Failed by U.S. health education

Joe Cagley

LGBTQ+ hurt by institutional disregard

Based on a study conducted in 2014, the CDC estimates that “gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men account for 70 percent of new HIV infections in the United States.”

Considering that queer men make up only a small fraction of our population, this shocking statistic begs the question: Why are gay and bisexual men contracting HIV at significantly higher rates than their heterosexual counterparts?

Homophobes would say that it’s because queer men are sexual deviants. Drawing from Reagan-era rhetoric, anti-LGBTQ+ groups have dubbed HIV a “homosexual disease” to claim that gay sex is inherently unhealthy, perverse and unnatural. Regardless, we’re faced with the reality of this horrifying statistic: men who have sex with men are at a higher risk of being exposed to HIV.

But are we to conclude that it is because the stereotypes are true? Do we side with the homophobes and say that gay and bisexual men contract HIV at higher rates because queer sex is inherently more dangerous than straight sex?

Of course not, because the statistics do not affirm the stereotype. Rather, queer men suffer from higher rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections because health and education systems are not made for us. They fail to adequately educate and protect LGBTQ+ folk, especially LGBTQ+ youth.

Institutionally, SPU is no exception.

In my experience as a queer person at this school, SPU is severely unprepared to care for the health and educational needs of its LGBTQ+ students.

Premarital, straight sex is already considered unacceptable; queer sex is definitely out of the question. Our sex narrative is not only viewed as irrelevant, but inherently immoral.

Subsequently, we have no institutional support in regards to our community health needs.

For example, during the first week of my Freshman year, my entire class was sent to Upper Gwinn to listen to the orientation lecture titled, “Navigating Relationships.” The goal of the event is to teach incoming classes how to effectively communicate consent. By showing examples of people hugging, holding hands or kissing we were taught to always ask permission before engaging in intimate contact with anyone.

Of course the examples were of cisgendered, heterosexual people, but I was surprised when the event coordinator gave a little shout out for the queer students in the room. They attempted to extend the lecture towards a queer experience by claiming that the heterosexual examples could apply for LGBTQ+ people as well.

This is not enough. I grew up going to private, Christian schools all my life. Now, here at SPU, I thought that maybe it would be different.

Throughout all of my Christian education I have never recieved sex ed designed for people like me. I was never taught what a healthy queer relationship should look like. I was never taught how to have safe sex because the only education I received was for straight people. I had to learn all this on my own.

When you say cisgendered, heterosexual models for sex and relationship apply for queer folk, you’re wrong. The LGBTQ+ community is diverse even within itself and the ways we interact romantically and sexually differ drastically from heterosexuals.

We are tired of vicariously relating through heteronormativity; we need queer examples of what healthy relationships looks like.

A lot of us come from backgrounds where conversations on LGBTQ+ sex and relationships are not an acceptable conversations to have. When SPU disregards the opportunity to finally educate its queer students on the topic of sex ed, or to even use queer models of relationship to educate us on consent, we are subject to becoming just another statistic.

I’m afraid that if I talk about my sexual health, people will only see me as the deviant homosexual. Likewise, when people see the statistics that queer men contract HIV at significantly higher rates than heterosexuals, they conclude its because gay sex is inherently dangerous.

What I say to that is we suffer from health disparities, we are dying from preventable diseases because we don’t have access to the right resources, not because our sexualities are dangerous.

At SPU, we don’t have access to sex ed made for queer people and the little education the school does provide operates within a rigidly heterosexual narrative.

I don’t want to become just another statistic, so stop blaming my community as the problem and give us the education and health care we desperately need.

Joe is a sophomore studying social justice and cultural studies.