This month is the third anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recognition of marriage equality. While this landmark decision remains the law of the land, later this month the Supreme Court may announce whether religious beliefs castigating or condemning homosexuality can be used to trump laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination.
Justice Anthony Kennedy will have likely cast the key vote in both cases, and rumors abound of his retirement. The departure of Kennedy, coupled with the appointment by President Trump of another anti-LGBT justice, would imperil the legal equality of every LGBT American.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is undermining LGBT rights and waging an administrative war on trans people. In recent months, the Trump administration has rescinded guidance and announced that the Department of Education would no longer protect the right of transgender students to use a restroom conforming with their gender identity. President Trump has also issued orders seeking to ban transgender troops from serving in our military and defending our nation’s liberty.
As LGBT Utahns await news and tweets from Washington with apprehension, work has continued in Utah to dismantle the legal system of inequality that had touched every gay Utahn from school until the grave. Last year Equality Utah successfully challenged a law that had prohibited the “advocacy of homosexuality” in Utah’s public schools. This anti-gay law had fostered in public schools a climate of fear and ignorance about homosexuality while rendering LGBT students invisible and consigning them to second-class status.
Thanks to the efforts of Equality Utah, last September the Utah Board of Education issued historic guidance to every school district and charter school administration, stating: “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.”
This guidance comes not a moment too soon to help Utah’s LGBT teens. No civil rights movement makes progress without suffering and casualties among the young and innocent. This reality has been painfully evident in Utah. The Utah Department of Health documented a 141.3 percent increase in Utah’s youth suicide rate between 2011 and 2017, a period that coincided with backlash from entrenched institutional foes of LGBT equality after high-profile battles in Utah with victories over Proposition 8 and marriage equality.
The Utah Department of Health also found evidence that sexual minorities suffered from suicide at substantially higher rates than their proportion of the overall teenage population. LGBT teens are also three times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide.
In the face of a suicide epidemic, school administrators need not rack their brains or ask plaintively about what can be done to help vulnerable LGBT students. There are LGBT kids in every school in Utah, from St. George to Snowville, and they all need and deserve acceptance and support.
Every Utah high school needs a Gay Straight Alliance. It is wrong that Utah law requires closeted teens to obtain parental consent to join a gay-straight alliance. And because by law no GSA can exist without a faculty advisor, no school administrator should have to ask what can be done to help vulnerable LGBT teens so long as any high school lacks a faculty advisor for its GSA.
Utah’s schools can help LGBT students to envision a positive future. There is reason for optimism despite the uncertainty caused by the current presidential administration. Popular support for LGBT rights continues to grow and deepen in Utah and across the nation, despite the disheartening but entrenched opposition in some quarters to the dignity of LGBT Americans.
Earlier this week, Real Salt Lake kicked off its first-ever Pride Night, one year after the U.S. Men’s National Team debuted in Utah special Pride uniforms to both honor the LGBT community and to represent our country.
These were inspiring moments showing that the arc of American history bends — like a rainbow — towards justice for LGBT Americans. But these are days of both angst and wonder for Utah’s LGBT citizens.