Tag Archives: GSM

Lesbian teens have higher rates of pregnancy than straight teens (and why we need to include everyone in sex education)

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It’s true: lesbian teens have higher rates of pregnancy than those who identify as straight. Also, gay males are more likely to be responsible for a pregnancy during their teen years than straight males. It may sound counter-intuitive, but research backs these numbers up[1] [2].

Earlier this year, I published an article in the American Journal of Sexuality Education entitled “Sexual Health Equity in Schools: Inclusive Sexuality and Relationship Education for Gender and Sexual Minority Students[3]. In it, I argue that, while researchers do not know for certain why lesbian teens are at higher risk for pregnancy, it likely does not help that the vast majority of school-based sexuality and relationship education programs exclude gender and sexual minorities (GSM) from the curriculum[4]. Indeed, I point out in the piece that a number of issues that sex education aims to address, such as age of first intercourse and number of partners, condom and birth control use, and dating violence disproportionately (and negatively) impact lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth as compared to their heterosexual, cisgender peers.

It is perhaps less surprising that gender and sexual minority teens are not responding to school-based sexuality education when we consider that they are essentially ignored in most programs. Of those that do make mention of anyone other than heterosexual, cisgender people, it is often through messages that are pathologizing (i.e. exaggerating the relationship between sexual orientation and HIV/AIDS), or the ‘information’ is downright inaccurate. A number of U.S. states actually mandate that their schools’ curricula be discriminatory against LGBTQ people[5]. GSM students do not see themselves reflected in most sex education programs, and might simply check out during those lessons, leaving them without the knowledge and skills necessary to nurture their sexual and reproductive health.

As most of the data supporting my article was collected in the United States, it is theoretically possible that other countries are doing a much better job at including GSM students in their sex education programs. This is unlikely, however, given the relatively restrictive legal, political, and social situation for GSM people in many parts of the world[6]. Also, of the few countries that have collected information about GSM students, none has shown that this demographic fares as well as their heterosexual, cisgender peers in outcomes targeted by sex ed[7].

Want to do better for your students? Consider adopting the K-12 Sexuality Education Standards published by the public health organization, the Future of Sex Education. The content of these standards is accurate, evidence-informed, developmentally and age-appropriate, and designed to be relevant to a diverse student body. These standards are being used to some degree in 32 states in the U.S., so international schools following an American curriculum in particular will appreciate staying up to speed with current best practice. Adopting an inclusive sexual health and relationship curriculum is one step toward a more just and fair education for all students.

You can link to my full, published article here.

How does your school ensure that gender and sexual minority students have access to sexual health and relationship information? 


[1] Charlton, B. M., Roberts, A. L., Rosario, M., Katz-Wise, S. L., Calzo, J. P., Spiegelman, D., & Bryn Austin, S. (2018). Teen pregnancy risk factors among young women of diverse sexual orientations. Pediatrics, 14(4).

[2] Institute of Medicine. (2011). The health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people: Building a foundation for better understanding. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[3] Meadows, E. (2018). Sexual health equity in schools: Inclusive sexuality and relationship education for gender and sexual minority students. American Journal of Sexuality Education. doi: 10.1080/15546128.2018.1431988

[4] The Guttmacher Institute. (2016). Fact Sheet: American Teens’ Sources of Sexual Health Information.

[5] Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). (2017). State Profiles.

[6] Carroll, A. & Mendos, L. R. (2017). State-sponsored homophobia: A world survey of sexual orientation laws: Criminalization, protection and recognition. International Lesbian and Gay Association.

[7] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2016). Out in the open: Education sector responses to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Paris, France: UNESCO.



Human Rights Trump Cultural Tradition

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Inclusive education is, “not limited to the inclusion of those children or young people with disabilities. Inclusion is inclusion of all regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, language, socio-economic status, and any other aspect of an individual’s identity that might be perceived as different[1]. As educators, how do we tackle this goal in countries or regions with a history of excluding certain groups? For example, is it our obligation to improve inclusive education for gender and sexual minority students in countries where homosexuality is considered a crime[2]?

When it comes to rights and justice in education, I am tempted to take a purist approach: insist on full equity, anything short of this is unacceptable. In reality, the concept of equity is subjective, complex, and extremely difficult to measure[3], so this mentality is practically inoperable. Additionally, as a visitor in countries abroad, I am compelled to position myself as the learner (rather than the teacher), to value diversity[4] (rather than assume my perspective is superior), and to respect local traditions (even if I do not practice them).

Still, those who do not have access to the privileges of a dominant group need and deserve allies and advocates. To ignore disparity is to be complicit in discrimination. In countries and regions where inclusive policy and practice is discouraged[5], whether by social norm or legal position, this is particularly salient. What is our role, as international educators, when local cultural traditions marginalize certain students? Are we overstepping our reach to demand equitable education when we are guests on foreign ground? On these questions, we can take guidance from international human rights agreements, such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that, “Everyone has the right to education”.

While the large multi-national cohorts that initiate human rights agreements have been critiqued for slanting toward Western ideology, these benchmarks are still preferable to leaning on one individual country’s interpretation of who deserves to attend a school that is relevant, safe, and inclusive. Human rights are more important than culture and tradition. So, discriminatory practices such as keeping young girls home to do the housework while their brothers go to school[6], are not acceptable. Marginalizing gender and sexual minority students from the full educational experience[7] for any reason, including cultural or religious objection, is also intolerable.

To implement policies stating as much is easier said than done. These types of shifts must be carried out sensitively, carefully, and sometimes slower than we like. Heavy-handed, hasty, top-down mandates (even with benevolent intentions) may prove counter-productive, causing backlash and a staking of camps. International education policy-makers, then, must be people with a deep understanding of the culture where they are working, a strong background in relevant policy, and a commitment to the well-being of all children, particularly those who have been historically disadvantaged.

How do you exercise cultural humility as a guest abroad, while also working toward inclusive education for all of your students?

[1] Polat, F. (2011). Inclusion in education: A step towards social justice. International Journal of Educational Development, 31, p. 50-58.

[2] For the record, my answer to this question is a firm: yes.

[3] Wiseman, A. W. (2008). A Culture of (in)equality?: A cross-national study of gender parity and gender segregation in national school systems. Research in Comparative and International Education, 3(2), 179-201.

[4] Déquanne, B. (2017, February 9). Stronger Together [blog post]. The International Educator Online.

[5] Fully aware, here, that my own country of citizenship (the United States) has a well-documented history of denying equitable access to education; this is not a ‘foreign problem’.

[6] Lewis, M. & Lockheed, M. (2007). Inexcusable absence: Why 60 million girls still aren’t in school and what to do about it. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development.

[7] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danieschewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.

Your School’s GSA May Be Saving Lives

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Before school-shooting survivor, Emma Gonzáles, burst into the public spotlight for her role in pressing U.S. legislators to tighten up gun control, she was contributing to a life-saving cause of another sort. Emma Gonzales is the president of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s gay-straight alliance (GSA).

GSAs are clubs to provide support and safety for gender and sexual minority (GSM) students, and to improve the campus climate for this demographic. The acronym GSA historically stands for Gay-Straight Alliance, but has been updated by some to mean Genders & Sexualities Alliance, a more accurate reflection of the youth running them. Allies are usually invited to participate, providing an outlet for heterosexual, cisgender students and faculty to acknowledge their privilege and contribute to making schools more inclusive.

GSAs originated in American high schools in the 1980s[1], but have spread around the world since. These alliances change – and even save – lives. Here’s how:

Gender and sexual minority (sometimes called LGBTQ+) students are more likely than their heterosexual, cisgender peers to miss school because they feel unsafe, to achieve lower grades, and to report less support from teachers and other adults at school[2]. Indeed, large-scale studies show that the vast majority of students who do not identify as heterosexual and cisgender are subject to frequent verbal and physical harassment and discrimination at school, at the hands of both students and faculty, based on their gender identity and/or sexual orientation[3][4]. Furthermore, this stigmatizing school climate leads to serious negative outcomes for GSM students, including increased risk of mental health issues and suicidality[5][6][7].

Fortunately, GSAs make a concrete positive impact on school climate, and can mitigate these serious risks. For example, students attending schools with a GSA reported significantly higher feelings of school belonging compared with those who attend a school without a GSA[8]. Schools with GSAs see lower truancy rates for their GSM students[9]. GSA presence is associated with significantly lower levels of homophobic victimization and fear of safety at school[10], and can improve overall GSM student well-being[11]. In fact, the mere presence of a gay-straight alliance at school has been reported as more impactful on GSM students’ well-being than whether they had actually been a member or participated in the club in any way, so it’s worth hosting even if only a few students attend[12]. GSAs have even been associated, in multiple studies, with lowering the suicide risk for sexual minority youth[13][14]. These organizations make a difference.

Most of the studies on GSAs have been carried out in the U.S., but it stands to reason that their impact may be felt at least as strongly where they are present in international settings. Seeing as plenty of international school students are limited by language skills or cultural barriers from joining organizations in the local community, school is often the hub of social support for our expat children. Your school’s GSA may be the only option for students to meaningfully connect with other GSM children.

GSAs may be unsafe for students in some countries, where gender and sexual non-conformity is harshly penalized, so exercise caution according to your context. If you are in a place where these groups are possible, I encourage you to attend a meeting or event with your school’s GSA to show encouragement for the students running it, and for the many other children who are quietly noticing your support. If your school does not yet host a GSA (you may be surprised to learn that they do exist in conservative regions and in religious schools), this resource from GLSEN offers a how-to guide for getting started.

Tell us about your school’s GSA: what impact does the group make in the city/country where you work? 


[1] Russell, S., Muraco, A., Subramaniam, A., & Laub, C. (2009). Youth Empowerment and High School Gay-Straight Alliances. J Youth Adolescence, 38, 891-903.

[2] IOM (Institute of Medicine). (2011). The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[3] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.

[4] HRC (Human Rights Campaign). (2012). Growing up LGBT in America.

[5] Hatzenbuehler, M. L. & Pachankis, J. E. (2016). Stigma and minority stress as social determinants of health among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth:                Research evidence and clinical implications. Pediatric Clinics of North America,        63(6), 985-997.

[6] Lick, D. J., Durso, L. E., & Johnson, K. L. (2013). Minority stress and physical health among sexual minorities. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(5), 521-548.

[7] Russell, S. T. & Joyner, K. (2001). Adolescent sexual orientation and suicide risk: Evidence from a national study. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 1276-1281.

[8] Heck, N., Flentje, A., & Cochran, B. (2011). Offsetting Risks: High School Gay-Straight Alliances and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth. School PsychologyQuarterly, 26(2), 161-174.

[9] Poteat, V. P., DiGiovanni, C. D., Sinclair, K. O., Koenig, B. W., & Russell, S. T. (2012). Gay-straight alliances are associated with student health: A multischool comparison of LGBTQ and heterosexual youth. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 23(2), 319-330.

[10] Marx, R. A. & Kettrey, H. H. (2016). Gay-straight alliances are associated with lower levels of school-based victimization of LGBTQ+ youth: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45, 1269-1282.

[11] Toomey, R. B., Ryan, C., & Diaz, R. M. (2011). High school gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and young adult well-being: An examination of GSA presence, participation, and perceived effectiveness. Applied Developmental Science, 15(4), 175-185.

[12] Toomey, R. B., McGuire, J. K., & Russell, S. T. (2012). Heteronormativity, school climates, and perceived safety for gender nonconforming peers. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 187-196.

[13] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Birkett, M., Van Wagenen, A., & Meyer, I. H. (2014). Protective School Climates and Reduced Risk for Suicide Ideation in Sexual Minority Youths. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 279-286.

[14] Goodenow, C., Szalacha, L. & Westheimer, K. (2006). School support groups, other school factors, and the safety of sexual minority students. Psychology in the Schools, 43(5), 573-589.