In an essay published in a leading online Catholic magazine, a queer writer has defended Australia’s LGBTQ-inclusive sex education program.
Writing in Eureka Street, an Australian Jesuit media outlet, Sol Kochi Carballo recalls her inadequate experience of sexual education from experience in Catholic, private, and public schools. In each iteration of sex education, from early childhood through her teen years, she remembers the message was boiled down to: “Don’t have sex, but if you do, use protection.”
That boiled-down message has been receiving significant attention in Australia and around the world, with the hope of creating a more comprehensive sexuality education that will equip students with “the knowledge, skills, and values to make responsible choices about their sexual and social relationships.” The United Nations, which Carballo references, expects comprehensive sexuality education to protect young people’s health, well-being, and dignity while empowering its participants in value-based decision making.
However, Carballo points out that the content of comprehensive sexual education and the training offered to its teachers lacks adequate understanding of the complexities of sexuality for LGBTQ youth. For most sexual education programs, this limitation usually means dismissal of the topic altogether, which is problematic for LGBTQ students and their straight peers alike.
For LGBTQ youth, the absence of any mention of sexuality that matches their lived experience denies their reality. They are, purposefully or not, told that their sexuality is not only unacceptable, but not real. Devoting the entire sexual education program to informing straight students on safe practices and healthy sexuality, excludes LGBTQ students and normalizes their invisibility.
With their sexuality ignored by those who are entrusted with their care, many young LGBTQ people turn to the internet for sexual advice, says Carballo. That, she argues, is unjust as it is often unreliable and dangerous. It creates two separate sexual education programs: an intentional values-based, health-focused, empowering program for straight students and a dangerous, unreliable internet search for LGBTQ students.
Even when LGBTQ sexuality is incorporated into sexual education, if it is not done with care, Carballo argues, it can serve to exclude and marginalize LGBTQ students. Recalling her own experience in Catholic and public schools as a queer teen, Carballo notes that teachers often use second person pronouns (you, your, yours) when discussing straight sex and sexuality, normalizing to the student listeners only heterosexual orientation and expression. For discussions of LGBTQ sexuality, her educators often spoke in third person (they, them, their), further isolating marginalizing any queer students in the room.
Sexual education, therefore, must include intentional, reasoned discussion of LGBTQ sexuality for it to be considered comprehensive. Carballo argues that this is not just a private, Catholic school problem, but one that public schools, too, need to address.
If Catholic schools take the wellbeing and sexual health of their students seriously, they would work to incorporate LGBTQ inclusive sexual education in their attempt to implement comprehensive sexuality education. It does not serve the student body to diminish the existence and reality of LGBTQ students. Discussing LGBTQ sexuality candidly and with the same care offered to straight students will not—as some fear—turn anyone gay or transgender. It will, however, tell an already marginalized, bullied, excluded community that they are worthy of respect and empowerment. They too, can make thoughtful, informed, healthy choices.
—Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, February 7, 2020