Opinion | Non-inclusive sex ed puts LGBTQ+ youth at risk

By Julia Kreutzer, Staff Columnist

Around the country, thousands of middle schools just like mine packed students into our recreation room, separated us by gender and presented an annual “sex education” program. I came out of the program believing there was no need to learn about sexual health, contraceptives or consent. After all, I was led to believe sex only occurred within a marriage between a man and a woman magically prepared to have children.

But clearly, this is far from reality. This gap in education leaves everyone at risk, but puts LGBTQ+ youth at higher risk of dangerous outcomes from unsafe sex.

LGBTQ+ individuals statistically face larger risks of contracting an STD. Men who have sex with men account for 83 percent of primary and secondary syphilis cases in the United States and are 17 times more likely than straight men to develop anal or oral cancers, per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Women who have sex with women (WSW) have a higher risk of Gardnerella Vaginalis, which causes irritation and a bad odor, according to Oxford Academic.

To decrease the number of LGBTQ+ individuals put at risk, inclusive education is needed to keep students safe and encourage security in their sexual and gender identities.

A lack of comprehensive, LGBTQ+-inclusive sex education leaves sexually active communities ill-equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to engage in safe sex, leading to life threatening consequences. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV poses a serious risk to approximately 492,000 sexually active gay and bisexual men, making LGBTQ+ men the most affected group in the United States.

These statistics are no secret to health professionals or lawmakers. The Red Cross still prohibits men who have had sex with other men in the past 12 months from donating blood. But policies like these label LGBTQ+ individuals as dangerous rather than highlight the need for better education on safe sex.

Despite 85 percent of parents supporting inclusive sex ed in high school and 78 percent supporting this kind of a curriculum in middle school, a 2015 study from the Public Religion Research Institute found only 12 percent of millennials’ sex education classes discussed same-sex relationships.

While parents seem to support inclusive approaches, most state legislators have lagged behind. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia require sex ed, yet only California, Colorado, Iowa, Washington and the District of Columbia require this curriculum to be LGBTQ+-inclusive. What’s worse is that eight states — Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah — specifically prohibit same-sex inclusive approaches.

A 1992 law in Alabama outlining the standards schools who opt for sex ed should follow depicts an outdated and dangerous anti-LGBTQ+ stance that has only recently been acknowledged. It claims teachers should put “an emphasis, in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of this state.”

The Alabama Senate Education Policy Committee finally voted in 2018 to remove the phrase from its policy. While Alabama lawmakers may be less willing to uphold an explicitly anti-LGBTQ+ agenda, failing to add policies that further accommodate students of all identities demonstrates a failure to address the health and education of LGBTQ+ youth.

All students, regardless of their sexual identity, should know how to keep themselves and their partners safe. Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a national organization specifically focused on ensuring safety for LGBTQ+ students, found there is truly one approach to sex education that best equips all students to understand sexual health in all kinds of relationships.

Instead of ignoring, demonizing, stigmatizing or excluding LGBTQ+ students, GLSEN recommends a wholly inclusive approach. This curriculum doesn’t establish heterosexuality as the norm, recognizes students of all gender identities or sexual orientations and provides each student with the education they need and deserve. Rather than isolating LGBTQ+ issues as special topics, this approach helps all students recognize the importance of sexual health in every relationship.

According to EG Greytak and JG Kosciw, contributors for GLSEN’s book, “Creating Safe and Supportive Learning Environments: A Guide for Working With Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth and Families,” this approach is not just a positive for LGBTQ+ students.

“This would benefit not only LGBT youth, but also provide non-LGBT youth with an opportunity to dispel myths about issues of sexual orientation and gender and broaden their understanding about LGBT peoples and communities,” Greytak and Kosciw wrote.

Abstinence-only education has been proven to be ineffective in reducing teen pregnancy rates or the risk of getting an STD. Students are forced to learn the basic facts about contraceptives, STD testing, and more all on their own. In particular, many LGBTQ+ students were never educated about how to protect themselves and their partners, leaving many young people unaware of or incapable of combating the risks they face.

To combat rising STD rates, prevent stigma, and affirm LGBTQ+ students, we need to get comfortable with what is sometimes an uncomfortable, yet ultimately necessary lesson inclusive sex education has to offer.