One in three LGBTQ youth attempted suicide in 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These young people suffer from high rates of bullying, teasing, harassment and physical assault and not all are supported socially, emotionally and physically in schools. They are often isolated physically by their peers who see them as an “other,” but LGBT youth are also left out of discussions about sexual health.
“This isn’t just something [to take lightly]. Young people are killing themselves because they’re being told that they don’t exist,” said Nastassja “Stas” Schmiedt of Spring Up, a millennial leadership and sex education organization.
In Miami-Dade, sex education programs vary from school to school, according to a Miami-Dade Schools spokeswoman Jaquelyn Calzadilla. “Each school decides how and when the curriculum will be taught,” she said.
On Aug 11 at the Power U Center for Social Change’s Comprehensive Sex Education Summit, teachers, parents, students and health professionals gathered at Space Called Tribe in Overtown to discuss wanted statewide sex education guidelines.
Organizers say that to talk about sex education in schools, you have to first talk about attitudes toward sex in society.
Two panels shared insights about the repercussions of inadequate sex education from their unique professional and cultural backgrounds.
Panel one members: Power U volunteer Thomas Bryant, a high school student; Luigi Ferrer, a Unitarian Universalist and Health Services Outreach Manager at LGBTQ youth empowerment organization Pridelines; Miami sex therapist and radio personality Jennifer Smith; and parent Marisol Restrepo.
The panelists opened up discussion by sharing their personal introductions to sex education, many of which involved scare tactics about sexually transmitted diseases and wide-eyed conversations with friends behind their parents’ backs.
Bryant’s head shook with embarrassment as he recounted his “birds and the bees” talk with his mother, but a more comfortable conversation with his father.
Smith said that taboo attitudes around talking about sex is a cultural cycle.
“It’s generational,” Smith said. “If [people] don’t get [sex] education early on, they’re uncomfortable talking about it later on with their children and partners.”
Parents, teachers and other community leaders are often reluctant to speak to children about sex and pleasure.
“[Adults] think that it will encourage kids to do it more, but that’s wrong,” Smith said. “We’re human, it’s normal.”
Ultimately, the stakes are high if proper sex education isn’t taught.
“STD rates will continue to rise and kids will feel pressured to do certain things, not fully aware of the role they play in consent,” Smith said.
Tensions rose as one sex education specialist asked how he could explain to girls that in the age of the #MeToo movement, not every come-on is harassment.
“Don’t put all the responsibility on women,” said moderator Samantha Daley, a reproductive justice organizer for Power U, adding that relationships involving two men or two women should be treated the same.
Second panel members — Planned Parenthood volunteer Lai Eng; Miami Workers Center community organizer Devitria Stratford; Florida Latina Advocacy Network field coordinator Dian Alarcon; and Seminole Tribe of Florida and Women’s March Miami leader Kellie Tigertail — focused on race/ethnicity’s influence on sex education experiences.
Tigertail said that the colonial history of indigenous Americans affects their views of their bodies and sexuality.
“Boys are told that if they’re sexually active, let it be with a Seminole girl,” Tigertail said. “Girls are taught not to get pregnant young, but it’s OK if they do because we need to preserve the tribe. This has to do with colonial eradication of tribes and hetero-normative European standards.”
Alarcon said the relationship many Hispanic women have with the Catholic Church is damaging to their sexual and physical health.
“Women in the Bible are stigmitized and called whores,” Alarcon said. “There is no empowerment of women such as Mary in the Catholic faith. Sex is used to chastise women. There’s no real conversation about autonomy over the body, including being [sexually] active and abstinent. When a woman is beaten by her husband, she is told by the church that that is the cross she has to bear. The church perpetuates patriarchy in sexuality and sexual violence.”
Once broken up into groups, parents, teachers, students and health professionals brainstormed ways to change sex education curriculum in schools.
Suggested solutions: Make sure LGBTQ identities are represented; school principals should be accountable for including all parts of comprehensive sex education curriculum in class lessons, include people with disabilities in the conversation; get student feedback; teach consent lessons, among others.