By Alexandra Temblador
Only 22 states plus the District of Colombia requires sex education in schools. Twelve of those states require sex education teachers to discuss sexual orientation. Three of those 12 states require teachers to impart only negative information on sexual orientation to students. Yes, three states in the United States make LGBTQ youth listen to discriminatory information directed at them by their own teachers. Take Alabama, whose sex education instructors are required to teach that homosexuality “is an unacceptable, criminal lifestyle.”
Out of 50 states and one district, only 9 states have any form of positive LGBT-inclusive sexual education, a number that is very disheartening for the overall well-being of many youth in the United States.
LGBT-inclusive sex education is very important to the health and well-being of all youth in the United States and the lack of this sex education is harming many of our youth today. For instance, young gay or bisexual men, ages 13 to 29, account for more than two-thirds of new HIV infections. Young LGB girls are more likely to become pregnant than heterosexual or questioning female youth and are more likely to contract an STI. Furthermore, transgender youth are experiencing more sexual violence than other youths, a number that could decrease with positive LGBT-inclusive sex education in schools.
Not only could LGBT-inclusive sex education decrease these statistics among our youth but it could also combat discrimination and bullying towards LGBT in schools. When sex education or academic curriculum includes positive messages or instruction about LGBT issues there is far less discrimination, prejudice, and bullying aimed at LGBT youth.
In Canada, LGBT-inclusive sex education has recently made the news. Ontario just released a new sex education curriculum that is causing controversy amongst residents. Ontario will be introducing gender identity and sexual orientation to third graders but mostly as a form of “accepting our differences.” Just last month in the United Kingdom, Tristam Hunt, the Shadow Education Secretary, is trying to introduce a policy that would “make age-appropriate, gay-inclusive sex and relationship education compulsory” across the U.K. to combat LGBT bullying in schools.
As for the United States, the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act was introduced to Congress in 2013, was read twice, and then referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions where it appears to still be. The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act would provide federal funds to increase comprehensive sex education in schools that would teach youth medically accurate information about sex and would include information about gender identity and sexual orientation. Furthermore this sex education program would be “gender and gender identity-sensitive, emphasizing the importance of equality and the social environment for achieving sexual and reproductive health and overall well-being.”
Unfortunately, this act would not be a requirement in all schools since sex education is a state regulation. Rather the act would be presented as a grant that any of the following could apply for: a State educational agency, local educational agency, tribe or tribal organization, State or local department of health, State or local department of education, nonprofit organization, nonprofit or public institution of higher education, or hospital.
Although this grant does provide an LGBT-inclusive sex education initiative, it might not be very effective if state or local education agencies don’t apply for it. Additionally, who’s to say that education agencies, whether state or local, would be awarded the grant since they are also competing with hospitals and nonprofit organizations for funding for this initiative? Even though it is a right step forward in sex education, The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act does seem to lack the ability to provide all American youth with medically-accurate and LGBT-inclusive sex education.
Sex education is important for all youth and youth that live in states who do not provide medically-accurate sex education are suffering, statistically, from this lack of proper information. Even more, when an entire demographic of LGBTQ children and young adults are completely left out of sex education in 10 of the states that do provide sex education, or when they are told in three states that the feelings they have about who they are or who they like is wrong, education has once again failed. For if the purpose of schools is to educate, then a majority of educational facilities in the United States has failed in educating all youth about their health.
The internet or friends should not be our youth’s main source of information about their bodies or understanding their sexual orientation. Although many parents in the U.S. do provide great sex education to their children, many parents do not and for LGBT youth it can be hard to discuss their sexual orientation or gender identity with their parents. It should be an educational agency’s aim to provide youth the ability to lead long, healthy, and sexually-safe lives and with a nationwide positive comprehensive and medically accurate sex education that discusses LGBT issues on health and sex, our youth would have a much better chance at a more promising and healthy future.
Photo Credit: Flickr/ Kate Ter Haar