A picture of former GLSEN National Student Council member TJ Mitchell smiling

Growing up in school in South Carolina was so isolating. All of my friends would talk about having sex, and I would tell lies about how much fun I had with a made-up girl.

Attending health class was hard for me as a gay high school student in 2015. I was always taught about heterosexual relatonships: that only a man and a woman can reproduce, and what sex was like between them. (Of course, they were only talking about cisgender men and women, as transgender people were never acknowledged, and lesbian, gay, and bisexual people were also not even spoken of.)

I was always left wondering what was being left out. As an LGBTQ student advocate, who has done his own research, I now know one possible reason why I didn’t learn more about people like me and relationships like mine: In South Carolina, it’s illegal to teach about homosexuality in health class.

According to a South Carolina law, health education “may not include a discussion of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships including, but not limited to, homosexual relationships, except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases.” And recent GLSEN research shows that laws like these, known as “no promo homo” laws, hurt LGBTQ students. Not only do they leave LGBTQ students without critical information about their health, but they also make it more difficult for educators to show support for their LGBTQ students.

Althought this law focuses only on health education, it’s often generalized to other subjects in school. Not surprisingly, I didn’t learn about LGBTQ topics in any class at all.

I had no one, and I felt so stressed. I would never ask teachers the questions I had because I didn’t think they had the answers. I had to do a lot of self-teaching and finding information just to protect myself.

I’ve graduated now, but this law still affects over 700,000 public school students in South Carolina, and six similar laws in Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi affect another nearly 9 million. If you live in one of these states, I strongly urge you to send a letter to your state representative to ask for a repeal. No one deserves to feel so alone.

TJ Mitchell is a former member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.