By Marien Richardson, STAR intern
As brand after brand transitions to a rainbow logo only to remove it on July 1st, it is important that these brands, as well as society, begin to incorporate lasting changes that will benefit the lives of queer people and give them a more stable place of acceptance in the American consciousness. Queer refers to sexual or gender identities that are not heterosexual or cisgender (identifying with the gender one is assigned at birth). Thus, the term queer can refer to people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or transgender as well as people who may belong to multiple of these identities.
One change to consider is to offer comprehensive sex education that includes an understanding of many different sexuality and gender identities. Queering sex education would allow young adults to have a more holistic and inclusive understanding of the world around them, rather than being confined to the “standard” white and heteronormative viewpoint which sees the experiences of white, straight, cisgender people as the default. The term “queering” means broadening our understanding past those things which we consider “normal”. According to George Drazenovich in “Queer Pedagogy in Sex Education”, sex educators should create an open classroom space that allows for the teaching of all kinds of gender and sexual identities, allowing students to have flexible understandings of these labels and themselves. In this vein, queering sex education would mean looking past white heteronormativity and providing students with a wider range of lessons on healthy boundaries, safe sex, and other urgent topics without confining these topics to a singular experience. It is important students are taught applicable lessons that they can relate to, rather than ones that ignore their experiences.
Sex education is already a grossly neglected field, so to reach the point of true understanding, legislators and community stakeholders need to recognize the value of inclusive sex education. However, to grow into this future, it is important to understand where sex education is now.
What Does Sex Education Look Like in America?
If you are curious about what sex education looks like in each state, you can view the requirements here. Generally speaking, though, sex education is not as widely required as one might assume. In Louisiana, any public school “may, but is not required to, offer instruction in subject matter designated as ‘sex education.’” Even in Louisiana schools, where sex ed is taught, discussion of sexuality or gender identity are not required. Sadly, this issue is not isolated to Louisiana. According to “Queering Sexual Education: The Push for Comprehensive Sex Ed,” sex education is only mandated in 22 states and D.C. and, of these states, only 13 require that the information taught is “medically accurate”. What’s worse is that 26 states and D.C. require that the content taught must be appropriate for the student’s age. This often pushes LGBTQ education out of the picture because it is deemed too mature. Only 12 states mandate discussions of sexual orientation, and of these twelve, 3 are required to spread negative information on the subject. Broken down, this means that only 9 out of 50 states include positive discussions of sexual orientation, and 0 states mandate discussions of gender identity in sex ed. This is troubling because sex education is necessary to promote healthy relationships, prevent unwanted pregnancies, and prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Teens who are in middle and high school rely on these classes because so often misinformation is spread around their peer groups and the topic feels too taboo or embarrassing to discuss with parents. At present, sex education in American public schools has huge gaps of knowledge, and unfortunately these gaps seem to hurt LGBTQ students the most.
Why is this necessary? Is the LGBTQ community really still stigmatized?
The lack of serious conversations surrounding policy and queer concerns gives the impression that queerness is no longer stigmatized, but this is completely false. There are many topics and policies that remain untouched and therefore are not reflective or inclusive of specific communities in our society. Queering sex education is necessary to “promote better emotional and sexual wellbeing, foster self-acceptance for queer youth, and further normalize all gender and sexual identities.” Comprehensive sex education can allow youth to safely explore their identity while combatting the still dominant social stigmas that characterize LGBTQ students. This will allow young queer students to feel less isolated, and has the potential to decrease bullying on the basis of gender and sexuality. Mandating LGBTQ inclusive sex education paves the way for inclusivity of queer people in public schools and larger society. Expanding sex education and mandating a holistic, inclusive approach is not just a good idea, it is necessary for the livelihoods of students everywhere.
On the whole, the state of sex education in the American school system is abysmal. Mandating more inclusive sex education would give students the space to explore their own identities while reducing the stigma attached to LGBTQ identities. Sex education needs to be accessible and inclusive to all students, regardless of how they identify. By truly queering sex education, we would be improving the lives of queer youth for the long run, rather than just a month.
Andrabi, Zara. “Queering Sexual Education: The Push for Comprehensive Sex Ed.” Berkeley Political Review, bpr.berkeley.edu/2018/04/21/queering-sexual-education-the-push-for-comprehensive-sex-ed/.
Drazenovich, George. “Queer Pedagogy in Sex Education.” Canadian Journal of Education/Revue Canadienne De L’education, vol. 38, no. 2, 2015, pp. 1-22. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/canajeducrevucan.38.2.07. Accessed 7 June 2021.
“Heteronormative.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/heteronormative.
“LGBTQ Youth Need Inclusive Sex Education.” HRC, http://www.hrc.org/resources/a-call-to-action-lgbtq-youth-need-inclusive-sex-education.
Quiroz, Lilly, and Audrey Nguyen. “Sex Ed Often Leaves Out Queer People. Here’s What To Know.” NPR, NPR, 27 Apr. 2021, www.npr.org/2021/04/22/989826953/sex-ed-often-leaves-out-queer-people-heres-what-to-know.
State Policies on Sex Education in Schools, http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx.
“What Does Queer Mean?” Planned Parenthood, http://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/sexual-orientation/what-does-queer-mean.