Healthy Youth Act
The vast majority of LGBTQ+ youth in MA learn nothing at all about how to stay safe and healthy as LGBTQ+ people in their schools' sexual education classes. It's no wonder that they experience far more adverse sexual health outcomes than their peers. Compounding the problem, neither they nor their classmates guaranteed to learn scientifically accurate information or content about consent at all. As long as we willfully refuse to recognize that teens need better sex ed, we will continue to fail our LGBTQ youth and their classmates. That's why the Massachusetts state legislature needs to require that schools that offer sex ed courses must offer a medically accurate, LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum by passing H.673/S.318 An Act Relative to Healthy Youth. Parents, educators, students, and advocates all agree: it's time for inclusive sex ed now.
4 of every 5 LGBTQ+ students in MA learn nothing about LGBTQ+ health in their school's sex ed classes
The Healthy Youth Act will ensure that Massachusetts schools that offer sex ed courses teach a scientifically accurate curriculum that features age-appropriate information about gender identity and sexual orientation. These opt-out sexual education courses must include affirmative recognition that people have different sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions, and provide information about LGBTQ resources for students. Further, health class teachers must teach their students relationship and communication skills that would let them make healthy decisions and form respectful relationships free of violence, coercion, and intimidation. This act was first proposed almost a decade ago; now, it's time for lawmakers to step up and finally guarantee equitable access to important educational content for all students.
We need to make sure our schools are giving all students the tools they need to stay safe. From lowering the incidence of risky sexual behaviors to promoting tolerant, inclusive school cultures that decrease rates of bullying, the evidence is clear that inclusive sexual health education is the best way to protect our children. Click here to email your lawmakers immediately in support the effort to pass the Healthy Youth Act or continue down the page to learn more about the state of LGBTQ+ sexual health education in Massachusetts.
– High school student, Greater Boston
of LGBTQ+ high school students in MA do not learn about LGBTQ+ sexual health in their school health classes
of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students who learned anything at all about GLB sexual health in their school health were taught negative, stigmatizing information about GLB people
of transgender and gender non-conforming students who learned anything at all about trans/GNC sexual health in their school health were taught negative, stigmatizing information about trans/GNC people
of gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students in MA were never even taught how to use a condom in school health class
sources: MA DOE's 2015 Report on Health and Risk Behaviors of Massachusetts Youth; GLSEN's 2017 National School Climate Survey and School Climate Survey: MA State Snapshot; GLSEN's 2019 National School Climate Survey and School Climate Survey: MA State Snapshot
Right now in Massachusetts, our youth are experiencing a dangerous health crisis. In the last decade, MA's chlamydia rates have almost doubled and our rates of gonorrhea and syphilis have both tripled. Although they represent only a quarter of people having sex, young people ages 15 to 24 reported roughly two-thirds of chlamydia cases and almost half of gonorrhea cases in Massachusetts in 2015. And the science is clear: the best way to prevent STIs (as well as unplanned pregnancies and other sexual health risks) among young people is to provide them with comprehensive sex education. Per a massive meta-analysis of over 6,500 studies on the effectiveness of school health courses assembled over two decades, comprehensive sexual health education is the only proven way to reduce youth risks. It led to significant improvements in every outcome researchers measured, from pregnancy to STI rates to frequency of sexual activity to age of initiating sexual intercourse - as opposed to abstinence-based education, which science has repeatedly indicated has no measurable positive impact.
Nevertheless, MA lawmakers have refused to act on the Healthy Youth Act for over a decade. Without guidelines, our schools are left using a sex ed framework that dates from 1999 - a year when 48% of Americans said homosexuality should be discouraged! And right now, most of our schools are failing to teach even that. Per a 2018 survey of school health teachers and principals, only half of MA schools even self-reported that they taught all 11 topics recommended by the CDC in a required health course. Those topics range from media literacy to skills for sustaining healthy relationships to how to influence peers to avoid risky behaviors. As a result, MA was ranked behind over a third of the other states surveyed, below a long list of states such as West Virginia, North Carolina, and Illinois.
But while our legislature refuses to implement the science-based solution of comprehensive sex ed for MA youth, the STI crises affecting our youth are hitting LGBTQ+ students hardest. At present, LGBTQ students are far less likely than their peers to report finding sex ed at their school useful - and far more likely to experience adverse sexual health outcomes, such as STIs, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault. Nationwide, the CDC has found that LGBTQ youth are more likely to engage in sexual risk behaviors such as early sexual contact, having sex without a condom, and consuming alcohol or drugs before sex, and state-level data indicates that many of these same trends hold true in MA. When 82% of LGBTQ+ students in our state report that their schools' health classes did not cover the tools and information that they need to stay safe and healthy as LGBTQ+ people, we have to face the reality that we are simply failing these teens. At best, most LGBTQ+ youth can expect health classes that teach them irrelevant information about the health risks or body parts involved in sex and overlook forms of protection they deserve to know about. At worst, these students are often taught misleading, stigmatizing information about LGBTQ+ topics that can negatively impact both their mental and sexual health.
That's why we're proud to be part of a diverse local coalition of educators, researchers, and advocates, who support the bill, including (but not limited to):
- Boston Area Rape Crisis Center
- Fenway Health
- Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts
- NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts
- National Association of Social Workers - MA
- Partners in Sex Education
- Jane Doe Inc.
- Every Voice Coalition
– High school student, Massachusetts GSA Leadership Council
of gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students in MA have been forced to have sexual intercourse against their will
of gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students in MA have experienced physical dating violence in the past year
of gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students in MA have experienced sexual dating violence in the past year
Passing the Healthy Youth Act is a key step to addressing the worrying rates of dating and sexual violence we see among teens – especially in the LGBTQ community. It’s no coincidence that groups that prioritize ending the horrors of sexual violence have endorsed the bill, from Jane Doe Inc. to the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. Learning about affirmative and voluntary consent and about recognizing and preventing dating violence is critical for all students, but it is especially important for LGBTQ students, who experience some of the highest rates of violence and assault. To prevent sexual violence, coercion, and assault, young people need access to sex education that includes lessons about consent and healthy relationships, starting well before college and well before they become sexually active.
– High school student, Massachusetts GSA Leadership Council
of gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students in MA attempted suicide in the past year
of gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students in MA skipped school in the last month because they felt unsafe
sources: MA's 2019 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey; GLSEN's 2017 School Climate Survey: MA State Snapshot
Research suggests that the Healthy Youth Act may also be a first step towards addressing the culture of homophobia and transphobia that make our schools unsafe environments for many LGBTQ youth. Even in MA, one in five LGBTQ students has experienced bullying that has escalated to physical harassment at school; and roughly one in six LGBTQ students reports skipping school in the last month alone due to feeling unsafe. LGBTQ kids can't get safe, equal educations when they are afraid to show up to the classroom - or when their schools' toxic climates are contributing to the mental health challenges that led over a quarter of them to attempt suicide in the past year.
Research on inclusive curricula has shown that simply addressing LGBTQ issues in the classroom can lower the reported levels of bullying LGBTQ youth experience. By teaching students about LGBTQ identities in an affirmative, non-judgmental manner, health classes can become a place for change and shift the culture in our schools. Additionally, health class teachers who are trained and empowered to provide affirming support to LGBTQ students can contribute to a positive school environment by becoming key resources for these youth. When we know that LGBTQ youth in MA are almost twice as likely as their peers to rely on school personnel for support that they don't receive from a parent, it's crucial to ensure that they have trustworthy adults they can turn to.
of gay or lesbian high school students in MA have been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property
of LGBTQ students in MA report regularly hearing school staff make homophobic remarks
of LGBTQ students in MA report regularly hearing school staff make transphobic remarks
of gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students in MA have been in a physical fight
sources: MA's 2019 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey; GLSEN's 2019 School Climate Survey: MA State Snapshot
– Member at Large, Melrose School Committee
At MassEquality, we're proud to be part of the coalition lobbying to pass an inclusive version of the Healthy Youth Act. Our organization has a long and proud history of successfully advocating for LGBTQ+ youth in Massachusetts. With the support of our amazing volunteers and donors, our courageous coalition partners, and political leaders who championed LGBTQ+ equality, we played a leading role in driving anti-bullying legislation in 2014 and in banning conversion therapy in 2019. With your support, we'll be able to see the Healthy Youth Act achieve the same success. In the past two years alone, our volunteers have shown up to testify in support of the bill, call their legislators at key points in the legislative session, and participate in drives to broaden public awareness. If you want to be part of our effort to keep defending LGBTQ+ youth, sign up below to volunteer specifically in support of the Healthy Youth Act, or click here to donate to our organization. If you're interested in volunteering for MassEquality more broadly, you can also click here.
– Massachusetts State Representative Jack Lewis