Silence about sexual orientation and gender identity can be harmful to LGBTQ students sitting in classrooms because they aren’t getting the information on safer sex or relationships that they need and are ultimately erased as a group of people.

Feeling left out

I’ve raised my hand and mentioned to both the teacher and the class that there’s more than just heterosexual, gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the world and that gender cannot be put into two neat boxes — cisgender and transgender.

When I speak up, the look of confusion on the teacher’s face makes me concerned for the state of sexuality education. If LGBTQ-inclusive sexuality education is not being taught in New Jersey, where we have one of the most progressive sexuality education laws in the U.S., then how is it for people in other parts of the country? Did my cousins in Montana grow up thinking that not being heterosexual was shameful or wrong?

“If sexuality education classes were addressing safer sex for a variety of sexual behaviors and orientations, this might help reduce the rise of STDs.”

The larger problem

Not talking about sexual orientation and gender identity can come from homo- or transphobic social norms or teachers who just don’t have the training to teach about these topics. This can also come from state-mandated sexuality education laws.

The silencing of anything that’s not heterosexual and cisgender not only leads to shame and self-loathing among LGBTQ students, but it stops young LGBTQ people from getting proper information about their sexual health.

Breaking the silence

In 2015, the combined reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis reached the highest number ever, according to the CDC. If sexuality education classes were addressing safer sex for a variety of sexual behaviors and orientations, this might help reduce the rise of STDs.

When everyone gets medically accurate sex ed that doesn’t shame but respects people of different sexual orientations and gender identities, then people learn to respect LGBTQ people, which creates a safer and healthier environment for everyone.