In 2012, I came out to my parents that I identify as a bisexual woman. I was blessed to have caring, non-judgemental parents. However, I was not so lucky with geography. Living in Texas since birth, I grew up with anti-LGBTQ bias following my every step. This is especially true within the schools in my state.
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Look no further than this Texas law, which states: “The materials in the education programs intended for persons younger than 18 years of age must: (1) emphasize sexual abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage as the expected standard in terms of public health and the most effective ways to prevent HIV infection, sexually transmitted diseases, and unwanted pregnancies; and (2) state that homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.”
Laws like this one are often referred to as “no promo homo” laws because they prohibit the positive portrayal of homosexuality, particularly in health class. And these laws are currently found in 7 states: Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and my state, Texas. In these seven states, nearly 10,000,000 students are affected by this discriminatory legislation.
Though laws like this one do not explicitly address bisexuality, the notion that same-sex relations are unacceptable and even criminal, perpetuates the idea that bisexual students are “less than our heterosexual peers.” Unfortunately for me, I internalized this message; I’ve wanted to hide my bisexuality and show only the part of me attracted to men, in order to preserve my respectability as a “proper” young woman. I never want to be considered a criminal, especially not because of the people I love.
Not surprisingly, according to GLSEN’s latest research, schools in states with “no promo homo” laws were more likely to include negative representations of LGBTQ topics in school curriculum, and were less likely to include LGBTQ topics overall, compared to schools in states without these laws even in health classes. When students see negative representations of themselves in their lessons at school they suffer. In other words, these laws have a real, negative impact on students like me.
When your identity is already underrepresented in every outlet (such as media, athletics, and fashion), the last place you want your identity to be covered up is in your education. If you live in one of the seven states with these laws, I urge you to send a letter to your state representatives urging them to repeal the law. If you don’t, check out GLSEN’s guide on LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum – it shows how and why educators should include positive representations of LGBTQ topics at school.
Em Gentry is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.