Gender and sexuality are important components of youth identity development. Societal structures and institutions such as school, government, social services, media and the family can have significant influences on the ways these identities are developed and expressed by youth, impacting their health in various ways.
Youth are raised in a patriarchal, heteronormative culture saturated with gendered language, images and discourses (for example, consider discourses around marriage, family structure, relationships, education and employment). These structures disadvantage women in non-traditional relationships. They have very little control over their access to comprehensive, accurate and non-judgemental sexual health information due to barriers created by government, schools and parents. [School curriculum] (hyperlink to education) should include open discussions regarding sexual health in order to increase awareness about sexual health issues, while creating a space that is inclusive and accepting.
The rise of social media has seen the rise of cyberbullying of gender- and sexually-diverse youth. Rape-culture – a culture in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate, and even condone rape – has reasserted itself through various online forms of sexual violence (e.g. Steubenville case, Retaeh Parsons case). At the same time, social media and other forms of online community-building has allowed gender- and sexually-diverse youth to access previously unavailable information and to connect with communities of their peers.
The family can also be a site of structural violence around gender and sexuality for youth, as “coming out” risks being kicked out of parents' homes for some.
There are many examples of policies relating to gender and sexuality which can impact the lives and health of youth. For example, consider Bill 13, the [Accepting Schools Act] (hyperlink to website with more info), which forbids schools from banning Gay-Straight Alliance student groups. This policy addresses issues of safety and security for sexually-diverse youth in school by allowing students to create a safe space where gender- and sexually- diverse youth can feel safe. This has important implications for [mental health] (hyperlink), academic success and overall wellbeing. Also important to consider are policies which are being suppressed, such as the Provincial Liberal government's proposed introduction of a comprehensive sex-education program into the public school curriculum. More broadly, legislation around human rights for gender- and sexually-diverse people (e.g. discrimination laws, bills in the states allowing businesses to refuse service to gay and/or trans people) impact youth health with regards to personal safety and security, sense of belonging, access to employment and services, etc. If a person can be denied service simply for being gay or trans*, what message does that state about their worth and value as a human being?
About this Series:
This blog series was written collectively by youth co-researchers in the Voices against Violence Western Group, which met during the winter of 2014. Working together over a period of 12 weeks, these youth identified salient themes in their shared experiences, as well as how these themes intersected each other in instances of structural violence or resistance against it. Gender and Sexuality is sixth in this serie