Boulder, CO — LGBTQ+ people's existence in the public school system can often feel like an act of rebellion, or at least it was for Kade Eisen. Eisen knew that his “rich white conservative high school” in Colorado Springs had no intention of supporting him as a trans person. So when the school did not include LGBTQ+ people in sex ed, this came as no surprise.
“As far as the lack of queer sex, I mean, no one ever expected LGBTQ people to be out in the open at that school,” Eisen said. “So they were never prepared. And even when there were signs of us existing in the school, they didn't think we belonged there.”
This is a common feeling that many queer people experience. Few LGBTQ+ children believe that they are being taught inclusive and accurate sex ed in schools. Over 24% of LGBTQ students never had sex ed in school. When they did have it, only 3.2 percent said that it was inclusive, according to a survey published by Planned Parenthood and supported by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
“They didn't show us or talk about STDs in a way of like, hey, here's how to educate you on how you can contract this,” Eisen said about his school in Colorado Springs. “They would show us photos to scare you into not having sex. So very much heterosexual, only a man and a woman can have sex.”
When Eisen went to college, he had to unlearn a lot of the negative stereotypes he learned over his high school years. Luckily, he found a community that he felt supported him through that process. However, during his high school years when Eisen felt like he didn’t belong, he would turn to his hair stylist.
“He helped me figure out my sexual body. He helped me figure out that I was trans,” Eisen said. “He advocated for me with my parents to get, you know, a short haircut or my parents were absolutely against it. So I owe so, so much to him.”
It was one of the few examples of LGBTQ+ representation that Eisen had in his life at the time. For Eisen, for most queer people, having someone supportive in your life means everything. In this instance, it meant having someone help him figure out his identity as a trans man, and with conversations about sex education.
Queer sex ed, is sex ed. This is a belief that Eisen holds, and it's a belief that many others support as well. A majority of Americans say that sex ed needs to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ individuals.
However despite this being the case, queer people everywhere are still feeling the impact of being left out of sex ed. One person who sees the impact that sex education can have on queer people's mental health first hand is RP Whitmore-Bard, a psychotherapist who is the program director at Queer Asterisk.
“Essentially they were taught that sex had to be one way or look one way,” said Whitmore-Bard. “If it didn't fit their experience, I think that that contributed to them feeling more ostracized or more other, whereas it could have been an incredible opportunity for them to feel like their sexuality and their gender identity was more normalized and more accepted.”
In other words, LGBTQ+ people having access to sex ed that is inclusive of their needs not only has an impact on our health but whether or not we feel accepted by their communities. The level of acceptance that young LGBTQ+ people have in their lives can play an instrumental role in their mental health, according to a survey done by the Trevor project.
These lessons on sex education are important for all people to know about. “I think that like sex ed is important for people at any age,” Whitmore-Bard said. “Just because people have, maybe more experience with sex and sexuality as they get older doesn't mean that they don't still need education.”
Whether it's physical, mental, or emotional health, sex education has a large impact on LGBTQ+ people's lives. We deserve to be seen and included in all aspects of the educational system, including sex ed.