Commissioner Samuels Urges Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs Not to Exclude LGBT Youth

Teen pregnancy prevention programs have an obligation to ensure the healthy development of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, just as they do for heterosexual students.

That was the message given by Administration on Children, Youth and Families Commissioner Bryan Samuels to the plenary audience at ACYF's second annual teen pregnancy prevention conference. Organized jointly with the Office of Adolescent Health for grantees of the Personal Responsibility Education Innovative Strategies Program and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, the conference was held in Baltimore March 12-14.

Commissioner Samuels told grantees that homophobia has no place in school- and community-based pregnancy prevention programs. As Chief of Staff for Chicago's public schools in 2008, Commissioner Samuels said he witnessed a bitter debate over the fate of a charter school that would have focused on creating a safe space for LGBT youth. The school never opened its doors.

Commissioner Samuels urged grantees to be better than the folks who came out against the creation of a charter school in Chicago.

In a phone interview after the conference, Commissioner Samuels elaborated on his message.

"We are using an evidence-based approach to teen pregnancy prevention because we believe federal dollars should be used in a manner that has the greatest likelihood of promoting positive outcomes," Commissioner Samuels said. "And when you look at all the challenges faced by LGBT youth, you know that they need as much help as any population in getting to positive results."

Teen pregnancy prevention programs serve young people at just the age when many are deciding whether or how to come out as LGBT, Commissioner Samuels said.

"I think it's important for programs to be careful in the way that they articulate all issues related to sexual orientation," he said, "so that they don't do harm to young people who are just beginning to struggle with who they are and what they are going to be as adults."

Commissioner Samuels said being inclusive of LGBT teens meshes well with the goals of many evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention approaches. Many of these programs aim to delay sexual behavior by educating young people about sexual health and overall well-being, building self-worth and esteem, and teaching teens to make the right choices.

"I think that message is relevant to all kids," Commissioner Samuels said.