Thanks to every American coming-of-age comedy set in the hallways of a high school, the British quiz me on my own experiences as an angry teenager in North Carolina. After covering pep rallies and the prom, I am inevitably asked about the image of a high school football coach awkwardly explaining the evils of teenaged sex. My parents decided to opt out of my state-mandated sex education, but my disappointed peers relayed to me a cringe-worthy experience involving our stout wrestling coach rattling off scripted warnings about the dangers of teenage fornication, and the magic of abstinence.
In my high school, learning about sex was a case study in the blind leading the blind. Sex was a secret, and we turned to our peers for the answers, rather than state-mandated sermons. It was cool to already know about sex, and if you didn’t, you were reduced to trying to glean explanations from more experienced peers, and discretely using Urban Dictionary to decode the information. Sex was confusing, but many of us felt too ashamed to admit our ignorance. As teenagers in the early noughties, school internet access served as a resource, answering the questions that we did not feel comfortable asking aloud.
On 15 August, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a suit against Camdenton school district, in Missouri, on behalf of four LGBT organisations that have had their sites blocked by filters on the school district’s computers, arguing that it violates the First Amendment. The suit, filed on behalf of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG National), the Matthew Shepard Foundation, DignityUSA and Campus Pride, involves a filter that blocks websites providing information on LGBT issues, rather than merely blocking sexually explicit content, and demands that it be taken down. The ACLU sent a letter to the district in May, notifying them that it was unconstitutional to block four websites known for providing information on anti-bullying and gay-straight alliances. After unblocking a couple of sites, the school board refused to unblock hundreds of other websites that provide information for LGBT students, forcing students to ask for permission every time they visit one of the sites. Anti-LGBT sites, on the other hand, are unrestricted. It is outrageous to think that a teenager would have to publicly announce such a private matter in order to access information.
According to a policy briefing published by the Guttmacher Institute in January 2011, Missouri is one of 26 states that ”stress” abstinence as the best option for teens. Missouri’s sex education program also leaves out a discussion of sexual orientation, and the proper usage of contraception.
An out of touch and uninformed sex education program leaves most students with unanswered questions, and this is most true for LGBT students, who have less access to resources than their heterosexual counterparts.
Jody M Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG National, an organisation that has provided information to young members of the LGBT community for almost forty years, believes that blocking such websites can be detrimental to youths wrestling with questions of sexuality:
Many LGBT students either don’t have access to the Internet at home or, if they do, they don’t feel safe accessing this information on their home computers. In order to ensure the physical and mental well-being of LGBT youth — especially given the wide access to negative information on LGBT issues — these resources must be accessible.
In addition to inadequate sex education, LGBT students also face the risk of harassment. According to a 2009 report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), “nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year, and two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation”.
Camdenton school district should take note of this increase in bullying and suicide, as their students are unable to get answers through a sensible sex education program. They should take a step towards prioratising the sexual health and safety of their students and remove the filters.
Sara Yasin is an Editorial Assistant at Index on Censorship.