Understanding sexuality in a religious community
Equality Utah sued the Utah State Board of Education Oct. 24, 2016 in order to repeal “no promo homo” laws. It wasn’t until Oct. 5, 2017 that the lawsuit was settled by the U.S. District Court.
This lawsuit declared these “no promo homo” laws unconstitutional. The settlement requires public and charter schools to revise old sex education laws and to also include safety plans and resources for LGBT students.
Even though the repeal of older sex education laws is a legal success, this settlement doesn’t keep teachers from discriminating against students or guarantee that cultural misunderstandings about sexuality and gender will open up.
Living in a predominantly religious community where some believe that marriage exists only between a man and woman is one challenge for someone who does not fit that norm. Cultural expectations about abstaining from any sexual activity before marriage is another.
Nathan Roundy, a political science major who identifies as a gay cisgender male, said that one way people can lessen discrimination is to first self-reflect. Roundy said that one of the problems with people’s lack of understanding is that so any people in Utah County and the state do not check their prejudice and think about why they might feel uncomfortable.
“I think we need to move beyond looking at another person and saying ‘your behavior, your skin color, your sexuality or your gender presentation makes me uncomfortable.’ instead we should look at ourselves and say ‘am I making myself uncomfortable because of my prejudice or hate?'”
He also said that in order to LGBT youth from self-harm, we should find common ground with people who disagree with gay marriage or identity by addressing love as a shared value. “Then we can say, well we may not agree with lifestyle choices, political action or sex education, but we can agree that these kids need love.”
Blaire Ostler, a philosophy major who identifies as a pansexual cisgender female, talked about the wide spectrum of gender and sexual desire. Ostler also talked about the differences between genre and sexual identity. She said even though they’re connected, people often think gender and desire are the same, when they can be independent of each other.
“The most common sexual identities are either heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or pansexual…It gets more complicated because there aren’t just two genders, there’s a whole spectrum, there’s transgender, bigender, intersex and so on.” She also talked about how people can expand their conversations about identity as a whole. ” I think sometimes we want to categorize people because it’s easier to identify problems, but when we lump and categorize, sometimes we neglect the issue,” Ostler said.
UVU students bring multiple spectrums of sexuality and gender and should continue to create spaces for critical discussion and awareness.
Legal victories are clearly not enough to prevent LGBT suicides when Utah is the fifth-ranked state for the highest suicide rate in the nation and many state officials espouse anti-gay sentiments.
This recent settlement was a significant step, but that shouldn’t lessen the urgency to continue to make each other aware and more open with ideas about what counts as a family and who or how to love. There are many ways for culture to progress in Utah County, such as trying to reach across cultural lines even within a politically conservative state. It’s up to us as college students to continue to create more room for deeper understanding of sexuality and identity.