The California State Senate recently passed the "Bias-Free Curriculum Act," requiring textbooks in California to include the contributions of gays and lesbians. While Governor Schwarzenneger has said he will veto the bill, it is worth examining the justifications its sponsors offer, because the arguments will be back.
Openly lesbian State Senator Sheila Kuehl, says gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students face violence and harassment and this "places them at greater risk for suicide, skipping school, drug and alcohol abuse and other risk-taking behavior." Citing studies that "show a bias-free and LGBT-inclusive curriculum fosters tolerance, resulting in greater feelings of student safety and less bullying of students who are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender," she leaves the impression that her bill will reduce the suicide rate for gay teens.
The sound-bites are appealing: gay students are suffering. Mean straight kids are to blame. But the facts don’t support these claims.
Studies do show that gay and lesbian teens have higher rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. But studies don’t show that this is because of being bullied, harassed or otherwise victimized by straights. Repeating assertions do not constitute proof.
Equality California, an organization supporting SB 1437, cites a study on its website, called "A Safe Place to Learn." Among the five authors are the Executive Director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and the Deputy Director of Public Policy for the ACLU of Southern California.
This report presents the alarmist findings which presumably motivated Senator Kuehl:
• "7.5% of California students reported being harassed on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation....
• Compared with students who are not harassed, students harassed based on actual or perceived sexual orientation are more than twice as likely to report seriously considering suicide and more than twice as likely to report making a plan for suicide."
This number tickled my memory, but something about it wasn’t quite right. So, I opened my filing cabinet and found what I was looking for: gay teens are two to three times more likely to report suicidal thoughts and attempts. Comparing students who report anti-gay harassment with those who do not, is pretty much the same thing as comparing gay students with straight students. This is not proof that victimization causes suicidal thoughts. This is just substituting one variable (having been harassed for sexual orientation) for another (sexual orientation).
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love In A Hook-up World. She blogs at jennifer-roback-morse.blogspot.com
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