How Trump’s Administration Is Making It Harder For LGBTQ Teens To Learn About Safe Sex

by Lauren Holter
Santiago Bluguermann/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The Department of Health and Human Services issued new funding guidelines for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPP) grantees on Friday, one day after a federal court ruled that the Trump administration couldn't cut off funding for those programs. Now, not only will the government shift resources toward abstinence-only programs, but organizations advocating for LGBTQ health say Trump's focus on teen abstinence completely erases LGBTQ youth. The change could make it much harder for already underrepresented teens to get vital sex education.

"Effective sexual health education programs must reflect the full diversity of our communities," Ellen Kahn, director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Children, Youth and Families Programs, tells Bustle in a statement. "LGBTQ people are too often denied crucial information on sexual health that everyone needs to live healthy, safe and whole lives. This is yet another instance of the Trump-Pence Administration seeking to erase the reality of LGBTQ people."

Previous TPP funding guidelines required that projects receiving funding be "inclusive of LGBTQ youth," but that language was left out of the Trump administration's updated guidance issued on Friday. In fact, the term "LGBTQ" doesn't show up in the document at all. With a strengthened focus on abstinence and no mention of LGBTQ youth, the new guidance takes sex education back to a time when discussions of birth control and non-heteronormative relationships were few and far between.

"The Trump-Pence administration is remaking an effective program in order to peddle its radical ideology to young people — and it’s endangering our teenagers’ health as a result," Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. "This single-minded agenda promotes an abstinence-only approach and erases LGBTQ youth entirely." She added that the changes could "undermine young people’s understanding of sex and relationships."

LGBTQ youth are already less likely to receive sex education that applies to them: Fewer than 5 percent of LGBTQ teens say their health classes include positive representations of LGBTQ-related topics, according to a 2013 survey from the LGBTQ nonprofit GLSEN.

“Far too many LGBTQ youth are sitting in classrooms where their teachers and textbooks fail to appropriately address their identities, behaviors and experiences,” the Human Rights Campaign’s website reads. “Nowhere is this absence more clear, and potentially more damaging, than in sex education.”

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are also twice as likely to experience teen pregnancy than their straight peers, according to a study conducted by researchers from Harvard, the City University of New York, and San Diego State that was published last month. The study further explains that higher teen pregnancy rates among sexual minorities "was partially explained by childhood maltreatment and bullying, which may, in part, stem from sexual orientation–related discrimination."

The Trump administration’s new guidelines for teen pregnancy prevention programs require that organizations applying for grants follow either a “sexual risk reduction model” or a “sexual risk avoidance model.” While the former focuses on reducing the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and the latter on abstinence, both require grantees to provide teens with information and skills on how to avoid sex altogether.

The "protective factors" outlined in the new guidelines to discourage teens from having sex include parental monitoring; teens "have sex less frequently when they talk with their parents about sex," the guidance says. This tactic ignores the obstacles LGBTQ teens face in talking to parents or guardians about sex, however. Research conducted by Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign in 2017 found that most LGBTQ participants reported "that they either had no one to speak to about identity and sexuality or they would speak to peers, who they recognized as having limited information."

A webinar on the Health and Human Services website titled "Why LGBTQ Inclusivity Matters for Teen Pregnancy Prevention & How to Get Started" explains that LGBTQ inclusivity means programs "are sensitive toward, responsive to, and do not exclude the diverse experiences and needs of LGBTQ youth." Although the webinar was developed for the Department of Health and Human Services by a nonprofit, it has a disclaimer that reads: "The views expressed in this webinar do not reflect the official policies of the Office of Adolescent Health, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services."

That there's no mention of LGBTQ youth in the new TPP guidelines seems to reaffirm that inclusivity is not reflected in the views of the Department Health and Human Services under the Trump administration.