LGBT sex education
LGBT sex education refers to an educational program, most commonly found in schools, that addresses the sex education needs of LGBT individuals and covers topics related to homosexuality. It is usually integrated into the general sex education courses (alongside heterosexual topics). There is disagreement about whether LGBT sex education should be included in sex education curricula. Advocates of LGBT sex education say that the inclusion of LGBT issues into sex education programs would reduce homophobic bullying, improve the health of LGBT people, and decrease instances of problems common in LGBT students such as depression and low self-esteem; opponents argue that LGBT sex education programs would force a political point of view on students, misuse tax money, and disrespect religious values. As of 2014, only 5% of middle and high schoolers in the United States reported receiving "positive discussions of LGBT-related topics" within their health classes.
LGBT sex education is currently not covered in many schools. Research has also posited that students often don’t find existing LGBT sex education programs to be effective. Teachers have differing views on the subject of homosexuality, and these personal opinions can impact LGBT sex education when it is implemented.
Coverage of LGBT sex educationEdit
Multiple studies have concluded that LGBT sex education is often not encompassed in school sex education courses and that most students do not receive effective instruction in LGBT sex issues. In a study conducted by Ellis and High in the UK (2004), 384 students were surveyed; they found that 24% had not received instruction in LGBT sex issues. The CDC Division of Adolescent and School Health’s study revealed that 48% of schools in the US covered LGBT topics. According to research reported by Burston and Hart in 2001, 45% of surveyed students believed that they did not cover LGBT sex education sufficiently in school. Research has also shown that there can be an implicit assumption that all students are heterosexual in sex education classes. The LGBT students in Eleanor Formby’s 2011 study of sex education said that they do not always feel welcomed by sex education classes or at school. Sex education courses commonly idealize marriage (not acknowledging that many countries outlaw same-sex marriage) thereby presenting a heterosexual view of sex and relationships as normal. Studies have suggested that sex education programs often do not cover safe sex practices for LGBT individuals.
However, there are some sex education curricula that do cover LGBT issues. For example, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations provides a sex education program called Our Whole Lives, which includes discussion of sexual orientation and presents homosexuality and heterosexuality as equally valid. Our Whole Lives offers programs designed for a range of developmental stages, from Kindergarten-level through adulthood, and follows the "Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education" that the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) endorses. The United Church of Christ also supports Our Whole Lives.
Research has also illustrated that some sex education courses present LGBT issues in a negative light—portraying LGBT individuals and LGBT sexuality as something wrong, sick, and abnormal. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “Abstinence-only” approaches to sex education can also be alienating to LGBT students because these programs assume that marriage is a possibility and a desire for all students; however, same-sex marriage is illegal in many countries. Further, promoting marriage as the goal for LGBT students reproduces a homonormative standard, marginalizing those without access to or interest in marriage. Ellis and High’s survey research in 2004 (including 384 students) revealed that 59% of young people who did receive LGBT sex education found it to be ineffective.
Teachers have been identified as a hindrance to LGBT sex education in some studies. Teachers always have their own opinions about homosexuality, and, according to these studies, if teachers have negative views toward LGBT individuals this can come through in their teaching—causing LGBT students to feel unaccepted and unsafe. According to Ellis and High (2004), when LGBT students receive information about LGBT sexuality with negative undertones they are left feeling significantly worse and more unsafe than if homosexuality were left out of the curriculum. Researchers have documented multiple self-proclaimed "LGBT-friendly" teachers whose classrooms actually foster prejudiced lessons. Such teachers are also highly likely to ignore instances of homophobic bullying directed at LGBT youth within their classes. Burston and Hart (2001) reported that teachers sometimes believe that they should not take a side on the issue of homosexuality, and therefore should not interfere when homophobia occurs in the classroom. According to Formby (2011), even phrasing that subtly casts homosexuality in a negative light can have a detrimental effect on LGBT students’ experience of sex education.
There have also been issues around teachers feeling free to teach sex education that equally emphasizes both heterosexual and homosexual health information. Deana Morrow’s study (1993) reported that some teachers said they were afraid they might be fired if they discussed LGBT issues. This fear is linked to the historical misconnection of homosexuality to molestation in the United States; this supposedly natural linkage has been debunked multiple times. Regardless, straight and LGBT teachers alike still experience allegations of molestation when they engage in discussions surrounding sexuality, particularly those discussions that are LGBT related. Teachers can also feel hindered because the school environment is inhospitable to homosexuality; in Burston and Hart’s 2001 study, some even said that they were under the impression that the school would not allow them to teach LGBT sex education.
Classmates can also be unreceptive toward LGBT issues in current sex education courses, and students are often hesitant to talk about homosexuality, according to Buston and Hart (2001).
Proposed LGBT sex education programsEdit
Advocates for LGBT sex education have suggested adjustments to current sex education practices in schools. One common place for improvement that researchers have identified is the angle from which sex education is approached in general. Buston and Hart (2001), Ellis and High (2004), and others have recommended that teachers frame sex education in terms of relationships rather than merely reproduction, which can lead to the exclusion of LGBT students. Ellis and High mention that sexual orientation might be more appropriately taught as “an aspect of culture and identity” (Ellis and High 2004, pg. 11). Other researchers such as Morrow (1993) believe that in order for sex education to be effective, it must present LGB as just as natural and legitimate as heterosexuality. Advocates for LGBT sex education ask that LGBT sexual health issues be given equal weight in the curriculum accordingly. They also say that more resources concerning LGBT sexual health issues need to be made available to students. According to UCLA's Center for the Study of Women’s Policy Brief 11 (2012), LBGT students may not be willing to reach out for guidance themselves.
Researchers have recommended that teachers in sex education programs avoid framing homosexuality as something that is fundamentally connected to sexually transmitted diseases and refrain from practices that are potentially detrimental to LGBT students, such as referring to partners as specifically “him” or “her” (better to use the more flexible “they”). Gowen and Winges-Yanez (2014) suggest through their focus groups on LGBT teens that there are several problems with the way sex education is taught. The teens cited silencing, heterocentricity, and pathologizing of LGBT individuals as common practices. When asked how they would improve sex education, the group said inclusive sex education would include discussion of LGBT issues, learning how to access resources, STI prevention, relationships, and anatomy. Advocates for LGBT rights also say that teachers need to abandon any reluctance to take a side in the debate about homosexuality.
Support for LGBT sex educationEdit
Proponents of incorporating LGBT sex education into school curricula commonly present several arguments. According to the Huffington Post, some supporters claim that failing to include LGBT issues in sex education programs will overlook a significant number of students who identify as LGBT; the Center for American Progress (CAP) says that this can cause them to feel marginalized and removed from the lesson because it doesn’t pertain to them. LGBT sex education advocates also argue that leaving LGBT safe sex instruction out of the curriculum will increase the likelihood of health problems for LGBT students. Supporters say that since LGBT people are particularly at risk for HIV/AIDS, it is especially important to provide them with sexual health information. According to researcher Eleanor Formby (2011), lesbian women are a high-risk group for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), because many do not know that they can be susceptible to STDs or how to engage in safe sex. Therefore, it is important that they receive lesbian sex education. LGBT sex education advocates suggest that because LGBT students aren’t taught sex education that pertains to them in school, they feel unprepared for sex, unable to talk about it openly, and have to learn about it by themselves—which can result in negative health outcomes. Sanchez (2012) argues that LGBT students are unlikely to reach out to resources that could give them good information on their own, which furthers the need for LGBT sex education in schools.
LGBT sex education supporters have also argued that the inclusion of LGBT topics in the curriculum can decrease instances of bullying in schools by familiarizing students with the range of sexual orientations and reducing harmful stereotypes. The Center for American Progress argues that LGBT sex education results in a decrease in homophobic comments. According to the Huffington Post, supporters say that educating young people about LGBT individuals could help them have a more positive attitude toward their gay peers. The Center for American Progress (2013) says that LGBT sex education would therefore reduce common problems LGBT students face as a result of negative attitudes; these include mental health issues like depression, the risk of suicide, drug abuse, self-esteem issues, and poorer academic performance due to stress caused by discrimination. They argue that covering homosexuality in sex education programs helps students feel more secure at school.
According to Jen Gilbert, associate professor of education at York University, LGBT kids often do not have queer parents who they can ask for sexuality-related advice, nor access to LGBT adults. LGBT sex education could potentially fill this gap and provide LGBT students with elders well-versed in their specific needs and equipped with affirming information, that students are otherwise unable to receive at home or in school.
Finally, proponents of LGBT sex education have said that curricula that explore all facets of sexuality would be beneficial to straight students as well, because they claim that it presents a more accurate picture of the world and human sexuality. A study of Gay/Straight Alliances in Utah found that peer-facilitated discussions concerning the spectrum of sexuality and gender identities benefitted both straight and LGBT students. It exposed them to the reality of relationships outside of the heteronormative images that dominate media (as well as sex education), and even positively impacted all involved students' academic performance. Proponents also argue that offering LGBT-inclusive sex education can be of major assistance to any questioning students that might be in the class.
According to the Center for American Progress (2013), the majority of parents support including homosexuality in the sex education curriculum; they report that 73% of high school parents think LGBT issues should be taught. The CAP claims that this high percentage of support indicates that LGBT topics should be incorporated.
Opposition to LGBT sex educationEdit
Opponents of LGBT sex education argue that it is wrong to teach students about the issue of homosexuality because it is too contentious. They say that parents should have control over what their children are exposed to and taught, and allowing public schools to cover LGBT sex education would undermine this right, forcing a particular political view on students. According to the Christian Post, some parents do not want their children to study homosexuality. Critics often cite a misuse of citizens' tax dollars; claiming citizens' should not have to pay for children to learn about other lifestyles that their parents do not agree with.
According to Formby (2011), opponents have also argued that LGBT sex education is harmful to students because they say it exposes them to damaging information. They claim that the students should not learn about LGBT issues until they are older. Some opponents of LGBT sex education have argued that including LGBT issues in sex education programs will encourage more young people to practice homosexuality as well. LGBT sex education has also been accused of being disrespectful to certain families’ religious beliefs. The Christian Post argued that if schools elect to teach about LGBT people while neglecting religious topics, the curriculum would be unfairly balanced.
There have also been concerns that LGBT sex education wouldn’t be effective because it is difficult for homophobic students to accept homosexuality, which may prevent them from being receptive to the instruction.
Opposition within the United StatesEdit
Four states (Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Utah) mandate pointedly negative messages regarding all LGBT identities, when sex education is provided. Eight states prohibit discussion of any topics deemed LGBT-related. According to the Guttmacher Institute's findings in 2017, "If HIV education is taught in Arizona it cannot "promote" a "homosexual lifestyle" or portray homosexuality in a positive manner. Mandated HIV education in Oklahoma teaches that among other behaviors that 'homosexual activity' is considered to be 'responsible for contact with the AIDS virus'."
Laws and legal battlesEdit
Section 28 was a controversial law in the United Kingdom that barred schools from presenting homosexuality as a viable sexual orientation or basis for relationships (though the law was never used in court). It was enacted in 1988 and repealed throughout the UK by 2003. Critics of Section 28 say that the law prevented teachers from intervening in instances of homophobic bullying and greatly hindered the development of gay rights in Great Britain. According to Moran (2001), proponents of the law argued that it protected students from being harmed by gay propaganda. Recently, LGBT advocates have raised concerns that policies similar to Section 28 are appearing again in British schools.
In 2009, the European Committee of Social Rights found several statements in a Croatian mandatory Biology course textbook, including: “Many individuals are prone to sexual relations with persons of the same sex…. It is believed that parents are to blame because they impede their children’s correct sexual development with their irregularities in family relations. Nowadays it has become evident that homosexual relations are the main culprit for increased spreading of sexually transmitted diseases (e.g. AIDS),” and “The disease [AIDS] has spread amongst promiscuous groups of people who often change their sexual partners. Such people are homosexuals because of sexual contacts with numerous partners, drug addicts...and prostitutes.” The European Committee of Social Rights deemed these statements discriminatory and in violation of Croatia's obligations under the European Social Charter.
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