I was talking to a friend and her teenage daughter the other day about my advocacy work and the LGBTQ trainings I offer. My focus is on getting schools and work places to be as LGBTQ inclusive as possible. But if we are going to talk about universal inclusivity, then we need to talk about all the universal topics. So I asked the teenager how her middle school handles sexual education. She rolled her eyes, “Pshtpt. Not well.” Her mom was exasperated too. The teen rolled her eyes, “How are we supposed to be comfortable learning if they aren’t comfortable teaching?”
I followed up with a question for which I already knew the answer, but I wanted confirmation. “Do they talk about anything other than penis meets vagina sex and straight relationships? What about intimacy and consent? Do they talk about LGBTQ issues?”
No. Nope. Oh, hell no. Sigh.
There is a group for queer kids at my friend’s daughter’s school and she has queer friends, yet they are being left out of vital information that benefits their physical and sexual health. And if the straight cisgender kids are uncomfortable learning about sexual health, imagine how the queer and transgender kids are feeling.
No, let me tell you. They feel ignored, and it’s hurting them. In some cases, the lack of affirmation and support is literally killing them. 75% of queer kids have been bullied; LGBTQ youth and teens are 4 times as likely to self-harm or attempt suicide as their straight peers, and 50% of transgender teen boys have attempted suicide.
We need LGBTQ inclusive sex education curriculums in schools to help prevent these problems. Sex ed in this country is an embarrassment. Truthout.org reports that 31 states still stress abstinence before straight marriage—meaning they are assuming the only kind of sex is “heterosexual intercourse.” The Center for American Progress revealed that only 24 states mandate sex education, and only 8 mention consent. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States reports only four states plus Washington, DC are LGBTQ-inclusive and supportive of different sexual orientations and gender identities.
The real kick in the teeth is that seven states ban teaching anything that is considered LGBTQ-accepting or inclusive.
Alabama is one of those seven states to exclude queer people. But to really drive their point home that we are considered worthless, the state mandates teachers to tell students that homosexuality is not an acceptable “lifestyle” and that “homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.”
Arizona—another one of the seven states banning LGBTQ inclusivity—is looking at a proposal that could fire teachers for talking about LGBTQ rights. If the bill becomes law, teachers will be required to take ethics trainings and follow a code of ethics designed by a heavily membered Republican state legislature. Teachers would not be allowed to talk about anything “controversial” like race, religion, politics, or ideology. Republican State Representative Mark Finchem thinks this will eliminate “indoctrination.”
These stunts are “No Pro Homo laws” that have allowed conservative and religious groups to push their agenda of discrimination by saying their laws are trying to clear spaces of any personal or political–read gay–agendas. Basically, bigots are finding ways to not look like fearmongering, ignorant bigots while marginalized people are just trying to live safe and productive lives with equal rights.
So while all of this is happening, kids keep being queer. And as those kids get older, just like the straight ones, they start having sex. Let me rewind: straight teens have sex. Queer teens have sex. You can preach abstinence all you want, and you can ignore our existence, but preventing fires is easier than putting them out.
Sexual health and education needs to look a lot different than it does now because it’s just not a complete representation of the sex our teens are having now or–ahem–have been for years. I don’t believe in straight sex vs. gay sex. Sex acts do not determine your sexuality but your sexuality may determine what kind of sex acts you want to consensually do with a partner (or two or three).
While one sexual identity may prefer one of these acts over the other, anal sex, oral sex, and vaginal penetration (whether it’s a penis, fingers, or dildo) all need to be talked about in a way that includes straight and queer kids. This will take away the stigma around sex, reduce homophobia, and will better inform teens of how to stay healthy. Queer kids deserve the right to make good decisions about sex too.
Here’s another reason why we can’t call it gay and straight sex. If two teen boys are dating and one happens to be a transgender boy with female sexual anatomy, their “gay” sex may be what many would call “straight” sex. Pregnancy and STIs are possible in that gay relationship. Or perhaps a transgender boy is dating a cisgender female. Their “straight” sex is very different than “heterosexual intercourse.” Gender, sexual anatomy, and sexuality intersect in many beautiful ways.
Also, transgender boys can and do have periods. Menstruation needs to be talked about with all genders, because it’s biology and science is for everyone. Get over yourselves, cis dudes. Support the bleeders in your life and have a little empathy, knowledge, and throw a few tampons in the men’s bathroom. This shit is hard. We don’t need shame.
Protection from STIs and unwanted pregnancies needs to be the top priority and if sexually active teenagers don’t know how to prevent these things, they will either find false information or no information at all. If we are going to talk about sex, shouldn’t we talk about the relationships between people having it? If we are to chip away at rape culture and domestic abuse, we need to talk about consent, autonomy, and intimacy too.
We need to make sex education in this country more comprehensive. We need to make it more LGBTQ inclusive and affirming. Too many queer kids are putting themselves at risk from lack of knowledge. Too many are hurting from lack of support. And too many are killing themselves from lack of acceptance. Excluding LGBTQ topics from any conversation doesn’t mean the topics don’t exist; it means the people excluding us are choosing their ignorance and comfort over our right for respect and recognition.