As a part of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better Project,” figures like Stephen Colbert, Ellen DeGeneres, and even Barack Obama have made YouTube videos telling LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Questioning) youth that the bullying they experience now will get better after high school. While it may be helpful for LGBTQ students to see role models who have found a better life after enduring bullying in high school, these videos convey the attitude that LGBTQ students must suffer through high school before finding happiness in life. LGBTQ issues are largely ignored during high school, a time when LGBTQ individuals are the most vulnerable and face the highest risk of suicide and depression. Instead of promising a better life after graduating high school, we need to find a way to make things better for LGBTQ students now.
I am a recent high school graduate. Health classes would seem like the ideal place to discuss LGBTQ issues. However, my required high school health classes simply assumed heterosexuality as the norm, while, counterintuitively, teaching about issues that disproportionately affect the LGBTQ community. HIV/AIDS, suicide prevention, and depression are all major topics covered in high school health curriculums, and they are issues that most predominantly affect the LGBTQ community. Two-thirds of new HIV infections among youth ages 13-29 are contracted by gay and bisexual men according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moreover, LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to have attempted suicide and are more than six times as likely to suffer from depression than their straight, cisgendered peers according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Yet high schools largely ignore issues related to homosexuality and differing gender identities. Assuming heterosexuality and binary gender classifications as the norm, as my school does, not only overlooks the audience to which the major health concerns apply, but also serves to marginalize and bully LGBTQ students into believing they are not normal. (LGBTQ students get this type of bullying enough in the hallways — according to GLESN’s “National School Climate Survey,” 9 out of 10 LGBTQ teens have reported being bullied in high school because of their sexual orientation.)
This is not just a problem at my high school. According to the Guttmacher Institute’s “State Policies in Brief,” only 12 states have laws that mandate discussion of LGBTQ issues in health curriculums. Of these states, three require teaching about the issues in a negative light (saying that homosexuality is an “unnatural” lifestyle) or teaching inaccurate and outdated information (saying that homosexual sex is illegal). Of the nine states that require teaching about LGBTQ issues in a factually accurate, accepting manner, few schools enforce these laws. I go to high school in Oregon, which has one of the most liberal laws about teaching LGBTQ issues — the Oregon Department of Education requires schools to teach information that includes “strategies that recognize different sexual orientations and gender roles.” My health class, however, has never covered issues regarding different sexual orientations or untraditional gender roles.
The best place to educate students about these issues is in the schools, particularly in high school health curriculums. Although the internet may be a great resource for LGBTQ youth, it also has a wealth of unreliable information, and videos like the ones created through the “It Gets Better Project,” while helpful, do not delve deeply enough to help LGBTQ students beyond the superficial or educate them about problems they are currently experiencing. And while it is important to continue to pass legislation that mandates discussion about LGBTQ issues in the curriculum, in my experience, even states that have these laws do not enforce them fully. LGBTQ students need adult mentors and allies to help them through the high school environment that all too closely resembles Lord of the Flies. Even if certain groups are against homosexuality, they should be able to recognize that we cannot help with the HIV/AIDS crisis or the high suicide rate –- issues that we can universally agree need attention — if we do not bring up these issues in regards to LGBTQ students. Politicians, school administrators, and teachers must work to make LGBTQ issues an essential part of classroom discussions and to intervene when there is bullying of LGBTQ students. This way, things can get better for LGBTQ students now, instead of after they graduate.
“What Is the It Gets Better Project?” It Gets Better. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.itgetsbetter.org/pages/about-it-gets-better-project/>.
“HIV Among Youth.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC, 07 Apr. 2014. Web. <http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/age/youth/index.html?s_cid=tw_drmermin-00186>.
“Suicide Risk and Prevention for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth.” (n.d.): n. pag. Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008. Web.
“The 2011 National School Climate Survey.” (n.d.): n. pag. GLSEN. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. Web.
“Sex and HIV Education.” State Policies in Brief (n.d.): n. pag. Guttmacher Institute, 01 June 2014. Web.
“Oregon.” Sex, Etc. N.p., n.d. Web. <https://sexetc.org/states/oregon/>.