The “New Ideas” government of President Nayib Bukele appears to be ignoring the potential of sexuality education to foster understanding and reduce violence against sexual and gender minorities. This is not an innovative approach, but rather an antiquated, prejudiced idea.
El Salvador’s Education Ministry recently fired the director of the National Institute of Teacher Training and announced a “restructuring” of that institution. The reason? The Institute had greenlit a segment of Let’s Learn at Home—a remote education television show initiated during the pandemic—that explained the concept of sexual orientation.
The segment, which targeted eighth grade students, who are about 14 years old, featured animations of children playing, riding scooters, and listening to music. The narrator defined heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality in basic, age-appropriate terms. Indeed, the program did nothing more than provide the most elementary information about natural variations in human sexuality.
Despite the ministry’s attempt to erase lesbian, gay, bisexual people, they are very much a part of the “Salvadoran reality.” President Bukele acknowledged as much when, in 2014, he described himself as a “hetero ally” and the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights as “the civil rights struggle of our time.” Furthermore, the Supreme Court held that the constitution protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2009 and gender identity in 2022.
Why then has the government decided 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 published a report on the violence and discrimination against LGBT people that limits their life choices and leads them to flee El Salvador. The organization COMCAVIS TRANS previously found that this insecurity also leads to the internal displacement of LGBT people. Transgender people are especially vulnerable.
Comprehensive sexuality education, to which children have a right, could contribute to reducing this 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 their peers’. Experts have found that this kind of education can contribute to preventing discrimination and violence against sexual and gender minorities.
Unfortunately, the Salvadoran authorities seem to lack interest in realizing education’s full potential. In addition to the government’s censorship of Let’s Learn at Home, the Legislative Assembly explicitly omitted any substantive reference to sexual orientation and gender identity in the recently approved “Grow Together” Law, which governs the rights of Salvadoran children and adolescents.
The legislature also watered down that law’s article on comprehensive sexuality education by noting that families have “a fundamental and primary role” in providing this type of education, a setback to an earlier draft in which “the family, society, and the state” shared this role. Assigning the family the “primary” responsibility to teach comprehensive sexuality education is setting up families to fail, if taken to its logical conclusion. Some families may lack the time, training, and information to impart such education.
Censoring information on sexual orientation and gender identity is not a “new idea”: it is an old, tired idea rooted in prejudice. El Salvador’s authorities should fulfill their international responsibility to educate young people about sexuality and gender, not burden parents with the “primary” role to do so. This information can help reduce violence against LGBT people by fostering tolerance and acceptance. This is what the Salvadoran reality requires.