Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Teaching about Sexual Orientation by Secondary Health Teachers

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Teaching about Sexual Orientation by Secondary Health Teachers

Article excerpt

Homosexuality is as much about prejudice as it is about sexual orientation. Gay and lesbian youth usually grow up in a heterosexual family with all of the misconceptions and prejudices against homosexuals characteristic of most of American society. Gay and lesbian adolescents grow up without access to accurate information or appropriate role models.

Adolescent homosexuals grow up acutely aware of the prejudice, discrimination, and possible violence they will face if their peers and family discover their sexual orientation.[1,2] A recent survey of male youths ages 15-19 found only 12% felt confident they could have a gay person as a friend.[3] Homosexual adolescents quickly learn to hide their true self, to be constantly on guard, and to live their life based on living a lie.[1] Living in a culturally sanctioned anti-homosexual biased culture, gay and lesbian youth often develop a sense of inferiority and low self-esteem.

The size of the adolescent population at risk because of sexual orientation is not certain. Billy et al[4] examined a national sample of men ages 20-39 who had experienced same-sex sexual activity during the past 10 years and all categories of males, regardless of age, race, or education level, reported less than 5% engaged in any homosexual activity. The largest population-based study (N = 37,400) of adolescent sexual orientation reported homosexual attractions (4.5%), homosexual fantasies (2.6%), and same-sex sexual behavior (1%) were common, but all three were less than 5% of students in grades 7-12.[5] Using figures reported in an earlier article on this topic, it could be concluded that about 1 million homosexual adolescents are at risk, not the 3 million reported in an earlier article.[6] Still, this smaller estimate is a significant number of homosexual youths at risk.

Homosexual youths are at risk for overt self-hatred and social and emotional isolation, which may lead to substance abuse and other unhealthy behaviors. Prevalence rates are 50% higher for alcohol use, three times higher for marijuana use, and eight times higher for cocaine/crack use compared to the total adolescent population.[7] Also, adolescent homosexuals are three times more likely to attempt suicide, as many as 48% have run away from home, and are more likely to drop out of school compared to the total adolescent population.[8-11]

A national study of school counselors' perceptions of adolescent homosexuals found that one-fourth perceived that teachers seemed to exhibit significant prejudice toward homosexual students, and 41% believed schools were not doing enough to help gay and lesbian students adjust to their school environment.[6] Another more recent study found 50% of homosexual students claimed homosexuality had been discussed in their classes, however 50% of the lesbians and 37% of the gays claimed it was handled negatively.[12] Furthermore, three-fourths of the students reported negative reactions at school, including rude comments and jokes, harassment, and violence from some of their peers. Less than one in five homosexual students could identify someone who had been very supportive of them. The students suggested schools could be more helpful if they taught about homosexuality in a positive way, insisted on homosexual adolescents being threated with respect, and provided gay and lesbian support groups associated with the schools.[12]

The aforementioned studies point to the challenges high school health teachers are likely to face by this significant minority population of at-risk youths. Yet, little is known regarding the teaching of homosexuality issues in secondary health education classes. Thus, this study explored answers to five questions: 1) Do secondary health teachers teach about homosexuality and, if they do, what do they teach and how much time do they spend on the topic? 2) Where have they received most of their information about homosexuality? 3) How comfortable and competent do they think they are in teaching about homosexuality? …

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