Pass the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act this week, which is designed to provide federal grants for comprehensive sex education programs in high schools and colleges. H.R. 3324 was introduced in the House with 26 original cosponsors, and S. 1782 was introduced in the Senate with six original co-sponsors. The bill is designed to provide youth with comprehensive sex education that uses evidence-based curricula from proven programs; includes information and skills necessary to make healthy, informed decisions; and teaches medically-accurate and age-appropriate methods of preventing unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and infections and unhealthy relationships.

The Task Force has long been an advocate for comprehensive sexual education, commending HHS rules rolling back abstinence only requirements. Because comprehensive sexual education is an especially critical issue for LGBT youth and children of LGBT families, the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act explicitly addresses issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. First, it defines “comprehensive sex education” as a program that, among other things, “is inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual young people.” The bill also provides a list of topics a comprehensive sex education curriculum should cover that includes “gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation,” and it requires that programs receiving federal grants “are gender- and gender identity-sensitive, emphasizing the importance of equality and the social environment for achieving sexual and reproductive health and overall well-being.”

The legislation additionally prohibits federal funds from being used for health education programs that “deliberately withhold live-saving information about HIV,” “promote gender stereotypes” or “are insensitive and unresponsive to the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender youth.” It also focuses grants on populations disproportionately affected by sexual health issues, including communities of color and LGBT youth. Finally, it includes a requirement that programs funded under the act do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

While studies consistently show that “abstinence-only-until-marriage” programs are ineffective and even counterproductive among students in general, they are especially detrimental to LGBT people because marriage is not available for same-sex couples in 44 of 50 states and the federal government does not recognize any legally married same-sex unions.