On Monday, ThinkProgress reported on comments made by Florida state Rep. Charles Van Zant (R) that a new testing program implemented as part of the Common Core education standards would “attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can.” After numerous other outlets reported on the remarks, PolitiFact, a project of the Tampa Bay Times, reached out to say that they too would be investigating Van Zant’s remarks. While they agreed that his claim was bogus — earning him a “Pants On Fire” rating — it seems the site fact-checked the wrong claim.
According to PolitiFact’s investigation, the American Institutes for Research (AIR), which has been contracted to administer Florida’s testing, does produce resources designed to support LGBT youth. However, the organization only provides these materials if they are requested, but the Florida Department of Education has only asked for English language arts and math tests. Thus, concludes PolitiFact, “We found no evidence that when AIR administers tests in Florida that the testing process will involve recruiting students to become gay.”
This analysis seems to imply that if Florida were utilizing AIR’s LGBT youth resources, there might be some truth to the premise of Van Zant’s claim. However, there has never been any evidence collected to support the claim that there is any way to manipulate or change a person’s sexual orientation. Conservatives have claimed for decades that exposing young people to teachers who are gay, or even just to information about homosexuality, would make them more likely to be gay themselves. In 1978, activist Harvey Milk campaigned against California’s proposed Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gay and gay-supportive teachers from the classroom, by joking, “If teachers are going to affect you as role models, there’d be a lot of nuns running around the streets today.”
What is true is that when schools utilize curricula that is LGBT-inclusive, it helps improve their climates, making them environments that are safer and more accepting of LGBT people. In turn, students might feel safer coming out as LGBT, but the curricula itself would have done nothing to affect their orientation or gender identity. GLSEN’s semi-yearly study on school climates has found that when schools include positive representations and lessons about LGBT people, students experienced less victimization and more peer acceptance, felt more comfortable coming to school, and felt more comfortable talking to their teachers about LGBT issues. A separate study found a similar result in California schools; in particular, the effect on climate was amplified when teachers presented LGBT issues in a positive light, as opposed to just in a neutral way.
A new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides useful information about lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) students in Florida schools. In Orange County, LGB students were four times more likely to have been threatened or injured by a weapon on school property (21 percent vs. 5 percent), and more than twice as likely to be sexually assaulted (20 percent v. 8 percent). The negative climate had a profound effect on their mental health, with 58 percent reporting that they had felt sad or hopeless every day for two weeks or more during the past year, more than double what non-LGB students reported (25 percent). Nearly 30 percent reported attempting suicide at least once, compared to just 7 percent of non-LGB students.
Van Zant’s claim isn’t false because Florida isn’t implementing an LGBT-inclusive curriculum, as PolitiFact concludes. It’s false because it’s impossible to “attract” children to become homosexual. It is possible, however, to make schools a safer place for LGBT students, which the Florida Department of Education could do if it utilized AIR’s other resources.
PolitiFact has added the following paragraph to its report on Wednesday to “address reader concerns”:
We should note that our previous fact-checking shows people can’t be recruited to a particular sexual orientation. In 2011, GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty said scientists are “in dispute” about whether being gay is a choice, and we rated that claim False.