LGBTQ youth—like all youth—do best in affirming, supportive environments. And, like all children, they deserve to feel safe and loved.
But, unfortunately, too many LGBTQ youth aren’t getting enough support from their families and communities, which they need to be healthy and to flourish. Without that support, LGBTQ youth will likely struggle with enduring abuse, facing homelessness, and even considering suicide.
Equality Utah is committed to protecting the rights of Utah’s most vulnerable communities, including LGBTQ youth. In the links to the following articles, you can read about the progress we’ve made so far, and you can discover how you can personally help to make a fair and just Utah for LGBTQ youth and their families.
The Effects of Intolerance on Utah’s LGBTQ Youth
Intolerance is hard for anyone to deal with. But it’s even harder for LGBTQ youth, who are children dealing with discrimination, harassment, and criticism simply for being who they are. Unfortunately, the statistics are staggering.
Our goal at Equality Utah is to make our communities in Utah fair and just so that no LGBTQ child will ever feel that they need to end their own life. But the work needed to achieve this includes creating a culture of belonging and hope for LGBTQ youth in Utah. Although that will be considerably challenging, there are steps we can take as a community to get there.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends collecting data about teens’ sexual orientations to help prevent LGBTQ youth suicides. Fortunately, many states are following the CDC’s recommendations by giving their high school students a national survey that asks about their sexual orientations. But, strangely, Utah hasn’t followed the CDC’s suggestion to collect that data on LGBTQ youth, even though, between 2011 and 2016, teen suicide rates in Utah almost doubled.
To solve the problem of teen suicide, we first must understand it. However, many of Utah’s officials have seemed in the dark when it comes to understanding the reasons for teen suicides and the steps that could be taken to help prevent them. And, making matters worse, our state’s health-care and school programs can’t intervene effectively for LGBTQ youth when these programs don’t even know how many LGBTQ youth live in Utah’s communities or attend its public schools.
So, Equality Utah is currently lobbying for Utah’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and Student Health and Risk Prevention Statewide Survey (SHARP) to be changed to include questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. If we succeed in these efforts, Utah will join twenty-five other states, including California, Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina, and New York, which have already started collecting data on LGBTQ youth in their surveys.
Ultimately, we each should consider whether we are willing to fight any resistance from Utah school districts to include these questions in our state’s surveys because the lives of Utah children are at stake.
Reducing Bullying and Harassment Endured by LGBTQ Youth
Bullying is a serious problem faced by many Utah students. But it’s even more serious for students who identify themselves as LGBTQ. In fact, research shows that LGBTQ youth are two times more likely to have been kicked, shoved, or physically assaulted than other students. And, according to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a national survey that asks high school students about their health behaviors, 34% of LGBTQ students have been bullied on school property and another 28% of LGBTQ students have been bullied online.
In 2008, and again in 2011, Equality Utah worked with lawmakers to pass anti-bullying and anti-hazing bills to define what behaviors make up bullying and hazing. These bills created minimum standards local public and charter schools must follow to prevent bullying and hazing. Also, in 2011, Equality Utah succeeded in added cyber bullying and verbal harassment to the list of behaviors that won’t be tolerated in Utah schools.
These efforts have helped some, but they haven’t completely prevented LGBTQ youth or other students from being bullied at school. That’s because there is a deeper problem: most school districts in Utah don’t list the characteristics of students who are getting bullied most often. Gathering and comparing this data would help identify which races, skin colors, national origins, sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions, disabilities, and religions are being targeted by bullies in each school and district.
Knowing who is being targeted would help schools protect those students instead of leaving their most vulnerable children unprotected. Unfortunately, Salt Lake and Park City school districts are the only school districts in Utah that have policies that recognize when LGBTQ children are being bullied just for being LGBTQ.
Like Equality Utah’s stance on hate crime laws, we believe school policies against bullying are strongest when schools are willing to recognize that LGBTQ youth are being bullied simply for being who they are—members of Utah’s LGBTQ community.
Protecting and Respecting LGBTQ Youth in Utah Schools
Equality Utah is committed to protecting the rights of Utah’s most vulnerable communities, including LGBTQ youth. In March 2017, we successfully repealed Utah’s anti-gay curriculum law—also known as “No Promo Homo.” This discriminatory law had banned teachers and educators from even mentioning LGBTQ individuals in positive or supportive ways to their students.
Before it was repealed, this law had been on Utah’s books for almost two decades, which had created a harmful environment for LGBTQ students by doing the following:
- Discouraging school officials from intervening to stop bullying of LGBTQ students
- Discouraging teachers from giving all students basic information
- Preventing students from forming LGBTQ-themed school groups
So, repealing this anti-gay curriculum law was a big step forward for Equality Utah’s efforts to make schools safer for LGBTQ youth. And we’re thrilled that school teachers and administrators can now discuss LGBTQ individuals and families in positive, supportive ways in their classrooms and curriculum, which will help Utah’s LGBTQ youth feel and become more accepted for who they are as they attend school.
What caused this change was an open letter published in September 2017 by the Utah State Board of Education. In this letter, they stated that they desire “each student in Utah public schools to receive a high quality education free from all manner of discrimination, which can take the form of bullying, based on religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”
Since we each have a race, an ethnicity, a sexual orientation, and a gender identity, and many of us belong to a religion, this letter benefits all Utah families because its enumeration includes and protects all students in Utah.
In other words, when the letter enumerates categories—identifying the types of groups likely to be bullied, harassed, targeted, or discriminated against—it does not create special rights for only specific groups of students but names these broad categories to include all students within its protections.
However, we still have work to do, for educators continue to normalize heterosexual family relationships every day at Utah schools, often talking just about them. But, if we want to ensure that LGBTQ youth can feel safe and accepted at Utah schools—without being bullied, harassed, or discriminated against—then school teachers and administrators need to begin to acknowledging verbally that LGBTQ people also have real, meaningful relationships—just like they have continually acknowledged about people in heterosexual relationships.
By doing so, school teachers and administrators can set a good example to their students and to others that providing equal rights and protections to LGBTQ people also includes showing mutual respect for them and their family relationships. These improvements will help to create a more just and fair Utah for all of us.
To support these goals, Equality Utah is currently fighting for equal rights and protections for LGBTQ youth by doing the following:
- Promoting juvenile justice reform policies to protect LGBTQ youth in state custody.
- Lobbying for laws designed to prevent harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression—not only in Utah’s public schools but also in foster care environments and juvenile detention facilities.
- Lobbying for a ban of so-called “conversion therapy” to end its harmful effects, which include unnecessary frustration, despair, isolation, and high-risk behaviors in LGBTQ youth that contribute to the high rate of LGBTQ youth suicides in Utah.
There’s always important work to be done to protect LGBTQ youth. But whatever setbacks or successes we may experience, our sights at Equality Utah are fixed on creating Utah schools where every student is able to pursue their greatest potential in a safe, inclusive environment. If we hold on to this hope and our determination, there’s no telling what we can achieve together.
Helping LGBTQ Homeless Youth in Utah
According to the Outreach Resource Center, in Salt Lake City, more than 50% of the homeless youth they serve are LGBTQ youth. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that 20% to 40% of homeless youth around the country are LGBTQ youth.
Once children become homeless, it’s harder for them to finish school, stay healthy, and find jobs when they grow up. These difficulties form barriers to having economic equality when they become adults.
LGBTQ youth also face a higher risk of becoming homeless because often they are kicked out of their homes or they run away. That’s why Equality Utah is fighting for policies that would prevent harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ youth in foster care and in juvenile detention facilities. We’re also fighting for juvenile justice reform policies to protect LGBTQ minors in state custody.
Equality Utah will continue to fight so that all Utah children can be safe and happy—regardless of their sexual orientations or gender identities, for all young people deserve a safe and affirming environment where they can learn and grow.
Here are some additional resources to help you discover how you can help homeless LGBTQ youth: