Growing up, I have become accustomed to “forgetfulness” at the hands of publishers, producers, and authors—I turn on the TV; there are virtually no gay people, I go to the theatre, and again, the screen reflects the unrelatable sea of (usually hyper-masculine) straight people, I open a book and try to delve in—once again, no gay characters and no gay relationships that I can relate to. I close the book. I become disgruntled and bored during the movie. I turn off the TV. It is quite clear that the LGBT+ community is barely represented in the media—this is changing, but not fast enough. I can say from first hand experience as an out high school student: it sucks growing up feeling unrelatable, isolated, and like an anomaly.
While representation on TV and in books and in movies is ever important, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth suffer a real isolation in classrooms all across the country. No, I am not referring to the “forgetfulness” that leaves out Stonewall or other LGBT-relevant discussions and lessons from history and English classes—although this is important too as it projects the message that our liberation was an inferior one and impedes the formation of a common identity through our shared oppression and struggle. I am referring to the fact that across the country, in sexual education and health classes (if a school even provides comprehensive sex ed), straight and cisgender students are considered objectively normal, healthy, and, for some reason, more important than the gay student sitting in the desk behind them.
They get to learn about signs of violence in romantic relationships, why don’t we?
They’re taught how their bodies are changing, why aren’t we?
They get to learn how to have safe sex, why don’t we?
They’re taught how to avoid an STD or STI, why aren’t we?
Why don’t you mention me, is there something wrong with me—is my existence too inappropriate to divulge in?
We’ve won the right to marry who we want regardless of attraction in all fifty states although the reality remains that our trans friends often have many hoops to jump through in order to legally wed. The next steps for the LGBT community are, of course, to secure the legal reality in which, you cannot be fired or face discrimination because of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to forcefully expand rights and safety for trans people—especially trans women of color. But, let’s not continue to forget the rights of every student to receive accurate and relevant information pertaining to their sexual health and romantic relationships in the classroom. This is not close to being the reality. LGBT students frequently are well-versed on relationships, intimacy, and healthy behaviors that provide no good to themselves, while forced to research via the internet or confide in sanctuaries like Planned Parenthood for important information regarding their own health and safety.
It doesn’t benefit anyone to “forget” the trans and gay students confined within the classroom’s walls. It humiliates us. It furthers stigma. It causes us to unknowingly suffer unsafe sex and relationships. Why aren’t we important enough? I remember how painful it was sitting in health class as an out, gay, high school student. I remember learning about stuff that would never affect me. I remember learning—before Obergefell v. Hodges—that sex was solely reserved for marriage, and therefore I should never know that intimacy. I remember feeling as if there was something wrong with me, so wrong with me, that my school—the place I was supposed to always feel safe in—had “forgotten” my existence. Surely, having a curriculum infiltrated with cisgenderism and heterosexism—presenting cisgender and heterosexual people as the norm—has helped my peers in their thinking that gay and trans classmates are unnatural, undeserving, and disordered. Hell, the teacher only teaches important stuff, right?! Why wasn’t I—we—important enough? In some states, teachers can only talk about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students in a negative light—in most, they just exclude us from any and all narratives.
Eight states have “No Promo Homo” laws, wherein teachers are either barred from discussing LGBT issues or must discuss them in a negative fashion. An example of these appalling laws resides in Alabama where, “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).
Our school boards and state superintendents have forgotten us, but namely legislators—regardless of party—have overlooked us. Those fighting for our equal treatment have usually been contained to the saints at Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood. My call to Senators and Congressmen: represent your constituents. We aren’t all straight. We aren’t all cisgender. My health, and that of so many young people, is worth more than being snubbed for political narrative and gain. So, I call to light the humiliation and uncertainty that I, and many others, have gone through. I call to light the real discrimination that is legally felt in our classrooms. I call to light the reality that LGBT students throughout the country don’t receive relevant information regarding sexual health, yet they have the highest rates of STIs and STDs. I call to light the reality that a system and curriculum that stiffs us will only continue to breed indifference and hate. Lastly, I beg that we rapidly begin changing this, that we recognize the existence of LGBT students in our classrooms, and that we start healing the wounds so many gay and trans high school students bear. The fight for LGBT youth, has only barely begun—we must wholeheartedly begin it now.