In the United States, only 12 states require that sexual orientation be discussed as a part of a sex education curriculum. New York is not one of them, but New York City officials say they are trying to offer a more inclusive sex education, allowing L.G.B.T.Q. students to also receive information relevant to a healthy lifestyle.
Under the new schools chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, the New York City Department of Education has recently decided to invest $24 million to improve and emphasize health education and training for teachers. Currently, sex education in New York City public high schools is part of health education programs, with no specific mandate in terms of how much time is spent on it. The department is planning to use the investment to mandate sex education more consistently, a news release about the announcement said.
“It’s critical that students have the tools to make healthy decisions now and throughout their entire lives,” said Doug Cohen, press secretary for the Department of Education. “Our new investments in health education, which includes sex education lessons, demonstrates our commitment to supporting the emotional, physical and social well being of all students,” including those who identify as L.G.B.T.Q. The “Youth Risk Behavior Survey” conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 1.3 million children reported identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Department of Education officials said middle and high school students can now expect more in-depth and inclusive health instruction. The new initiative plans to provide targeted support to 500 schools, which would serve as model health education schools by meeting all city and state requirements.
Peer Health Exchange, a nonprofit organization that relies on college volunteers to teach high school students sex education, has been working with the Education Department to address sex education disparities. The organization began holding sex education workshops in New York City over a decade ago, but has modified its offerings to include education for L.G.B.T.Q. teenagers.
“I think it’s important that as we talk about health education that it is inclusive for all young people,” Saumik Islam, a Peer Health Exchange co-coordinator at Brooklyn College, said. “And we know that L.G.B.T.Q. folks are forgotten when you think about that, and hyper-marginalized and pushed to the extremes.”
Heather Corinna, an author and internet publisher who focuses on human sexuality, has been receiving questions from teenagers about sex for almost two decades through her website, Scarleteen.com. She noted that there must be numerous gaps within sex education courses, as reflected in the types of questions she receives.
“If and when young people were getting information, so often it was either wrong or incomplete, especially when you’re talking about things like queer inclusion,” said Ms. Corrina, author of “S.E.X., The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties.”
Ms. Corinna also believes that sex education in schools is becoming more gender inclusive, but only in a few places and at a glacial pace. From her experience, this is because transgender and nonbinary activists have been working hard to make this happen.
New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, is also working to better serve L.G.B.T.Q. youth in the city. She is leading the NYC Unity project, which intends to support all young people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
“Tragically, L.G.B.T.Q. young people are more than three times more likely to attempt suicide than non-L.G.B.T.Q. youth” in New York City, Ms. McCray said at a recent news conference about the Unity Project. “It’s up to us to do everything we can to prevent damage to the health and fortunes of our young people.”
The new sex education initiative may come as welcome news for some New Yorkers who said they did not remember much sex education at all.
“In high school it was a part of the curriculum, maybe spent 15 minutes or one day on it, and never come back to it,” recalled, Saif Zihiri, a former Stuyvesant High School student.