THE BLOG
03/05/2013 02:59 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

All-Inclusive Sex Ed: The Importance of Learning About Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity at a Young Age

I went to high school in Ferndale, Mich., a small suburb outside Detroit. It's been almost 10 years since I graduated, but my high school is still known for its diversity. Our main hallway was adorned with flags from every country. We had student groups such as the Red Ribbon Club (whose purpose was to spread HIV/AIDS awareness), the Black History Club, the Make a Wish Foundation club and more. There were students from a myriad of ethnic and religious backgrounds and with a variety of different sexual orientations and gender identities.

Our school was also known for having a very lenient dress code. I vividly remember seeing fellow students with bright pink and orange hair, and I will never forget a classmate who once came to school in a Dracula cape. I'm sure these things caused some students to raise an eyebrow, but our school had a lot of tolerance.

So I can't imagine what it's like to attend a school where students aren't aware of differences, diversity and individuality. I was extremely disheartened when I learned of the Mississippi high school students who were protesting over the fact that a fellow student who is transgender is allowed to wear clothing that aligns with the gender with which she identifies. I can't help but think, "How uninformed these teenagers must be." This is why I think it is important for school districts to implement all-inclusive sex education -- that is, sex education that addresses sexual orientation and gender identity -- starting in kindergarten, like they're doing in Chicago.

Sex and gender are both touchy subjects, and I know that many parents ponder when is the right time to teach their children about sex, but I think the earlier the better. Children are smarter than we think. If students were taught about sexual orientation and gender identity at a young age, perhaps they wouldn't be so perplexed when they encounter people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) or otherwise different from them.

Studies show that gay teens are five times more likely to attempt suicide. Studies also show that sex education significantly increases condom use, reduces pregnancy and STI rates and delays the initiation of sex. If students learned about sexual orientation and gender identity at a young age, perhaps LGBT children would feel less alienated and become less inclined to attempt suicide. Moreover, all children would be better informed and would therefore make safer, healthier decisions when it comes to sex.

As progressive as my school district was, it didn't have all-inclusive sex education starting in kindergarten. I only learned about HIV and AIDS in seventh grade, and we didn't have full sex education until ninth or 10th grade. But what I can say is that my high school's devotion to promoting and celebrating diversity definitely planted the seed of tolerance, equality and understanding. Perhaps we need a balance between that and all-inclusive sex education.

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