendment that would have allowed teachers to still answer questions about homosexuality, contraceptives, or sex outside of marriage so that gay teens are not deprived of vital information about their identities, but the amendment was defeated. Sen. John Valentine (R) summed up Republican lawmakers’ attitudes on the matter:
VALENTINE: I recognize that some parents do not take the opportunity to teach in their own homes, but we as a society should not be teaching or advocating homosexuality or sex outside marriage or different forms of contraceptives for premarital sex.
The effects of this legislation could be disastrous for Utah’s young people. Numerous studies have shown that abstinence-only education is completely ineffective. The success of such programs has been evaluated by how many participants take a virginity pledge, but studies show that students who take the pledge are still just as likely to have sex. Worse yet, those who take the pledge are less likely to use condoms and birth control. Essentially, teaching abstinence-only sex education increases the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections.
Additionally, the restrictions on discussing homosexuality will proliferate anti-gay stigma. Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District stands as a shining example of how misguided a strategy it is to marginalize LGBT students and treat them as invisible. As they struggle to make sense of their identity and the way others may mistreat them, these students will now find no support from their teachers and administrators. It’s telling that lawmakers like Valentine think such outcomes are good for society.