I remember sitting in my health class at school. I remember the weather – 72 degrees, partly sunny – the kind of days that we love in the Midwest after long winters. We were talking about sex, and I remember just waiting and hoping they would cover information important to me. As a gay 16-year-old living in the suburbs of St. Louis, saying that I grew up in a socially conservative region would be an understatement. But back to the story.
I kept waiting, longing, hoping that in addition to the boy-girl talk, there would be boy-boy talk too. My school district is relatively progressive and had recently passed a mandate that was supposed to support LGBT students. We would finally get recognition. Our health class curriculum was divided into units. We were on the Sex-Ed unit. Weeks went by. I waited every day for there to be something. There was nothing. I realized at that moment, I was an “other.” My teacher chose to say nothing. It was a defining moment.
In the American public school system, I have noticed a paradox: it can be, simultaneously, the most progressive and most backward educational system. Many public school districts have put in LGBT-inclusive reforms that offer LGBT students resources to be successful and live in hate-free environments. At the same time, many students are bullied just for being who they are while school districts sit on their hands, usually staying silent or doing nothing. It’s the reason why 55% of LGBT teenagers in our public schools feel unsafe for being who they are. I have to say myself, it is not an easy ballgame. I have been partially in, partially out, and it feels like I am automatically different. I am not in relationships in school because I don’t like the extra attention. Whenever I walk into a classroom I scan the room for more conservative people to check for potential homophobes. I tell a teacher things that I would tell a therapist because to be honest, I don’t have time for a lot of the problems I have.
We like to say we know how to solve problems that LGBT students face, but this is false, especially when we won’t even cover LGBT-related topics in health class. It’s time to stop treating us like we are in the underground. LGBT teens miss three times more school, have lower GPAs, have exponentially higher rates of depression and anxiety, and are three times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens. You can’t just “hope” a problem away.
You can say you want to reform the education system, but when you don’t enact in the most basic changes, don’t claim you’re “doing everything possible.”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.