Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) youth need and deserve to learn in settings that are inclusive of their experiences and that give them the education necessary to stay safe and healthy. Far too many LGBTQ youth are sitting in classrooms where their teachers and textbooks fail to appropriately address their identities, behaviors and experiences. Nowhere is this absence more clear, and potentially more damaging, than in sex education.
Sex education can be one of the few sources of reliable information on sexuality and sexual health for youth. Hundreds of studies have shown that well-designed and well-implemented sex education can reduce risk behavior and support positive sexual health outcomes among teens, such as reducing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates.1
For LGBTQ youth to experience comparable health benefits to their non-LGBTQ peers, sex education programs must be LGBTQ-inclusive. Inclusive programs are those that help youth understand gender identity and sexual orientation with age-appropriate and medically accurate information; incorporate positive examples of LGBTQ individuals, romantic relationships and families; emphasize the need for protection during sex for people of all identities; and dispel common myths and stereotypes about behavior and identity.
Whether legally barred or simply ignored, LGBTQ-inclusive sex education is not available for most youth. The GLSEN 2013 National School Climate Survey found that fewer than five percent of LGBT students had health classes that included positive representations of LGBT-related topics.2 Among Millenials surveyed in 2015, only 12 percent said their sex education classes covered same-sex relationships.3
In qualitative research conducted by Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, LGBTQ youth reported either not having any sex education in their schools or having limited sex education that was primarily or exclusively focused on heterosexual relationships between cisgender people (people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth), and pregnancy prevention within those relationships.
The research also showed that LGBTQ youth have a limited number of trusted adults they feel comfortable talking with about sexual health, so they frequently seek information online or from peers. Much of the sexual health information online is neither age-appropriate nor medically accurate, and peers may be misinformed.
Sex education ought to help close this gap. Both public health organizations and the vast majority of parents agree and support LGBTQ-inclusive sex education. Eighty-five percent of parents surveyed supported discussion of sexual orientation as part of sex education in high school and 78 percent supported it in middle school.4 Sex education is a logical venue to help all youth learn about sexual orientation and gender identity, and to encourage acceptance for LGBTQ people and families. When sex education is another area where LGBTQ youth are overlooked or actively stigmatized, however, it contributes to hostile school environments and places LGBTQ youth at increased risk for negative sexual health outcomes.
To right these inequities, Advocates for Youth, Answer, GLSEN, the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS) are calling on parents, youth, educators and policymakers to help you by:
Becoming advocates for LGBTQ-inclusive sex education
Ensuring that school is a safe and accepting space for LGBTQ students
Implementing LGBTQ-inclusive sex education in schools, community settings and online
Talking to their own children and teens about sex and sexuality
Working to remove state-level legal and policy barriers to LGBTQ-inclusive sex education in schools and to require inclusive programs
1 Advocates for Youth. (2008). Science and Success: Sex Education and Other Programs that Work to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, HIV & Sexually Transmitted Infections. Washington, D.C.: Alford, S. et al.; Kohler, P. K., Manhart, L. E., & Lafferty, W. E. (2008). Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education and the initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy. Journal of Adolescent Health, 42(4), 344-351; Kirby, D. B., Laris, B. A., & Rolleri, L. A. (2007). Sex and HIV education programs: their impact on sexual behaviors of young people throughout the world. Journal of Adolescent Health, 40(3), 206-217.
2 GLSEN. (2014). The 2013 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Palmer, N. A., & Boesen, M. J. (2014).
3 Public Religion Research Institute. How Race And Religion Shape Millennial Attitudes On Sexuality and Reproductive Health Findings from the 2015 Millennials, Sexuality, and Reproductive Health Survey. Washington, D.C.: Jones, R. P. & Cox, D.
4 Let’s Talk Poll (2015). New York: Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health.