Illinois Gov. signs LGBTQ-friendly sex ed bill

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. Photo by Tom Wray

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed SB 818, the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act, into law on Friday, Aug. 20.

The act establishes voluntary standards that emphasize health, safety, and inclusivity with age-appropriate resources. The standards do not need to be adopted in school districts that do not provide comprehensive sexual health education and parents may choose to opt their children out. The standards start with personal health and safety education standards in kindergarten through 5th grade, and making comprehensive health education more inclusive in grades 6 through 12.

Course material and instruction will help students learn about concepts like consent and will develop self-advocacy skills for effective communication with parents or guardians, health and social service professionals, other trusted adults, and peers about health and relationships.

The Illinois State Board of Education will develop and adopt these new voluntary learning standards in consultation with stakeholders, including parents, sexual health and violence prevention experts, health care providers, and education advocates. They will make these free resources available online no later than August 1, 2022.

The act also ensures that such instruction is inclusive and affirming of communities who historically have been stigmatized or excluded from such instruction, including youth living with a disability, LGBTQ youth, pregnant or parenting youth, and survivors of interpersonal and sexual violence. Additionally, this education must not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, religion, gender expression, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

SB 818 takes effect immediately.

The Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act was supported by a large number of organizations across the state, including Equality Illinois, ACLU of Illinois, AIDS Foundation Chicago, Planned Parenthood Illinois Action, Chicago Abortion Fund, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Illinois National Organization for Women, Illinois Public Health Association, Lambda Legal, Peoria Proud, PFLAG Council of Northern Illinois, Prairie Pride Coalition, Rainbow Cafe LGBTQ Center, Uniting Pride of Champaign County, and many more.

“In Carbondale, Springfield, Naperville, and more communities across the state, LGBTQ youth consistently told us their healthcare needs, their relationships, and their identities must be included and affirmed in public school instruction about personal health and safety education and sexual health education,” said Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois. “This law advances Illinois’ values of inclusion and the freedom to build our best lives without burden or discrimination.”

“Years after changing Illinois law so that sexual health education is not simply abstinence-only, we are pleased that this new law will help students who have been stigmatized and or made invisible in these courses, such as LGBTQIA+ students and pregnant and parenting students, feel affirmed and seen in their classrooms,” said Khadine Bennett, director of advocacy and intergovernmental affairs for the ACLU of Illinois. “With the Governor’s signature today, students across Illinois can anticipate receiving information and education they need to support informed decision making to lead healthy lives.”

Pritzker also signed HB 24, that requires

classes that teach sex education to include an age-appropriate discussion regarding sexting. The discussion will include:

• information regarding the possible consequences of sharing or forwarding sexually explicit or suggestive content
• the identification of situations in which bullying or harassment may result as a consequence of sexting
• the potential for long-term legal, social, academic, and other consequences from possessing sexual content,
• the importance of internet safety,
• the identification of people who could be of assistance on this issue to students
• and the development of strategies to resist peer pressure.

HB 24 takes effect immediately.