“My kid’s school’s sex ed curriculum seems to think that everyone is straight and there’s no need to talk about LGBTQ people. Is there anything I can do?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by RV Dougherty
Hi there! First off, high five for recognizing the absence of queer and trans-friendly curriculum and resources in your child’s sex ed classes. It’s awesome that you’ve got an awareness for this sort of thing and are attuned to what’s going on in their classroom. Honestly, this is a huge first step, and the fact that you want to take action is even cooler.
Before we talk about what you can do, let’s expand on your question. You noted sex-ed curriculum. Here, though, I’m going to talk more broadly about health education. While it’s easy to distill health education down to just sex-ed, it’s really important to recognize the breadth of information students receive in health class. Health class is where students learn not only about sex but also nutrition, mental health, drugs and alcohol, etc. You can find more information about the national standards for health education on the Center for Disease Control’s website. Most of these topics are covered in a rather normative way, which often erases the experiences of those with different bodies, orientations, and identities.
The fact of the matter is, queer and trans folks have unique health needs and concerns that are rarely acknowledged in health education curricula, let alone in conversations with healthcare providers. Since your child’s curriculum isn’t cutting it, there are a few things you should do:
First, educate yourself! Learn about queer and trans health issues so that you can be a stellar resource for your child. This means not only learning about queer and trans health, but also unlearning the fear and stigma surrounding these issues. While fear is understandable given that you only want the best for your child, you’ve got to check your concerns since some of them might be perpetuated by the stigma of dominant homophobic and transphobic narrative. My Kid Is Gay contributor LaShay Harvey, M.Ed. wrote a great piece to get started learning the facts and unlearning the myths.
Second, help your child get the information they need to make healthy and informed decisions about their body. Start by checking out some of the resources in your community. Many hospitals and LGBT Community Centers hold outreach events related to health issues. There are even events like the Philly Trans Health Conference that create awesome, safe spaces for you and/or your child to engage with a strong community committed to diversifying and queering health-related conversations and practices. Learning with and from peers (either in real life or online) has the benefit of decreasing the anxiety your child might feel when talking about sex and health with adults. While your child’s comfort is definitely important, you also want to signal to your child that you are a safe place for them to seek help and advice as they learn to take care of their physical and mental health which means that at some point you need to have an explicit conversation about their health and changing body. This could range from sending your kid on a fact-finding mission on sites like Scarleteen to “having the talk” where you sit them down and talk about consent, sex, pleasure, menstruation, hormones, you name it.
Third, advocate for your child with their healthcare provider. Regardless of whether or not your child is getting the information they should in health education classes, you should help your child seek out healthcare that promotes their well-being. This means not only seeing if there are queer and trans-friendly healthcare professionals in your area, but also helping your child know what to ask or tell their doctor. Check out these directories for LGBT-friendly physical and mental health providers. In addition, Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality has great lists of the top issues LGBT folks should bring up with their healthcare providers. If applicable, walk through the list with your child and help them feel comfortable bringing these up with their doctor.
Bonus: get involved in systemic school reform. While your child’s health and well-being is the first priority, consider getting involved in schoolwide, district, or state level conversations to advocate for updated health education curriculum. Ideally, every student could get the information they need to make healthy, informed decisions about their body in schools, but without committed community members and organizations pushing for reform, we’ll never be able to reach this goal. See what conversations, if any, are already happening about health education reform, and join (or start) the effort with local community organizations. Check out your local PFLAG chapter, Parent Teacher Association, or LGBT Community Center. However, check in with your child before doing this! While you may be ready to take it to the next level, your child might not be comfortable with you out on the front lines because of the backlash any publicity could potentially have on them at school. If your child does express their discomfort, that’s ok! There are still ways to stay involved in a less public way. For example, you could petition Congress to support the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act.
At the end of the day, remember two things: 1) All of this information empowers your kid to make healthy decisions about their bodies, so it’s important they get and retain the information; and 2) You don’t need to have all of the answers. You can always ask for help from the internet, other parents, and healthcare professionals.
RV Dougherty brings over eight years of community organizing experience to their work which focuses on building relational culture that drives collective healing and action. To date, their work and research has focused on fostering deep community engagement and creating equitable access to public space. In their spare time, RV can be found going off-recipe in the kitchen, wrestling with their Jewish spiritual life, and making zines. You can learn more about RV’s work here or follow them on Twitter.
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