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LGBT Bullying, HIV and the "Don't Say Gay" Bill

June 10, 2011

Last month, the Journal of School Health published a study that linked LGBT bullying among adolescents with health risks later in life, including depression, suicide, and the acquisition of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). While the study was limited in that it relied only on survey responses from 245 LGBT Latinos and non-Latino Caucasians between the ages of 21 and 25, it strongly suggests that bullying should not just be thought of as a typical part of growing up -- and that schools need to intervene and do a better job of protecting LGBT youth.

This study goes hand-in-hand with earlier research led by Caitlin Ryan, Director of the Family Acceptance Project (which conducted the recently published survey), which established a link between a family's acceptance of its LGBT adolescents and that child's better overall health once he or she became an adult. Specifically, it showed that "parental and caregiver behaviors -- such as advocating for their children when they are mistreated because of their LGBT identity or supporting their gender expression -- protect against depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in early adulthood."

But despite studies like these, many parts of the U.S. still haven't gotten the message. The most recent example occurred on May 20, when the Tennessee State Senate passed legislation dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill, which would prevent teachers from discussing homosexuality in any classroom or instructional material from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Although the goal of this bill is to shift the responsibility of talking about sexuality from teachers to parents, opponents think it would actually prevent LGBT youth in Tennessee from seeking counsel at school and at home, according to Slate. The Slate article also says the bill contains language that could discourage students from participating in gay straight alliance groups (GSAs) at school, even though "a national survey of schools in 2009 found that violence and bullying towards homosexual students in school was reduced in schools with GSA groups."

The "Don't Say Gay" bill will only become a law if the Tennessee House of Representatives approves it, and the House is not slated to vote on it until next year. But regardless, there is an obvious disconnect here. Time and time again, we learn that HIV transmission, HIV stigma and homophobia often start because of ignorance and lack of education. Yet when teachers aren't allowed to even discuss homosexuality in way that allows kids to actually learn about it, this only perpetuates the dilemma: When you outright ban discussing homosexuality, you're indirectly teaching kids that being gay is not OK, which bolsters negative attitudes towards the LGBT community; which leads to bullying, stigma and discrimination; which brings about depression, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts; and which leads an LGBT teen to take increased risks that can result in them getting HIV and other STDs.

You can urge your schools to implement anti-LGBT-bullying interventions by suggesting and providing them these anti-bullying resources from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

You can also sign this petition to urge the Tennessee House not to pass the bill next year.

Warren Tong is the research editor for and

This article was provided by TheBody.
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