Queer Kids Face Invisibility Without an Inclusive Sex Education

Queer Kids Face Invisibility Without an Inclusive Sex Education

The tug of war between “to teach” or “not to teach” in sexuality education is an age-old dilemma that has only deprived children of the essential knowledge they need to progress into adulthood. While parents and schools fuss over what to censor, young children may have already sourced the information they’re looking for and it doesn’t matter if it’s inaccurate or harmful because it’s better than no information at all.

Queer children are among the groups of people who feel the brunt of an inadequate sex education that doesn’t include them. Even though South Africa’s Department of Basic Education (DBE) expanded the Comprehensive Sexuality Education curriculum in Life Orientation two years ago and vowed to intensify it this year after the surge in teenage pregnancies, the lessons leave much to be desired for LGBTQIA+ individuals.

The current script lessons for school children mostly incorporate the queer community when it provides terms and definitions. In other instances, it discusses queerness in frameworks of tragedies, traumas and stigmas, often describing them as those who don’t ‘fit’. In one lesson for Grade 12 (seen below), a gay man’s lover is described in a violent situation and students are asked to problem solve and provide prevention strategies.

Scripted Lesson Plans Gr 12
Scripted Lesson Plans Gr 12

While it’s important for children to learn about the stigma and violence that faces queer folks in this country, there needs to be a certain level of sensitivity involved in discussing such situations. It also needs to be more comprehensive by including topics like family planning, sexual health and safe sex practices.

Casey Blake, a registered counsellor with a special interest in sexuality, gender relationships and parenting, expresses doubt about the effectiveness of sexuality education in South Africa, especially for queer kids.

“In my research using focus groups of recent matriculants (2015), the queer people who participated expressed that sexuality education had nothing for them. It was about getting married, having children and it was about heterosexual marriage and reproduction. STI and HIV/AIDS topics weren’t discussed in ways that were relevant or useful to queer individuals and there was no inclusion on how queer individuals could have families together,” says Casey.

Close up little girl looks at tablet with mothers

Schools face several other issues when it comes to teaching sexuality education. For instance, teachers aren’t trained to deal with sexuality and human relationships. They may also hold their own biases which prevent them from providing information in a politically correct or sensitive way.

“Schools have the option to include what they would like and exclude what they’re uncomfortable with from the scripted lesson plans,” says Casey. It also comes down to the individuals because sometimes teachers may be more inclusive even when the school isn’t.” Some religious groups, parents and teachers have rejected the DBE’s implementation of sexuality education with some feeling that parents should be the only people involved in teaching their children about sex and sexuality while others have expressed how sexuality education could encourage kids to have sex.

Statements from the African Christian Democratic Party regarding Comprehensive Sex Education

A similar fear exists when it comes to offering LGBTQIA+ inclusive sexuality education. “I think the fear is that if we expose children to options, somehow we might make them gay or make them not cisgender.  But if we consider the media in general, if that was truly the case, then we’d only have heterosexuals in the world. Exposure to information does not make one gay. What it does do is present a possibility to explore your desires and needs instead of suppressing a part of yourself.“

South African fiction writer, Anathi Jongilanga, is an example of an individual who’s experienced the negative consequences of a non-inclusive sex education. 

“I grew up in a very “traditional” environment we never talked much about sex at school or with adults. “Sex talk” then took the shape of reprimand and warning. It was never really about safety and pleasure, sexual health or family planning. It was very cisheteropatriarchal and leaned towards procreation. Always,” says the 27-year-old writer.

“We would talk about sex amongst ourselves – us kids, peers. Almost everything I know about sex I learned on my own,” he continues.

This lack of sex education for queer kids not only deprives them of essential knowledge, but it also erases their existence in a world that continually seeks to deny them their humanness.

“Queer kids and children of LGBTQIA+ family members face the challenges of exclusion and invisibility. One of my clients years ago said to me “I never knew my life was even a possibility” and that’s the problem. If the only options presented to you are only ever heterosexual scenarios, anything outside of that requires a lot of creativity to even imagine its possibility,” says Casey.

A couple sits on a park bench with their young son.

As a counsellor who also runs “Tools for Having the Talks”, a workshop designed to assist parents, educators and caregivers with having effective ways of communicating about sex and sexuality with children aged 2-years-old and above, Casey offers the following advice for parents looking to be more involved in their children’s sexuality education.

  1. Ask to see the scripted lesson plans from your child’s school, You can also find them here on the government’s website here.
  2. Parents can empower themselves with education outside of the school by reaching out to organisations similar to Tools for Having the Talks.
  3. Check in with their kids by asking them what they learnt in a particular class, or activity, instead of asking them the typical “how was your day?” question. Try “Did you learn anything interesting?” “Did you learn anything that made you feel uncomfortable?” “Did it seem like other people were also uncomfortable or did you feel alone in that discomfort? Why?” “Did you learn anything new?”
  4. There are amazing spaces that are also queer-friendly. See the following:

Scarleteen

Sex Positive Families

Sexy Smarts

Amaze

Parents of queer children may also try to develop stronger relationships with their school’s staff. In our article “Steps to Creating a Valuable Connection With Your Child’s Teacher”, we highlight the importance of parents bringing their unique understanding of their child to their teacher’s knowledge. If parents deem their school environment a safe space, they can present their queer children’s learning needs in terms of sexuality education to teachers and even fellow parents. 

Parents helping child with homework

This is an important point that can affect the quality of life of queer children in schools. As important as it is to teach our children about sex and sexuality on an individual level, it’s a community effort to encourage mutual respect and discourage bullying and alienation of queer kids.

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