Censoring sex education is not a ‘new idea’

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The “New Ideas” government of President Nayib Bukele appears to ignore the potential of sex education to foster understanding and reduce violence against sexual and gender minorities. This is not an innovative approach, but rather an outdated and prejudiced idea.

The Ministry of Education of El Salvador recently fired the director of the National Teacher Training Institute and announced a “restructuring” of this institution. The reason? The Institute has given the green light to a segment of Let’s learn at home—a television program on distance education initiated during the pandemic – that explained the concept of sexual orientation.

The Ministry said the information was not “in accordance with [Salvadoran] reality.” Subsequently, the Institute’s website became inaccessible and currently displays a Error message.

The segment, which targeted eighth-graders, aged around 14, featured animations of children playing, riding scooters and listening to music. The narrator has defined heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality in basic age-appropriate terms. Indeed, the program only provided the most basic information about the natural variations of human sexuality.

Despite the ministry’s attempt to erase lesbian, gay and bisexual people, they are an integral part of the “Salvadorian reality”. President Bukele recognized this when, in 2014, he described himself as a “straight ally” and the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights as “the civil rights struggle of our time”. In addition, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2009 and gender identity in 2022.

Why then did the government decide to censor essential information about sexual orientation? This makes little sense given the potential of such education to reduce the high levels of violence that LGBT people face in El Salvador.

In January 2021, Human Rights Watch released a report on violence and discrimination against LGBT people that limits their life choices and drives them to flee El Salvador. The COMCAVIS TRANS organization previously found that this insecurity also leads to the internal displacement of LGBT people. Transgender people are particularly vulnerable.

Comprehensive sex education, to which children are entitled, could help reduce such violence if it is age-appropriate and rights-based. It can equip young people with the skills to develop a positive view of different sexualities, both their own and that of their peers. experts found that this type of education can help prevent discrimination and violence against sexual and gender minorities.

Unfortunately, Salvadoran authorities seem to lack interest in realizing the full potential of education. In addition to government censorship on Let’s learn at homethe Legislative Assembly explicitly omitted any substantial reference to sexual orientation and gender identity in the Law “grow together”which regulates the rights of Salvadoran children and adolescents.

The legislator also watered down the article of this law on comprehensive sexuality education by noting that families have “a fundamental and primordial role” in the provision of this type of education, a step backwards compared to a earlier draft in which “the family, society and the state” shared this role. To assign the “primary” responsibility for teaching comprehensive sex education to the family is to set families up for failure, if taken to their logical conclusion. Some families may lack the time, training and information to provide such education.

Censoring information about sexual orientation and gender identity is not a “new idea”: it’s a tired old idea rooted in prejudice. Salvadoran authorities should fulfill their international responsibility to educate young people about sexuality and gender, not impose on parents the “main” role to do so. This information can help reduce violence against LGBT people by promoting tolerance and acceptance. This is what Salvadoran reality demands.

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