Today’s blog post is from New Ways Ministry’s newest staff member, Glen Bradley. A 2016 graduate of the Jesuit-run Santa Clara University, California, Glen is a member of the Loretto Volunteer Program. We were delighted to welcome him to the staff last week, and now we are delighted to welcome him as a contributor to this blog.
As Bondings 2.0 reported last week, the Vatican’s new sexual education program (The Meeting Point) inadequately educates youth on sexuality and gender because it does not include LGBTQ inclusive material and instead relies on strong heterosexist and cis-sexist biases–which privilege the lives and experiences of heterosexual people and people whose gender identity/expression conforms to societal norms and with their sex assigned at birth.
The Vatican’s negligent program excludes the reality of LGBTQ people in our world today and poses serious threats to all students–LGBTQ and straight-cisgender alike–by potentially negatively impacting their academic performance, personal development and health.
Some Catholics oppose educating children on LGBTQ people and relationships, believing that doing so would confuse them and harm their development. However, recent educational research shows that an inclusive curriculum does just the opposite. Josh A. Goodman—counseling psychology doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Huffington Post contributor—pointed out the benefits of inclusion in his article “5 Reasons Schools Should Adopt LGBTQ-inclusive Sex Ed”:
“[LGBTQ inclusive sexual education] teaches about sexual orientation and gender identity as they actually exist. Regardless of a person’s moral views, it is a fact that humans have a diverse array of sexual orientations and gender identities. To only teach about one sexual orientation, to ignore gender minorities, and to suggest that a heterosexual marriage is the only acceptable relationship for sexual activity makes invisible the experiences of LGBTQ people and presents an inaccurate view of human sexuality. If we are to prepare youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities to feel good about their sexuality, make safe and responsible choices involving relationships and sexual activity, and appreciate—or at least tolerate—the gender and sexual diversity of their peers and community members, incorporating LGBTQ topics and perspectives into the curriculum is essential.”
In short, excluding LGBTQ topics from a curriculum teaches a dangerous lie: that either LGBTQ people do not exist or they do not have healthy relationships.
Not only would students at Catholic schools be miseducated on the realities of sexuality and gender, research has found that sexual education excluding LGBTQ identities and relationships create health and development risks. GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey found that LGBTQ children who did not receive LGBTQ-inclusive sexual education programs were
- less likely to feel safe at school, more likely to miss school because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable
- less likely to feel comfortable talking about LGBTQ issues with school personnel
- less likely to be able to identify educators who were supportive of LGBTQ students (GLSEN).
Regardless of the curriculum, LGBTQ children are already negatively affected by LGBTQ-phobia from their peers and the adults at school. According to The Southern Poverty Law Center’s resource guide Best Practices: Creating an LGBT-inclusive School Climate:
“LGBT students report being harassed at school–both verbally and physically–at twice the rate of non-LGBT youth. With heightened stressors like bullying, harassment and a lack of role models, LGBT students are also more likely to experience negative educational outcomes.”
A non-inclusive curriculum sends a brutal message: that the school does not fully support and value their LGBTQ students.
Other research has found that LGBTQ-inclusive sexual education is an effective way of reducing LGBTQ-phobia in schools. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States released guidelines saying,
“Most importantly for LGBTQ youth, comprehensive sex education provides factual, non-stigmatizing information on sexual orientation and gender identity as a part of human development and teaches youth to respect LGBTQ people with messages like ‘Making fun of people for not acting the way society expects them to based on their biological sex [sic.] is disrespectful and hurtful’ and ‘People deserve respect regardless of who they are attracted to.’
Furthermore, lowered LGBTQ-phobia from inclusive sexual education has been effective in reducing mental health problems and improving academic performance. A new report found that students with LGBTQ-inclusive sexual education had increased academic performance because they were less likely to report harassment and more likely to feel safe at school. The same research found that while inclusive curriculums in other subjects also contributed to higher academic performance because of decreased abuse and mental health problems, but that inclusive sexual education classes had the greatest impact with regard to school climate.
Very importantly, research has shown that inclusive sexual education does not only benefit LGBTQ students. GLSEN revealed positive outcomes for both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ students in a report saying that an inclusive curriculum
“. . .would benefit not only LGBT youth, but also provide non-LGBT youth with an opportunity to dispel myths about issues of sexual orientation and gender and broaden their understanding about LGBT peoples and communities.”
Similarly, decreased LGBTQ-phobia in schools improves the health and development of all students. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s resource guide states:
“Creating a supportive environment for LGBT students improves educational outcomes for all students, not just those who may identify as LGBT. And remember, it’s not about politics—it’s about supporting students. Any educator, regardless of his personal beliefs, can be a resource for LGBT students.”
Research has also quantified the positive effects of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and anti-homophobic policies on heterosexual boys, finding that “heterosexual boys were half as likely to attempt suicide as those in schools without GSAs” and “heterosexual boys [at schools with anti-homophobic policies that have been in place for more than three years] had 27% lower odds of suicidal thoughts than heterosexual boys in schools without.”
While Catholic schools certainly need GSAs and LGBTQ-supportive policies to combat LGBTQ-phobia in schools, inclusive sexual education is a place to start. GLSEN’s A Call To Action report says LGBTQ-inclusive sexual education is, “a logical venue to help young people learn about identity and encourage acceptance for LGBTQ people and families.”
An inclusive sexual education program for our church would properly educate our children on the realities of LGBTQ people in our world today, while improving students’ mental health, reducing suicide and improving academic performance. Sadly, our Church leaders have not done this in The Meeting Point. The result is a sexual education program that can be very dangerous. But instead of responding with despair, we can use this opportunity as a rallying cry to work to save our children from the dangers of an inadequate curriculum, which has potential for so much damage.
Perhaps the authors of The Meeting Point gave us the analytical test we need when evaluating their curriculum. They quote Rev. Servais-Théodore Pinckaers, O.P., on truth:
“Without the truth, there is neither happiness nor lasting love” (Contents6.0_Educator, page 6).
The first step toward justice is in our ability to seek, see, and reveal the truth to others. The Meeting Point is anything but truthful with regard to sexual and gender realities, realities that include LGBTQ identities and relationships. In this disillusionment, we find neither truth nor love, yet it is our duty as faithful followers of Christ to now bring both to our children and our church.
–Glen Bradley New Ways Ministry