On April 14, Arizona State House passed Senate Bill 1456, which limits LGBTQ sexual education material taught in classrooms. This bill requires parents to opt-in for a curriculum concerning sexuality, gender identity or gender expression. Because this bill allows parents to ultimately control LGBTQ information for their children, students no longer have the freedom of choice to learn essential LGBTQ health information in school.
When I first learned about this law, I was concerned about my gay friend who lives in a conservative community in Arizona. I was afraid she would not have the support of her homophobic Christian parents regarding her queer identity. Thus, she now faces barriers in accessing essential LGBTQ health information at school, a place she used to feel safe at.
Because the LGBTQ community includes only 286,000 people over the age of 13, my friend has already struggled with feelings of isolation. Fortunately, in the past, she was able to confide to a school counselor, who was able to supply her with LGBTQ educational resources. Unfortunately, after this bill had been passed in Arizona, my queer friend, and many others, was denied access to vital LGBTQ health information.
I am heartbroken, for I wish my friend did not have to go through this injustice. It is clear to me that she is being discriminated against for being gay. Essentially, Senate Bill 1456 sends the message to my friend and other LGBTQ students that they are not accepted at their school.
According to a Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, 90% of LGBTQ students hear anti-LGBTQ comments in school, and yet many states have not taken legal action to prohibit bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It is deeply concerning that teachers and school faculty in Arizona are put in a difficult position in which they cannot help their queer students.
Additionally, Senate Bill 1456 does not simply prohibit LGBTQ education at schools. It does far more damage than that.
Ever since the passing of this bill, my friend has experienced even further ostracization. Her conservative classmates and Christian family have made it clear that they do not accept her. She tells me that I am the only one that supports her.
It is hard for me to hear that my friend has no outlet in expressing herself in her Arizona community. And the passing of Senate Bill 1456 has simply made things worse for queer high school students.
When I read in the study in GLSEN that 28% of LGBTQ youth drop out of high school due to harassment, I understood that rampant homophobia can affect graduation rates. If the situation does not improve for my friend, in which she does not receive adequate support for her queer identity, I fear she may drop out of high school.
This is why the passing of Senate Bill 1456 is causing more harm than is intended.
Furthermore, the continued lack of governmental support for LGBTQ teens can lead to an increase in homelessness. Youth.gov reports that 20 to 40% of all homeless teenagers are LGBTQ. Homelessness has long devastated the United States and while many solutions have been suggested, they have made little impact.
Studies have shown that education is the best way to prevent homelessness. According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, teenagers with less than a high school diploma or GED have a 346% higher chance of experiencing homelessness than teenagers with at least a high school degree.
Thus, the passing of Senate Bill 1456 is directly hurting the education of LGBTQ students, which can negatively impact their chances of graduating or pursuing higher education. By promoting an environment that does not prioritize acceptance and does not protect the LGBTQ youth, we may be inadvertently increasing the number of homeless LGBTQ youth. To remedy this issue, access to LGBTQ education at school is essential.
If Arizona continues to refuse to teach the LGBTQ curriculum, then we may be endangering my friend’s life and the lives of countless other queer teens. Fortunately, we can simply follow the measures of others states to improve the acceptance of LGBTQ teens.
Since 21 states have already adopted the Safe School Laws, which prohibit bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity, other states like Arizona can follow that lead to improve the graduation rates of high school students. Unfortunately, Arizona has not implemented any law that protects LGBTQ students. But that can change with enough support from younger voters.
In short, states like Arizona need to reconsider passing bills like Senate Bill 1456 and consider passing Safe School Laws. By taking these actions, we can better foster a safer environment for all students, which will only encourage future success for everyone.