Fixing Sex Ed Classes

Prince Gomolvilas writes at Bilerico:

The YouthAware program and I began developing OutSpoken, a play that explores the many reasons young people feel ostracized in school, at home, and in their communities. Sure, the piece deals with important issues of race, religion, body type, and socioeconomic background in an intelligent way (in my writing, I refuse to force-feed messages or offer pat resolutions because students can sniff didacticism a mile away), but it also looks at sexuality from several different angles.

I remember when I was younger and unable to swallow pills – they had to be hidden in brownies in order for me to consume them. OutSpoken is sort of like that. We found a way to deal with homophobia without scaring off those who might not have been quite ready to deal with it themselves. And schools that wouldn’t give us the time of day before finally started to let us in.

And guess what happened? Students had been ready and willing to discuss these big issues all along. All it took was administrators and parents to get out of the way.

When my mom asked the health teacher at my high school in conservative southern California why sexual orientation wasn’t covered in our health classes, the teacher told my mom that she would like to address seemingly controversial topics, but that it was too risky for her and for her job. But reading posts like this one in the past few days have really made me aware that it doesn’t have to be that way.

I know that my generation is far more accepting of its LGBT members than previous generations, but that doesn’t mean that homophobia and transphobia aren’t still enormous problems in our schools. Believe me. I’m only a year out of public high school. I know. When health teachers are scared to discuss LGBT issues with their classes, that implicitly sends the message that you should be scared of LGBT people, or that being queer is something to hide. Our teachers should be role models of courage and integrity for their students—not of fear and obfuscation. And they should value and teach to all their students and their needs: in a sex ed classroom that doesn’t teach LGBT topics, not only are straight kids not learning to accept their queer peers and queer kids not being told that it’s okay to be gay or bi or trans, the queer kids aren’t learning that they too have to practice safe sex, or that they can suffer sexual harassment instead of being its assumed cause. No kid is learning that gender is more complicated than a masculine-feminine binary, and that it’s okay if you don’t fit a preconceived notion of masculinity or femininity. That’s something I’m just barely starting to learn and accept, and I’ve been immersed in queer issues for years. Can you imagine what it must be like to be a kid who doesn’t have a support system, and the validity of whose existence is not recognized by the school, the teacher, or the other students? That’s isolating. That’s intimidating. That’s depressing. That’s awful.

Enacting legislation that will help LGBT adults is great—and it’s wonderful beyond belief how much effort the House is pouring into ENDA, domestic partnership benefits, hate crimes, and stuff like that right now. But LGBT teens are at such a high suicide risk, such a high homelessness risk, that it’s frankly unacceptable that programs like Gomolvilas’ aren’t reaching all students. Luckily, one great thing about this issue is it’s easy to localize: you can write your high school or your school district and tell them how much you support including LGBT issues in the sex ed curriculum, and I’m of the opinion that it never hurts to tell your own story.

I’m too tired now (it was a long day at the Campus Progress National Conference!), but in the next few days I’m going to write a letter to my former school board, principal, and health teacher, and tell them what a difference it would have made to me if my school had incorporated LGBT issues into its health curriculum, and that it’s something they should consider for the 2009-2010 school year. You can do the same!

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