Comprehensive Sex Education & Compulsory Heterosexuality

sex educationGay and lesbian teens are currently uninformed and alienated by sex education in the status quo for a couple of different reasons. The first of which is a direct result of abstinence only education. This is an extremely destructive message for young gay and lesbian teens because without full legal access to marriage, the message about “saving yourself” for marriage doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Secondly, sex education in the classroom just flat out ignores gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth who face very unique struggles as they seek to understand their sexuality in a culture that silences and demonizes them.

Our education system needs to take off the blinders and realize that nearly one million LGBTQ identified teenagers live in the United States, and that they deserve an opportunity at comprehensive sex education free from heteronormative standards. Status quo policy, spurred by federal funding incentives in the 1996 welfare law, specifies in nearly 48 states that, “a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexuality.”

Need I say anything else? This taboo on queer sexuality perpetuates a culture of violence against sexual minorities in k-12 institutions. Is it any surprise that suicide and drop out rates are on the rise because of sexual orientation related violence? In fact, a 1993 report by the Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, found that 97 percent of students in public high schools regularly hear homophobic remarks from their peers. Additionally, many lesbian, gay and bisexual youth skip classes and eventually drop out of school; the LAMBDA legal defense and education fund, a national organization that advocates for civil rights for gays and lesbians, reported that 40% of homeless youth identify as lesbian or gay and not surprisingly, many lesbian, gay and bisexual youth skip classes and eventually drop out of school because of harassment.

Getting to the root cause of violence against LGBTQ community members requires a deeper analysis of what happens to our youth as they learn about sex, sexuality and gender. If we fail to send messages of equality to our youth, we are setting ourselves up for a society of adults, uneducated and uninformed about the diversity of sexuality and gender. This means that our responsibility, as feminists, not only lies in ensuring the existence of comprehensive sex education, but also in the inclusion of experiences and needs of sexual minorities.

There is a laundry list of net-benefits to providing comprehensive sex education for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer students in the classroom. The first being that it could help address heightened health risks faced by LGBTQ teens because of lack of information about safe-sex practices as well as flat out misinformation. Secondly, it can help to tackle the emotional isolation that many young students face because of widespread harassment by their peers, teachers, and administration. Silence is the issue here. Compulsory heterosexuality is maintained by ensuring that sexual minorities remain silent, never challenging the universality of heterosexuality or inviting constructive discourse on alternative expressions of sexuality. We need to break this silence and start demanding that sex education include the perspectives and experiences of sexual minorities.

About aj:
Andrew (AJ) is a vehement progressive, youth activist, and reproductive justice organizer. When he's not busy with the movement, you can usually find him dancing in the club or watching trashy reality tv.


  1. freewomyn says:

    Listen to you, AJ, with all your fancy debate terms – status quo, net benefits . . . loving it!

  2. Christine says:

    For the longest time, it didn’t even occur to me. But when I started thinking about it, I realized that it’s appalling how limited (and often simply nonexistent) the discourse on LGBT issues in the K-12 education system is. We teach our kids all about Black History Month, yet the term LGBT doesn’t even come into play until they get into high school. (I had a student in one of my classes this past year laugh and ask me, “What does that stand for, Long Beach Ghetto Thugs?” when I used the acronym.) The ignorance is frightening – especially considering the atmosphere that teens are growing up in these days, with “that’s so gay” being one of the most common phrases heard. (I hear it at least once every day.) By the time any sort of unbiased, factual, LGBT-related information gets distributed, these teens’ lives have already been corrupted by the heteronormative mindset in which “gay” is a synonym for “bad.”

    I think the root problem of this issue is the idea that non-heterosexual concepts are too “adult” for children to be educated about. It’s an inherent notion in many individuals’ brains that non-heterosexual relationships are not “pure” and “simple.” You see a man and a womyn and can immediately imagine the 2 car garage, white picket fence, and 2.5 kids. You see two men or two wimmin and can only imagine the couple as having a “sinful” sexual relationship and nothing more. Penis + vagina = baby… followed by house, fence, etc. Any other relationship cannot produce this same result and is, therefore, not deemed “pure” and “simple.” (Because, you know, adoption doesn’t exist…) Because of this, I feel like we choose to only educate our children (the young, bright-eyed youth of our country) about the things that are good and pure – heterosexual marriages.

    Yet if we break this dichotomous mindset in which we choose to only see things based on anatomy, we can begin a sort of rhizomatic understanding of relationships in which a man and a womyn are not the only components of a family. It’s just like you said, AJ: “If feminism should teach us anything it is that family is about building liberating human relations with people who care about and love one another. Family is about supporting each others goals and aspirations, particularly when we are all fighting an uphill battle in a sexist world that expects & wants less of us.”

    I don’t see why Kindergartners can’t learn about princes marrying princes. If we don’t start then, when will they ever learn?

  3. Christine, thank you so much for the insightful response. You have it dead on here, and i’m sure most people reading your comments would be surprised to hear that you just graduated high school. I wish more youth thought as progressively as you. ;)

    I really enjoyed your analysis of the family structure and the way that heteronormativity sustains itself via constructing a “normal” family model. Thanks for sharing my quote here as well. I totally forogot that I had even said that, and its absolutely right. Family is so much more then biology.

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