Inclusive Health Education: A World-Wide (and San Rafael) Necessity

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Inclusive Health Education: A World-Wide (and San Rafael) Necessity

Ari McDonald

Ari McDonald

Ari McDonald

Flynn Marrinson, Contributor

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The general public of today is much more diverse than originally thought. Quite frankly, schools need to accept that and adjust their health curriculum accordingly.

One Gallup poll estimates that 4.5% of the U.S. population identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The majority of those people were Millennials, born roughly between 1980 and 1990. It’s not too far of a stretch to assume that Generation Z, those currently under the age of 23 (and whose data was not collected), has a fairly large percentage of LGBTQ+ youth in their population as well.

Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or any other identity that falls under that umbrella can be isolating. The United States has come a long way since the Stonewall Riots, but complete tolerance is still far off on the horizon. I’ve seen it myself, when I scrolled through the comments on a MLB team’s post about pride this past summer. Bible verses quoted as proof that homosexuality is immoral, outrage that such a prevalent team would side with such a controversial community, long-winded opinions that started with “I’m not homophobic, but…”

All and any of these comments are available at any time, and not just on a baseball account. I’m sure hundreds, thousands, maybe even hundred of thousands of LGBTQ+ teens read them. A smaller (but still significant) percentage receives them personally from family, friends, or strangers on the street. The effect that must have on a teenager, whose self-esteem could already be low, is upsetting.

Currently, at San Rafael High School, we are lucky to have a well-rounded health class. We are taught extensively about birth control (which is, unfortunately, more than some American schools can attest to.) We have a unit on drugs and alcohol. We discuss what a healthy relationship should and shouldn’t look like.

The only thing that needs improvement? Our covering of the topic of sexual identities and gender identities.

Whether or not you “agree” with their identity, take a moment to step into an LGBTQ+ teen’s shoes. You sit through all the other lectures, no problem. The sexual health unit goes for a week, learning about contraception and how “abstinence is the only way to 100% guarantee that you won’t get pregnant.” Then a representative from Huckleberry visits. Since they are an expert in this field, you feel hopeful that you may finally be included.

Afterwards, though, you can’t help but feel left out. You had seven days of lecture that, although possibly helpful, didn’t seem to be created with you in mind. Your identity was just an afterthought. A flimsy tack-on at the end of a presentation on AIDS, a single worksheet with the genderbread man, and the option to anonymously ask questions if you want to learn more.

Sure, it seems like a small thing to care about. But narrowing the bulk of LGBTQ+ health education down to the HIV/AIDS prevention is like narrowing down African American history to just a lesson on slavery. It’s the most important and widely known issue, but it isn’t the end of the line.

Mrs. Healy, a health and physical education teacher at SRHS, informed me that the lesson has improved slightly since I sat down for it myself four years ago. Now, “we have a guest speaker from the Spahr center on Irwin,” an LGBTQ+ support center.  In her opinion, what Huckleberry teaches is “excellent” and current students in the class seem more understanding, a shift that is evident from her sixteen years of time here.

San Rafael High is a firsthand example that even just a little incorporation of education on this controversial subject can be enough.

According to a study down by the PEW Research Center in June 2013, the median age for when gay teens “knew for sure” was when they were 15. For lesbians, it is 18. For bisexuals, 17. Despite the age gaps, all of these numbers fall within high school years.

Showing students that they are supported and what they are going through is normal is imperative. They may have trouble at home, or with friends. School should be the one place where they feel safe and comfortable with themselves.

Don’t think that education doesn’t help. The 2015 GLSEN National School Climate Survey displays clear evidence that displays of homophobia in the school environment are lessened and a higher rate of those displays are reported when proper LGBTQ+ education is provided.

That same survey suggests that LGBTQ+ teens are more likely to have lower GPAs and frequently miss school if they attend school in a highly discriminatory environment.

So, which would you rather have, schools? Lost money from a lack of attendance, or happier, healthier, well-knowledgeable students?

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