In my second health class at a public school in Fairfax County, my teacher put on a VHS movie in which a young woman was compared to a piece of chewing gum for having sex before marriage. Nowhere does the film address consent or security.
Although my health teachers meant well, I did not receive the support I needed to deal with the trauma I had faced; instead, I felt isolated and ashamed of being gay and attacked. It wasn’t until I found community-based HIV education and prevention organizations that I finally got the support I needed. Unfortunately, no matter how honest and inclusive the help I received from these nonprofits, they still couldn’t fill the toxic void left by my classroom experience.
While I do not hold Virginia Public Schools directly responsible for what happened to me, I do hold them responsible for not taking every opportunity to provide every student with an education that teaches respect, empowerment, love, relationship building skills and all means. protection, whether with a condom or information on how to deal with intimate partner violence (IPV).
When I investigated why students in Virginia weren’t getting the education they deserved, I discovered that the lamentable inadequacies of Virginia’s sex education are layered on top of a web of guidelines, policies, local decision-making and nonsensical classroom statements. The Learning Standards, which set out program requirements, withhold information by focusing on abstinence rather than providing honest and comprehensive information on how to protect yourself and have healthy relationships.
Family Life Education (FLE), which provides essential, age-appropriate education for students, is not mandatory, so local school districts can opt out. Coupled with locally developed content, teaching is disparate and inconsistent from district to district. According to the Virginia Department of Education’s FLE report, of the 132 school districts, 19 provide no FLE. Of the districts that do, only 68% have systems in place to verify medical accuracy, and only 24% evaluate the effectiveness of their programs. In addition to this, 19 districts do not provide any FLE instruction, 29% are abstinent only, only 42% discuss sexual orientation, and only 36% discuss gender identity and expression.
Virginia needs legislative reform to provide the policy and resources needed to implement comprehensive, medically accurate, and inclusive sex education in Virginia. This is also needed nationally. The US Senate’s Real Education and Access for Healthy Youth Act (REAHYA) would ensure that federal dollars are allocated only to comprehensive sex education programs and give young people equitable access to sexual health services. REAHYA, statewide policy reform and action at the local school board level can have a real impact on our teens’ sex ed experience, which will affect how they experience their life in the future. Through these changes, we can teach today’s youth the sex education they should have been taught.
Living with HIV has taught me many lessons throughout my adult life and, oddly enough, it has also shown me how lucky I am: that I have people who love me. , that I have access to health care, that I am strong and that I am worthy of love. Having and knowing these things about myself should not be a privilege but a human right so that everyone can live happily, live healthy and overcome life’s many challenges. We can teach our young people to love themselves and others, we can empower them to take care of themselves, and we can provide them with the tools they need to make responsible decisions. To ensure that all students receive the education they deserve, we must come together. Now more than ever, we have to show up to our local school board meetings because the other side is already here, and they’re not holding back.
We can and should provide our young people with comprehensive, medically accurate, and inclusive sex education by passing REAHYA and reinforcing Virginia’s sex education standards. If we don’t act now, we may never be able to ensure the health and safety of our young people.