Being in high school is generally a pretty crappy period of everyone’s life. You wake up early every day, have your free time eaten up by homework and extra-curriculars, and are forced to learn a repertoire of information that you will be lucky to use one-tenth of in your future. This is a universal truth, but for LGBTQ youth in the school system, things only get worse.
Being queer makes you feel different from others, and sometimes very lonely, but being queer as a teenager in high school amplifies that feeling even more. On a superficial level, there just aren’t many people like you, or at least not ones that have come out. Everything is made for straight people, from Prom to the morning announcements and all the way into your curriculum all you see is heterosexual relationships and none of yourself. This exclusion is not only lonely, but for many queer youth it turns out to be damaging.
Now, I understand that there is nothing a school district can do about the amount of gay people in their school, I am not the scheming homosexual that conservatives like to think exists who plans on turning straight people gay as a part of my evil gay agenda. However, in terms of inclusive and informative sex education and LGBTQ protections there is much more that schools could be doing.
Currently there are only 9 states in the country that offer LGBTQ inclusive sex education, this being out of only 22 states that even require sex ed in the first place. Educating queer youth on safe sex and relationships is incredibly important and is a key step in normalizing queer relationships to create a more accepting learning environment. The HIV rates among gay and bisexual males are alarmingly high, especially among 13-19 year olds, and queer women are twice as likely to have unintended pregnancies than their straight counterparts (this is partly explained by societal conventions pressuring queer women to have straight sex). These statistics are cause for great concern, especially due to the fact that they could be so easily addressed with comprehensive sex education. Clearly LGBTQ youth, and furthermore youth in general, lack the sexual knowledge that they need to have safe and responsible sexual relations.
Another factor that makes high school miserable for queer kids is the introduction of discriminatory “No Promo Homo” laws. These policies direct teachers to either not discuss LGBTQ issues at all during class, or to only discuss them in a negative light. Eight states currently have laws like this and the Alabama legislature even goes so far to say that when discussing sexual education. “Classes must emphasize, 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 the state.” Alabama State Code § 16-40A-2(c)(8).
On top of all of this, there are 32 states that do not include discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in their anti-bullying laws. The lack of enumerated protections for queer students, or laws that explicitly protect groups that are likely to experience harassment, makes it much easier for bullies to get away with discrimination and violence against their queer classmates.
Imagine the already myriad of struggles and internal conflicts characteristic of being a teenager, and then on top of that: a sexuality crisis. Then imagine being told by your society, religion, culture, and now even your own teachers, the people who are supposed to inform and enlighten you about the world, that who you are is wrong, disgusting, or even criminal. It is devastating, and contributes to a culture in which LGB youth are four times as likely to commit suicide than straight people and one in two trans youths have seriously considered killing themselves.
This is unacceptable, and it is the job of the school system to ensure that hateful values are not taught in children, and that we cultivate a generation of tolerant and sexually knowledgeable students into the world. We cannot keep letting LGBTQ youth spend their adolescence in a place that ignores their existence, refuses to protect them, or even actively advocates against them.