Utah health department to ask students their sexual orientation in youth risk survey

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Health is expected to ask students their sexual orientation in its annual survey of youth risk behaviors.

With youth suicides at an epidemic level in Utah, the LGBTQ rights group Equality Utah said gathering data on students’ sexual orientation will help in determining at-risk youth and getting appropriate services to them.

“In other words, school administrators can use this data to decide what resources would best help their LGBTQ students,” the group said in a blog post on Monday. “It’s a classic case of using data for good.”

The state health department regularly conducts an anonymous student risk survey among junior high and high school youth on subjects like substance abuse and suicide. Up until 2015, the state refused to ask a student’s sexual orientation. In 2016, the state started to ask the question, but Equality Utah said the Davis School District and Cache School District refused to administer the youth risk survey.

“These school districts claim questions about sexual orientation are ‘too sensitive’ for students,” the group said.

However, Equality Utah said the state will not ask if students are transgender, which it worried could skew the data.

As part of a youth suicide task force report due out Tuesday, Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams told FOX 13 the sexual orientation question would be asked in future surveys.

Governor Gary Herbert has said the state is in the midst of an emergency when it comes to suicide in Utah. The state’s youth suicide rate is 141% above the national average. LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to experience suicidal ideation than their straight counterparts, and Williams said that number doubles if they are kicked out of their homes.

The governor convened a task force with a wide variety of health, advocacy, religious and political leaders participating. They have an edict to present recommendations to him on ways to combat the youth suicide problem in Utah. The report is to be made public on Tuesday.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-273-TALK. Utahns can also visit Hope4Utah and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center for additional resources. You can also download the SafeUT app for instant, confidential crisis services.