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Inclusive sex-ed for LGBTQ teens



I was sitting in health class like any other Thursday afternoon when the teacher reluctantly announced our new topic for the semester: sex.

Packets of various coloured condoms (Credit: mikroman6 / Getty)Immediately, my peers burst into giggles, as you would expect in a room full of bored and sexually repressed 16 year olds. I knew exactly how the rest of the period would go because two years earlier a group of sex educators had marched into our school and given us the exact same speech — don't have sex, but if you do, use protection.

From what I hear, my health class experiences were better than most. We learnt about consent, contraception and sexually transmitted infections. We even got taught how to prevent them, how they were treated and how to protect ourselves by using condoms. One thing that was seldom mentioned in the four years I spent at school, however, was LGBTQ sexual health. 

The term 'LGBTQ inclusive sex education' is closely associated, if not synonymous, with comprehensive sexuality education. The United Nations defines the latter as 'a holistic approach to human development and sexuality' with the goal of equipping 'children and young people ... with the knowledge, skills and values to make responsible choices about their sexual and social relationships'.

While difficult to talk about, inclusive sex education remains an important discourse in our society. Imagine being an inexperienced young person, feeling fundamentally different from your peers, and further imagine having your gender or sexuality dismissed by the people meant to help keep you safe. This is how it felt as a young queer woman in what at the time seemed like an all-straight classroom. With so little information and extreme feelings of exclusion, it is no surprise many young gay, lesbian and bisexual people turn to the internet for sexual advice. Unsurprisingly, this is almost always unreliable and sometimes even dangerous. 

Luckily, countries across the world are adapting their curriculum to be more inclusive and better fit modern times. In England, new government regulations mean that from September 2020 all secondary schools will be required to teach Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), though how they choose to approach this is completely up to them. In high schools across the nation queer youths are making their voices heard by creating safe spaces in their schools, from Gay Straight Alliances to celebrations of LGBT history and important figures.

In Canada, Australia and some states in the USA, LGBTQ inclusive sex education is already compulsory, though insufficient time and inadequate training mean there's much left to be desired. It is not rare for educators to gloss over or skip the LGBTQ component of health class altogether. When it is covered, it seems to forget that LGBTQ students actually exist. 


"For us as students, inclusive teaching shows that you appreciate and respect our identities."


Another big obstacle for LGBTQ inclusive education is that all too often queer youth are referred to as outsiders in the classroom. Many times this is done subconsciously by the educator in charge.

For example, when talking about straight sex, I remember my teachers speaking to us in the second person, saying things like 'you need to make sure you're safe and use protection'. When talking about homosexual relations, teachers tend to switch to the third person: 'gay people should ... ' or 'lesbians do ... '. Although generally not meant to be harmful, such language serves to create a barrier and push those already at risk further into the closet. 

When I speak about this topic, people tend to assume I am focusing solely on my experience at religious schools or schools in isolated areas. Throughout my teenage years, I attended a wide range of schools all across the country, from Sydney to Queensland to Perth. Prior to that, I had been a student at a Catholic private institution overseas. While today I don't recall much about the early sex-ed classes I received as a young teen, I can tell you the content did not differ much from school to school. Incomplete, inaccurate and exclusive sex-ed classes are not just a private school problem, it's something that needs to be addressed across the board. 

I'm under no illusions that implementing LGBT inclusive sex education into the school curriculum will be easy and I am sure it will be met with strong opposition from vocal minority groups. But inclusive teaching is important, particularly for a population that still experiences higher rates of bullying just because of who they are.

If you're a teacher, acknowledging that you most likely have an LGBTQ student can give a whole new sense to your sex-ed lessons. It means you understands you're not just teaching straight kids about gay sex, but helping the queer teen in your classroom make smart decisions. For us as students, inclusive teaching shows that you appreciate and respect our identities. On another level, it's also about acceptance for those who are not what's considered the norm, whether that be due to sexual orientation, faith, race, gender or disability.



Sol Kochi CarballoSol Kochi Carballo is a Western Australia-based writer and Economics student. She frequently writes articles for small businesses and is passionate about covering global affairs from a unique perspective.

Main image credit: mikroman6 / Getty

Topic tags: Sol Kochi Carballo, sex, LGBTQI



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Existing comments

From a Catholic perspective, "sex-ed lessons" that don't include moral, spiritual and theological components deprive students of a holistic understanding, reducing human sexuality to an exclusively subjective construct.

John RD | 20 January 2020  

So eloquently put; a difficult topic for discussion or education even with the best intentions. My education was with both secular and non-secular secondary schools and I interpreted the "you" delivered by celibate teachers more accusative than inclusive because that "you" didn't include themselves, there sure wasn't any we. "They" is a bit insulating; perhaps "some" is ill-defined, too, but irrespective whether straight or LBGTQI+ not everyone is getting some...but better to be prepared? Despite the classroom "giggles" identified in the article the topic is important to educate the young and old while maintaining respect; I very much doubt that any new age LGBTIQ inclusive sex ed is taught to the wider, greater community. Perhaps an answer is make expert sex educational resources outside school for ALL to access rather than relying on classroom teachers who may have difficulty with the topics, content or specific group. I have no idea on statistics of persons who seek sex ed in later years but would suggest most over 40 probably need a refresher! Maybe a modular course so persons can identify specific needs and interests? Touchy subject.

Ray | 21 January 2020  

So why, John RD, does the teaching of biology require the 'moral, spiritual and theological components' whereas, say, economics, history, chemistry and environmental science don't?

Ginger Meggs | 21 January 2020  

Sol's story begins in the health class. Sex is more than a health issue. It is a complete human being issue. Where does one begin training & educating a child in what it means to be a human being? Surely in the family. I grew up in a large Irish Catholic family. I was very young when I saw the differences between boys & girls. Living on a rural property I saw animal reproduction as natural. I couldn't imagine my parents doing those sorts of things but I guessed they did "something" similar to make babies My father gave me a CTS pamphlet on the 6th Commandment (c 1948). Many exhortations to Chastity. In Australia we, 16/17 year olds, had one lecture by a GP on Sex & Birth Control. By which time most of us knew boys loved girls and girls loved being chased. Yes it was 1952. Only one question was asked: Doctor, how far can I go without committing a mortal sin? Over the past sixty years there has been an encyclopedic growth in our knowledge of Human Sexology. It is more than a Health subject. It is a Human Person issue.

Uncle Pat | 21 January 2020  

Ginger, education on human sexuality includes but is not exhausted by biology. Why do you limit "sex-ed" only to its scientific aspect?

John RD | 21 January 2020  

Of course it's not John RD, but why do you single it out for a mandatory inclusion of 'moral, spiritual and theological components' and not do the same for , say, economics, law, or governance? The have been some pretty obvious examples of immorality in each of these recently, many involving people educated in religious schools. By all means bring morals and ethics into all levels of education in all subjects, but let's not get fixated on sex again. The Church's historical obsession with sex and reproduction has caused enough trouble already with very little benefit to show.

Ginger Meggs | 21 January 2020  

I recall Sex education at Saint Johns Inner Melbourne consisted of some chalk drawings on the blackboard followed by some personal office payback trolling sessions from a headmaster( who was later named in 2 books as a pedophile, as was another member of those "Brothers" disguised as holy clerics). To avoid this type victim identification at schools we shouldnt assume teachers/religious have the right to teach this subject. Ask yourself, what in theory would a celibate religious cleric know about sex? Especially as world wide we have seen the most vulnerable fall easy prey to experienced offenders who invariably operate in groups and identify/share victims with other offenders. The subject of sex education should be taboo at secondary school or there should be a factual text book but sex education should be taught by parents, not by secondary teachers. I dont think the LGBTQ divide need come into the debate at all.

francis Armstrong | 21 January 2020  

Firstly, Ginger, when western society since the 1960s has radically challenged the value and nature of marriage and the family it should come as no surprise that the Catholic Church contributes to public debate on sexuality. If "obsession with sex" is relevant, it would seem more applicable to industries like pornography, prostitution and abortion that undermine the dignity of human life; and to those sections of the media that encourage the impression that the majority of priests are paedophiles. Secondly, as "Uncle Pat"s post suggests, since human sexuality is integral to the human person it merits a place in education - particularly in a milieu when the young are exposed to ideas of sexuality that ignore or denigrate the dimensions I have mentioned above, and when many of them sadly lack the parental presence and support Francis Armstrong stipulates.

John RD | 22 January 2020  

OK, John but you are still focussing on sex, the obsession on which goes back long before 1960. What about the (non-sexual) immorality that we've seen in business, banking, aged care, politics, government, sport, and many other aspects of community life that are also 'integral to the human person'. Many of those responsible for this immorality, lack of ethics, and - in some cases - outright criminality are self-proclaimed people of faith and/or were educated in church schools, yet the Church is, by comparison, deafeningly silent. Forget sex for the moment and ask why is the Church - and by that I mean the bishops and hierarchy, not its several social services - nowhere to be seen or heard?

Ginger Meggs | 22 January 2020  

If you're referring to Australia's bishops, Ginger, I suggest you familiarise yourself with their initiative and support for the Plenary Council 2020, which, up till now, has been encouraging the laity to contribute their thoughts on ecclesial renewal. I expect we'll hear from the bishops when the Council completes its consultation process. Further, for the record, the Australian bishops have annually been issuing social justice statements on the issues you raise since 1940.

John RD | 22 January 2020  

John RD's criticisms of sexual obsession are undoubtedly valid; but has he ever thought that the excess he rightly excoriates may well be a reactionary response, as far as Catholics are concerned, to the totally undeveloped and unilateral focus of the Church on, and generally against (in the public eye) human sexuality? Instead of a theology that places love and relationship at the centre of the marriage and family, the sorry history of Church doctrine shows that the message sent out has been wrapped up in so many 'Do's and 'Don't's that the average human person is either led astray or reliant on the ineffable love of God, shown up as if by accident and often occluded by those who claim to speak in God's name. In such a topsy-turvy state of affairs, if I were John, I'd thank my lucky stars that somehow the message and injunction to love seems to break through in spite of the misplaced focus on several aspects of Church teaching on marriage and human sexuality, and especially in regard to contraception, which still officially supports the procreative view of sex to the exclusion of the unitive view, proclaimed at Vatican II. Both are important!

Michael Furtado | 22 January 2020  

Thank you for this important article being posted to help us further a healthy discussion around the holistic education of our Catholic community in Australia. The Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry is a pastoral interagency supporting pastoral worker, pastoral leaders and pastoral organizers in the Australian Catholic church. We have recently held a national symposium on the pastoral care of LGBTQIA+ Catholics and our families, through years of working in this area of pastoral care, with organizations having worked for 50 years in this part of our often neglected and silenced Catholic community, we have published an Australian Rainbow Catholic Pastoral Guide as a way of helping our Catholic families, communities and agencies begin a pastorally sensitive and compassionate conversation that honours our shared dignity in Baptism. You may find our page on https://RainbowCatholicsIn.wixsite.com/website/ and the document can be found on https://RainbowCatholicsIn.wixsite.com/website/australian-national-rainbow-catholi God bless.

Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry | 10 February 2020