How To Teach About Sexual Orientation
- Written by Bryan Harris
- April 30, 2015 at 9:35 pm
As of 2013, 3.4% of individuals aged 18-64 identified as LGB or ‘other.’ These individuals experience significant health disparities ranging from increased rates of homelessness, mental health issues, and violence to decreased health care utilization. As a result, teaching students about not only these identities but also about acceptance for them is vital.
The National Sex Education Standards identify the following learning objectives related to sexual orientation:
Most students, regardless of age, will have ideas about sexual orientation. These serve as a useful starting point for your lesson. To tap into students’ pre-existing knowledge and attitudes, Gareth Durrant, MPH a sex educator who teaches workshops for men who come out late in life and who currently works with Marie Stopes International, recommends an activity called an A-Z Race. Split the room into small groups and have them write down words related to sexual orientation next to each letter of the alphabet.
Beyond this ice-breaker, Gareth recommends one of the following three options depending on the age of your students and the amount of time you have with them to discuss sexual orientation.
- Keep things simple! Most people need time to wrap their head around identity, attraction, sex, and gender expression. To guide your conversation, the Genderbread Person is hard to beat. If you only have one class period to discuss this topic, Genderbread is the resource to focus on.
- Everybody comes out in some way or another. To normalize and celebrate this part of gay culture, have each student share a story about coming to self-acceptance. Provide an example to set the expectation for the type of information shared (e.g. accepting curly hair versus accepting a mental health diagnosis).
- Expect questions and pushback. To keep things balanced and productive while challenging assumptions, use one of the following two strategies:
- Put the question back out to the group. “What do you think?” allows students to work through issues.
- Flip the question around and substitute ‘straight’ for ‘gay.’ For example, counter “Isn’t being gay just a phase?” with “Isn’t being straight just a phase?”
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Center
Planned Parenthood’s Sexual Orientation & Gender page
Lesson plans on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Thank you to Gareth Durrant, MPH for his input on this article.
 Ward, B. W., Dahlhamer, J. M., Galinksy, A. M., & Joestly, S. S. (2014). Sexual orientation ant and health among US adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2013. National Health Statistics Reports, 77. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr077.pdf