LGBT teens need a voice in sexual education

By Mary Ma

When Cartoon Network aired Korra’s lesbian relationship with Asami in The Legend of Korra, parents lashed out at the channel, claiming it was “inappropriate” for children. The only scene to air was a kiss, much like the one Cinderella shares with Prince Charming in the G-rated movie, Cinderella. These same objections runs through many educators’ minds as they create health curriculums. We all remember the diagrams of ovaries and fallopian tubes, the grainy videos of abstinent straight couples, but most of us don’t remember a system that doesn’t assume heterosexuality, questions the gender binary and addresses LGBTQ+ relationships. Most of us don’t know a curriculum that is truly inclusive. In this rapidly changing world, sex education is stuck in the past.

It’s reasonable to assume that middle school and high school health are perfect places to introduce LGBTQ+ relationships and identities. But these issues aren’t a part of the system for a reason. There are seven states that have no promo homo laws, laws preventing the promotion of homosexuality in health education. Many of these state laws require teachers to portray the LGBTQ+ community in a negative light, to prevent kids from “becoming gay.”

Educators need to realize that being queer is not contagious. The superstition of LGBTQ+ people being “infected” is very present in our society, especially in media. By this logic there shouldn’t be a LGBTQ+ community at all. Despite being force-fed pop culture portraying only straight, cisgender characters all their childhood, gay kids are still gay, trans kids are still trans. This misconception and lack of representation only serves to tell these kids that what they are feeling is wrong.

For many students struggling with gender and sexual identity, school is an everyday battlefield.

So, what happens to these kids? For many students struggling with gender and sexual identity, school is an everyday battlefield. The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported that lesbian, gay, or bisexual U.S. teens were bullied on school property three times more often than their straight peers. LGBTQ+ students face this vicious social situation alongside confusion about identity, relationships and other topics for which straight kids have an arsenal of resources. Fighting both institutional and social rejection, it’s no wonder that LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide.

Media and society are already unfriendly to the queer community. Lack of inclusion in health education is salt on the wound. As a confused teen, I remember how alienated I felt in middle school, where not even the school curriculum that constantly preached about diversity acknowledged my existence. I remember how afraid I was of my classmates knowing, of my teachers knowing. Schools need to teach every teen about remaining safe and healthy. Stop the silent suffering of queer teens.

Calling for change in mental health education

By Sabrina Mei and Mary Ma

I sit in my seat, surrounded by three people I don’t know, palms sweaty as the teacher facilitating our community discussion asks us to talk about some of the mental health struggles we face as teenagers. Visibly uncomfortable, the girl across from me makes a sarcastic quip about the scenario, about how she’d much rather get a free period to just relax. We both laugh and I jokingly agree. But there’s a truth to what she said. The presentation given was impersonal and cold, providing no clear answers, no warning signs, no information about crisis control. Our school is afraid of cutting to the chase, of truly asking what we, as a student body, need.

Almost every student that I interviewed said that they thought the greatest source of stress in their life was academics.

Almost every student that I interviewed said that they thought the greatest source of stress in their life was academics. The never-ending loads of assignments, the impending doom of college applications, the pressure of excelling in schools and extra curriculars, the unsettling anxiety of assessments, teachers and administrators don’t seem to understand the constant pressure that students are under in school. In an attempt to be more proactive, RM had asked us what we thought the most important topics of conversation should be brought up in discussion, and we said gun control, race and mental health. After these discussions, MCPS may think that their involvement in this issue is done, and that their solution is sufficient, but mental health is still a daily challenge to many youths, and will continue to be if schools continue to be reactionary and don’t take initiative.

I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to a friend say “I literally want to kill myself.” Sentiments of depression and suicide seem to be inherently linked to school. The internet has popularized self-deprecating and dark humor, and these sayings are taken as such, hiding the increasing amount of mental health issues that each student deals with. It’s a self defense mechanism, a way to hide depression, to turn it into humor, into sarcasm, but the underlying truth is that the students are not okay, and these “community discussions” are only a band-aid on a much deeper wound.

So what prompted these community discussions? In 2017, our county saw at least 5 teen suicides. When these happened, students and parents were baffled. Why was there a surge? Why did it happen? How could something like this happen in a community as sheltered and suburban as ours? Students started to post hearts on social media. For a few weeks, Instagram and Snapchat were flooded with different colored hearts for each incident. But pretty soon, people started to forget.

It is this tendency to forget that, in the end, hurts us the most. We see these tragedies in news headlines, and while we may feel sympathy for the two minutes that we spend reading through the article, there is an inherent divide that exists when approaching this topic. No one likes to immerse themselves in the reality of the issue, so rather than accepting its weight, we treat it as something separate, something that isn’t our problem. Yet, this mentality is wrong, and it is only becoming increasingly apparent that the issue of mental health among youths is our problem.

We flare up for a few months, posting hearts and condolences, offering our support over the cold front of social media, but none of us choose to take initiative.

10.7% of young people in the US, ages 12 to 17, have experienced a major depressive episode, which amounts to approximately 8,659 youth in Montgomery County. 30% of students in Maryland reported experiencing symptoms of depression. 13% reported at least one major depressive episode, and 17% reported seriously considering suicide. These statistics are terrible, but what may be even more startling is how numb we have become to these reports. Even when suicides occur in our community, we eventually brush them off. We flare up for a few months, posting hearts and condolences, offering our support over the cold front of social media, but none of us choose to take initiative. After a few heartfelt Instagram posts, we remain unchanged, while the family members of the victims are left to grieve.

Ever since the surge of suicides, the Board of Education has been continuously adopting mental health as a major concern in their yearly legislative agenda, often speaking of making counselors and psychologists more accessible, and resources more available to students. Yet we still haven’t seen much change. Counselors are overloaded with college recommendations and schedule changes from hundreds and hundreds of students, psychologists are almost nonexistent, and resources are not passed out. Suicides and self harm may not get as much press coverage as in 2017, but these incidents have not stopped. High school is confusing. Teens are especially vulnerable to mental illnesses with pressure from school, friends and family, while trying to figure out their own identity. The statistics show that we need to step it up.

In order to truly create change in how our system chooses to deal with mental health, we have to increase our own awareness and realize that we are the key to change. The members of the Board of Education don’t go to school. We are the only ones with experience, we are the only ones that know. Go to community Board of Education meetings, talk to the SMOB, sign petitions (such as the one I linked below). Make your voice heard!