In school, we are often taught about subjects that are required to be taught, and not too often does our education extend outside of that. A large portion of a student’s worldview is formed inside the classroom, which sets the foundation for the way they will think as an adult and beyond. Ignorance is not bliss, knowledge is not power. Ignorance is what leads to discrimination, and knowledge is was leads to tolerance and respect.
The statistics vary from sources, but approximately between 8% and 40% of America’s youth identify as LGBTQ+, not accounting for questioning or closeted youth. As social perception continues to progress into acceptance throughout the country, the needs of LGBTQ+ community are starting to be heard. Many stories of queer youth are similar, the alienation of now having terminology to describe their identity leads them to turn towards the internet for guidance.
“I started to realize I was trans around when puberty started. That’s when things started to not make sense, and made me question my gender and sexuality for the next few years.” Sac City Freshman Grayson Kelly told me. “Anything I wanted to learn I had to sneakily look up on the family computer. The first 7 or so years of my life I was around someone who was very anti-gay, so whenever anything lgbt related would come up I’d be grossed out because that’s what I was taught. Even after I realized that being gay was okay, those experiences stuck with me and would still act grossed out if i was around others just in case they were homophobic.”
“I faced bullying in school. It was mainly stuff like “you’re not a real boy” or people saying to their friends “whoa I didn’t know this was the girls bathroom now” when they would see me in the men’s bathroom. There were also plenty of people who tried to get me to tell them what was in my pants and “what I really was” , I definitely think I would have benefited from learning about the lgbt community through school at a younger age. I wouldve realized that being gay or trans is something that’s okay and not anything to be ashamed of. It also would have saved me a lot of time hating myself because I thought I was weird for not wanting to be a girl.”
The inaccessibility of information about gender identity and sexual orientation leads to multiple things;
Questioning kids having to go through more trouble to find the terminology they are looking for, and ignorant kids becoming homophobic and transphobic. Queer kids are not the only people who benefit from being taught about Queer issues, many kids who only know to hate what they fear go on keeping a non-accepting mindset for those percieved to be different to them.
“I started to realize I was gay in 7th grade when I was about 13. The only time I was taught about anything relating to LGBTQ+ was when I went to catholic school in Ohio. They taught us to support our friends and family “struggling” with homosexual thoughts and to get them help.”
Harlan Gonzales, freshman at MiraCosta College, said.
“No school I’ve been to in California has taught anything on queer identities or history that I can remember. I remember being younger and we would all call each other gay out on the playground just to make fun of each other. Back then, being gay was a joke and a humiliating thing to be called which is sad looking back. I was very lucky to have a mom that would introduce me to adult conversations very early on. I remember watching this show called Rick and Steve about a gay couple living in a town that had a predominantly gay population. I learned a lot about gender and queer identity from not only that show, but from my mom. She also talked to me about my sexuality and helped me work out who I was. She started the conversation that led to who I am today.”
“I didn’t face too much bullying from anyone because of my sexuality. When I first came out in 7th grade, there were some people that stopped talking to me altogether, but no one too important to me. When I moved to Ohio, however, that’s when I noticed a huge cultural shift. I was called a faggot a lot, people would break into my locker and steal stuff, leave broken candy canes all over the place, teachers told me that they caught kids laughing about me behind my back. The problem about it was that they didn’t even know I was gay, I didn’t come out to anyone In Ohio. Although I was very lucky to have supportive friends and family, I think I could have benefited from knowing more about myself and others who went through a sexual identity transition. It would have been nice to know my teachers were also supporting me by teaching a curriculum that involved people like me, instead of having to learn everything I know now from my friends.”
“I definitely appeared very queer since I was maybe 9, but came out at 12. I wrote occasional history papers on LGBTQ+ topics in history class, so I’d only ever teach myself.” 17 year old Noelle Trageseer explained.
“We thought being queer—mainly being gay, because that’s all we knew existed at our young age—was weird and a joke, like it was an automatic qualifier to make you an outsider.
There was a boy in my grade in Elementary school who everyone thought was gay. When I was younger, 6 or 7, my parents mentioned once that he often got bullied because people assumed he was gay, and then told me what the word meant. Otherwise, I didn’t learn about anything LGBTQ+ past the existence of gay men and women until I was in junior high school.
“One boy in elementary school never liked me, and called me a “dyke lesbian witch bitch” when we were 12. I’ve dealt with much more small-scale bullying since then, like occasional comments of “dyke” or “fag” in a manner that somehow always seems to be intended to be a joke. I figured myself out on my own without the help of my school, but I strongly believe every one of my peers could have and still can benefit from education on lgbtq+ identity, history, sex education, etc., because it would force them to take in information about LGBTQ+ people which would hopefully help them be more accepting, kind, and aware, which I have constantly seen them not be.”
As of 2017, students who identify as a part of the LGBT community were about 25% more likely to attempt suicide than their cis and straight peers who reported in at 5%. 13% of LGBTQ+ identifying students also reported purposefully not coming to school because they felt unsafe. In addition to these, between a quarter and half of accounted for homeless youth claim they were forced to the streets because of unsafe housing conditions in which they were kicked out by family, or forced to escape because of abuse.
“I was never taught anything about queer history until this year in a very advanced US history course we had a lecture on the Stonewall riots and that was the first I’d ever heard a teacher even try to address queer issues.” 16 year old Julia Sidley reported, the first student interview to have had Queer history addressed in school.
“When I was young, many of my peers and I were not surrounded by explicit homophobia, but it was also just simply never talked about, and if it was brought up, it would often be dismissed as a nonissue, people who didn’t know would tell me I wouldn’t have to worry about homophobia because they didn’t care to know. I knew what I felt,but did not have the right words to describe them until about when I started high school and met so many new and wonderful and accepting people who helped me figure out and accept myself. I was bullied when I was young for my orientation, even in elementary school people would hurl homophobic slurs towards other children just because of their sexuality or perceived sexuality and it really has a lasting impact. If schools included more LGBTQ+ issues in curriculum it would be immensely helpful. If queer issues were a part of every history curriculum or if sex education were more inclusive, all of these things could help alleviate the shame and nervousness these kids feel about their identities/orientations. When something is taught in school it can also help to reinforce that there is nothing wrong with LGBTQ+ people and help confused kids truly understand, rather than grow ignorant simply because they weren’t taught.”
In addition to the lack of queer history being taught, the lack of same-sex sex safety education has also been a large factor in truly saddening statistics. While sex education is already known to be lacking in important information for straight sex, there is almost always absolutely no mention of safe same-sex issues. In only 12 states is sex education legally required to be taught in schools, but in 7 the discussion of Queer topics is banned or required to be only talked negatively or falsely about, which is extremely harmful to students. 40%-50% of gay, lesbian and bisexual adults reported being victims of sexual assault. Trans and genderqueer people are 47% more likely to be assaulted in their teenage years than their cis peers. On top of the increased likelihood of sexual harassment and assault that the LGBT+ community faces, they also 80% more likely to be infected with one or more STD.
The lack of representation in schools, media and the home is what leads to the alienation of Queer individuals. The lack of terminology leads to trouble in identity and orientation. The ignorance leads to self hate, unsafeness and discrimination. All these spiral into bigger issues that turn individuals into statistics. In a society that already has so much ingrained homo and transphobia, growing up Queer in America is a feat that required the overcoming of many obstacles. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Queer kids are as normal as the straight ones, they go through the same challenging times at their same challenging ages, but its the issue of not knowing who you like or who you are that makes it so much harder when society wants you to conform to the straight cis mold. This needs to change, kids of all identities and orientation deserve to feel welcomes and accepted everywhere, especially in their learning environments they spend so much of their lives in.