October 30, 2020
It’s LGBT History Month, and I wanted to share a little LGBT history of my own! It’s not about groundbreaking queer historical figures, though: it’s a story of how queer students have been shortchanged when it comes to sex education for decades.
Falling Through the Cracks
Sex ed in schools began to develop in the United States around 100 years ago. While the content and format has changed over time, it still has a long way to go. Even where I live in Washington (one of the most liberal-voting states), sex ed varies greatly between schools, and queer students often fall through the cracks.
I know for sure that I did. When I was in fifth grade, my class watched an incredibly stigmatizing movie about HIV, when we hadn’t even been taught what it actually meant to have sex. In sixth grade, my school split up the health class by assigned gender, so that the boys wouldn’t have to hear about periods. Even into high school, it continued: in my freshman health class, I was told that lesbians could not get sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) (which is not true!), and we were tested on trans-exclusionary anatomical diagrams.
Why Sex Ed Is Essential for LGBTQ Students
LGBTQ teens need sex education that is inclusive and comprehensive. Strange as it may sound, lesbian and bisexual girls are actually more likely than their heterosexual peers to experience an unintended pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And gay and bisexual guys have disproportionately higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases. This is partially because LGBTQ teens have limited access to relevant sexual health information. Without inclusive sex ed, we are not being given the tools we need to protect ourselves.
What Can We Do About It?
As students, it can sometimes feel like we don’t have the power to make change. But we can do a lot, especially relating to education on a local level.
I started advocating for better sex ed at my school at the beginning of my sophomore year, after a discussion about it in my school’s gay-straight alliance. We contacted the state Director of Sexual Health Education and asked her to meet with us and our high school’s principal, so we could all develop a plan to improve our sex ed classes. And while it’s still a work in progress, that first push from a group of dedicated students was what got it all rolling.
Schools don’t exist for the benefit of teachers, parents or politicians: they are for us. So if you see something that needs to change, see what you can do about it. Get together on Zoom with other students who care about the issue. Find solutions that work for what your school needs. Talk to teachers, administrators, school board members—until someone listens!
To learn about sex ed policies in your state and take action, check out our Sex in the States section.