“No one peaks in 8th grade, and that’s fine.” This is a phrase I often tell my students. This gives them the grace and permission to explore themselves during the controversial period of transition. I know this from my own experience in the eighth grade. Braces, frosted tips, oversized clothing body to hide insecurity with me, and a cast on my right hand were some weird transitions for me to navigate.
The discomfort I experienced as a growing teenager was obvious, not to mention my identity as a gay pre-teen coming from a gay environment.
Preventing my identity used almost every aspect of my high school experience. I made fake crushes to make girls look straight, hid the deepest parts of myself from my best girlfriends, and hid during lunch while my classmates were playing “Smear the Quir”, where a crowd of boys chose “Quir”. Chased and beaten.
In 8th grade, going to school was like wearing a mask, a shield for survival before becoming an accompaniment fashion accessory.
There was also an eighth grade when I took my first sex education course. It was filled with typical clichs of American sex education: horrific pictures of sexually transmitted infections, a promise to give up restraint, and a course that sent an underlying message that only sisgender, heterosexual people exist. This is what happened until my teacher simply said a sentence in the middle of the class:
“You know, these are gay men who often get HIV and it’s life threatening.”
It shook my whole world. There was a time in my K-12 education when a teacher discussed people like me and the message was death penalty. At this point, my least concern was to give myself grace and permission.
When you were 13 years old, teachers were instrumental in shaping your understanding of the world. Unfortunately, the culture of silence about LGBTQIA + people in my school gave me the impression that I was taboo or too irrelevant to get the same health information that my classmates, heterosexual classmates, received.
My sex education teacher prevented my queer classmates and me from getting medically accurate information about sexual health, perhaps intentionally or due to ignorance and misinformation.
No wonder schools often strengthen Internal homophobia And Transphobia, A form of repression where LGBTQIA + people learn to fear or despise their true nature, which can manifest in many ways, including shame, depression, stigma, and adverse health effects.
The annihilation of queer people is against the principles of sex education. As a sexual health and science teacher in Texas, the main component of my job is to resist scratching. It has taken many years with minimal resources to develop a queer comprehensive sex education, but this work must be pursued to ensure the health and safety of my students.
Creating space for LGBTQIA + students
The state of sex education in most Texas public schools is very similar to the clichs seen in movies and television – that is, if the school has a curriculum. Too many schools only push taboo programs, an approach No supporting evidenceAnd our health standards Lack of requirements for teaching consent. Furthermore, much of our state is dependent on obsolete pedagogy, which often leaves students unprepared for the realities of adolescence.
When I started my career as a sexual health educator, I knew I had to resist this trend, even if it was in my classroom. It has taken over a decade of research, training, trial and error, and in collaboration with my colleagues, to develop a set of methods for the comprehensive sex education we use now. Here is what emerged:
Develop a classroom environment and curriculum where students in the areas of gender, gender, and sexuality are seen and valued. Being cisgender and heterosexual is never presented as ideal; All situations and examples involve different genders and sexual identities. Gender, gender, and sexuality are defined as broad, not binary, existing within the existing spectrum where students can identify themselves.
Provide life-saving, medically accurate information aimed at equipping students with the knowledge and skills to protect their health and safety. For example, all students learn about PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a once-daily pill that is 99% effective in preventing HIV infection. In addition, we identify healthcare providers that provide LGBTQIA + informed care and hear directly from transgender people about many aspects of the transition.
Resist stigma for any students around the acquaintance. LGBTQIA + identity is specifically certified, confirmed, and shown to be a biological and historical priority. We discuss pronouns, hear about what it means to use pronouns chosen by transgender, nonbinary and intersex individuals, and practice what to do when you are not sure how to refer to someone.
Make sure my colleagues share the same approach in their class. For example, bizarre teachers take the lead in writing LGBTQIA + identity-focused lessons. In addition, teachers also use students’ chosen names and pronouns, which are widely used Reduces depressive symptoms and suicide risk Among transgender and nonbinary students.
As you can imagine, this approach is often met with resistance, especially in a state like Texas.
In 2020, Texas voted against any kind of LGBTQIA + inclusive policies during sex education standard reforms. Texas is a “no promo homo” state and is one of six states that still have a Provision to prevent sex education teachers From talking positively about homosexuality. In this provision we must describe abuse (which it does not), as opposed to public opinion and public health approaches.
Even in my school, there are times when family and community members do not share the same attitude as our teachers. I have not lost sight of the fact that this task may seem impossible to teachers in other districts and to the school setting.
When I started my teaching career in Mississippi, the county where my students lived had the highest rates of HIV infection. After I found out about this shocking statistic, I asked my principal if I could teach a lesson about the spread of the disease in my science class. In the end, my principal rejected the proposal because the subject was “too close to home” for some of my students, and Mississippi has a law prohibiting proper condom use instructions.
Unfortunately, my students will go without a single-sex education class throughout their K-12 education and will be the most restless to protect the health of themselves and their sexual partners.
In the case of Texas and Mississippi and other states that seek to enact harmful legislation that hinders the development of our students, this context underscores the urgent need for inclusive curricula and teaching methods in sex education.
Moving towards inclusion
Recently, a male student asked me for makeup remover wipes because he was worried about having trouble applying makeup at home. When I asked him why he wanted to wear makeup to school, he said, “I knew I could be here on my own.” In that passing moment, they gave me a powerful reminder that teachers can feel like teachers.
LGBTQIA + comprehensive sex education has had a significant impact on my students. Over the years, many of my 8th graders have entered my class with negative perceptions and stereotypes about LGBTQIA + individuals. Phrases like “no homo,” “he’s very gay” and other homophobic slurs are heard at the beginning of the year. But as I move on from my class, something funny happens: the jokes stop.
My students start asking questions because they want to learn more, and Queer students write me notes saying they feel safe enough to finally get their friends out. Why does this happen and what causes this change? Being a queer is no longer something to be feared or ridiculed for because they understand LGBTQIA + experience and identity better.
Teacher: There are currently LGBTQIA + students in your class. To remind them of the need for this work, they should not go out or be left without a vision of navigating sex and society. The humanity, health and dignity of our LGBTQIA + students is sacred and it is time to treat them that way.