Equality Utah is thrilled to report more progress for LGBTQ students. In 2016 we filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Education to overturn the discriminatory No Promo Homo law. In 2017 the Legislature responded by striking down the law with SB 196. To settle our lawsuit, we negotiated a settlement that included a new directive from the State Board to every school district that declared:
“The Utah State Board of Education desires 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.”
Last week, the Board unanimously voted to codify this policy by affirmatively stating that schools must train and report bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These are the first explicit protections for LGBTQ students in Utah law.
Equality Utah has been working closely with the Board of Education as well as ACEESS to ensure these new changes benefit and protect our youth. The timing couldn’t be more urgent.
Utah is experiencing an unprecedented spike in youth suicide. Since 2011, Utah’s youth suicide rates have increased four times faster than the national average, prompting Governor Herbert to launch a task force on the prevention of youth suicide.
The state has further recognized that school bullying is one of the leading causes of youth suicide. In 2014, the Utah Department of Health reported that picked on or bullied students were four times more likely to have seriously considered or attempted suicide.
The unanimous vote sends a powerful message to school districts, teachers, administrators, and counselors that toleration of bullying LGBTQ students is culpable under state law. We extend gratitude to the Board, the ACEESS Committee, and Professor Clifford Rosky for working together to ensure that LGBTQ students feel safe and supported in Utah’s public schools.
Reducing LGBTQ youth suicide will require work on multiple fronts, including schools, government, and churches. We must all work together to create a culture of inclusion and belonging, in every aspect of our lives. The State Board action is one positive step in that direction.