Most sex education in schools is primarily targeted towards heterosexual students, leaving the LGBTQIIA+ population at a disadvantage. According to the UCLA School of Law, 9.5% of the population of youth ages 13-17 in the United States are LGBTQIIA+. These youth and all students deserve access to comprehensive sex education that is inclusive of all sexualities and gender identities.
Most all schools teach sex education as a part of their mandatory health class, yet what is taught in that course often has little to do with the queer community. Sex education in schools throughout America currently covers puberty, STDs, healthy relationships, and contraception.
Often the only perspectives that are taken into account are those that identify as heterosexual due to straight and cisgender identities being seen as the default in society.
Many LGBTQIIA+ people aren’t receiving inclusive information that addresses their identities and relationships. The community is at a disadvantage due to lack of representation of the variations of gender, sex, and sexuality. For example, transgender youth are getting little to no sex education based on their body types, as classes are split into “girls” and “boys” primarily based on biological sex. And in those separate rooms, the lessons are focused on heterosexuality which might not fit the sexual orientation of many of the students, especially the transgender youth which creates more complications around the straight and cisgender geared learning.
When I took sex education in middle school, my friends and I felt underrepresented and excluded in the information we were receiving. For example, the curriculum primarily covered topics surrounding contraception and preventing pregnancy, which, as queer students in the class, felt unhelpful and inappropiate. Other information, for instance: safe sex in gay relationships, trans and non-binary inclusive content, and preventing STI’s while being queer/trans would have been much more beneficial for students in the LGBTQIIA+ community. Me and my friends mostly sat talking about how the teacher didn’t seem to notice that she wasn’t mentioning other sexualities besides heterosexuality. No one voiced this aloud, for mainly two reasons: one, we were scared to speak up about it because we didn’t know what the teacher’s response would be, and two, by talking about the lack of sex education for students like us, we would be outing ourselves as queer. This could possibly put us at risk for bullying, harsh treatment, or possibly getting outed to our parents/guardians, which, for some of us, wouldn’t be good.
A friend, who is 15 and attends school in Dekalb County mentions their experience: “as a queer student, not having queer sex ed included made me feel as though queer sex was taboo. It’s not OK for schools to teach the normalized thing (straight)- it is invalidating, biased, and needs to change.” I agree, as the stigma around LGBTQIIA+ sex ed has a lot to do with queerness being seen as sin or “taboo,” as stated. Another friend, also 15, shares their thoughts on the subject: “It makes me feel unseen, and as if the schools don’t care about my sexual safety as much as the heterosexual student’s safety. Myself and other LGBTQIIA+ students deserve to be taught how to have safe sex with the people we are attracted to just as much as the other students. By not doing so, the schools are indirectly saying they don’t care about our safety as much as the straight students.” This topic is incredibly important to many people, and this quote highlights the message of the impact the lack of inclusivity creates greatly.
In lieu of proper sex education, many LGBTQIIA+ teenagers resort to websites like Google and YouTube to provide them with information they weren’t offered in health class at school. Some sites may not have the most accurate and up-to-date guidance on the matter, therefore the students aren’t equipped to make good decisions.
There are laws across the United States that prohibit the teaching of inclusive and positive sex education across the sexuality spectrum. Several states have mandated the spread of “pointedly negative messages regarding all LGBT identities.” Despite the efforts against LGBTQIIA+ youth’s right to beneficial education, there has been support for LGBTQIIA+ inclusive sex education in schools. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “85% of parents surveyed supported discussion of sexual orientation as a part of sex education in high school and 78% in middle school.”
So, what are some things LGBTQIIA+ youth can do themselves to help initiate the necessary changes surrounding sex education?
- Write letters to the school board to ask for more inclusive education
- Ask parents/guardians and community members to demand positive sex ed for teens
- Protest or march
- Present to the school board
- Start social media campaigns for support
- Finding organizations in the community that support the cause that can help create a more welcoming space to advocate for inclusive education
The lack of inclusive sex education leaves LGBTQIIA+ students stranded and disadvantaged compared to the straight and cis “default” of society. Changing the way the system thinks to help format and build a better environment for all students would be beneficial towards helping students get the information they need to live knowledgeable and safe lives.
Oliver Kelsey, 15, is a VOX Media Cafe 2021 Session One summer reporter.