How would you feel if you never got to learn about anyone like you? If none of your school books, sex education classes, or history classes taught you valuable information you could use in your own life? For lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and other queer students, this is a reality.
In elementary, middle, and high schools in America, there is a high population of LGBT and otherwise queer students, yet we don’t see a lot of representation, which can lead to bullying from cisgendered heterosexual students. These students often see us as weird or different, which causes a lot of damage to the mental health of queer students, who are already at risk in today’s society.
We should be taught with LGBT+ main characters and authors in literature, and more specific LGBT+ history to make students feel more respected, represented, and safe in our schools and communities. For example, we could be taught with books like “We Are Everywhere” by Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown, a book about the Stonewall riots. Because it’s true – we ARE everywhere.
According to the Williams Institue of Law at UCLA, there is an estimated 1,994,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans students from ages 13-17 in America, which comes to 19,000 children in Iowa, (and that doesn’t even include pansexual, non binary, genderfluid students, etc.) who aren’t being represented in our schools.
I hosted a poll asking students if LGBT+ sex education was taught in their schools (only Americans, and mostly Iowans responded) and 93%, (81 votes) said no, while only 7%, (5 votes) said yes. This clearly demonstrates a problem with our current education system. Most queer students in America report some type of bullying in school for their gender identity or sexual orientation. That bullying comes from stigma around the LGBT+ community from straight and cis students not being educated about their queer peers.
People may say queer students don’t need sex education because we don’t all run the risk of pregnancy, but LGBT+ highschoolers still need to learn how to stay safe and protected – sadly, being gay does not make us immune to STIs.
You also may think we don’t need to see queer charaters in books we read in class to know that we exist. But biases that lead to ignorance and homophobia have been proven to have started from young ages, and exposing school children to LGBT+ characters can not only tackle those biases, but also make queer students feel validated. This validation and acceptance would lead to a huge decrease in LGBT+ suicide rates, which are significantly higher than the suicide rates of cis-het students.
I encourage all students, whether straight and cis or not, to recommend LGBT books, authors, and conversations into their classrooms to destigmatize the LGBT+ community, and educate a few people along the way. Society has progressed, it’s time our education system progresses with it.