Late last Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released two funding announcements on sexuality education that included language focused on LGBT and questioning youth. For the first time, language in the funding announcements for federal sexuality education dollars encouraged states to consider “the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth” and asked states to ensure that programs funded with these dollars are “inclusive of and nonstigmatizing toward” LGBT and questioning participants. HHS also required that funding must be medically-accurate in both programs and that any statements that reflect values-based opinions must be labeled as such.
Friday’s grant announcements cover both the newly created Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), which supports comprehensive, evidence-based efforts to prevent teen pregnancy and reduce sexually-transmitted infections, as well as abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Both efforts were funded through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, with million dedicated to PREP efforts and million to support abstinence-only. HRC has long opposed federal funding for abstinence-only programs because they exclude, or even denigrate, LGBT students, while at the same time failing to provide all young people with the tools they need to live healthy lives. Since 1996, Congress has spent almost .5 billion on abstinence-only programs, despite a wealth of evidence that they are ineffective.
Because only Congress can act to end funding for abstinence-only programs, HRC recommended, as part of the Blueprint for Positive Change, that in the meantime HHS could require recipients of federal funding for sexuality education to ensure that the programs acknowledge LGBT youth and the difficulty presented by an abstinence-only message when most states, and the federal government, do not recognize marriage equality. HHS’s inclusion of LGBT youth in Friday’s funding announcements, as well as its requirement that abstinence-only programs be medically accurate, are positive steps. But the real solution is for Congress to stop funding disproven programs and instead support comprehensive sexuality education that empowers students, LGBT and straight alike, to live healthy lives.