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  • Patricia Suma, Health Educator

Trans Visibility in Sex Ed: Why It's Not Optional

Before a Health Connected educator walks into a classroom, we do a self-check of sorts. Like all humans, we have our own personal values and biases which have to be examined before we begin discussing sexual health and relationships with students. Moreover, we have to be conscious of the limits of our biases, which is not always easy. An article published this year in Teen Vogue, “Transgenger People on What They Wish They Had Learned in Sex Ed” by Syd Stephenson prompted me to reflect on how my fellow educators and I are doing and what we can do better to serve all of our students, especially transgender students (students whose gender identity differs from that assigned at birth).

The article highlights the experiences of 12 transgender students from all across the United States and points to some of the legislative restrictions to providing medically accurate sexual health education. In seven states, health educators can only mention LGBTQ+ people in a negative context, for example, in relation to sexually transmitted infections. California is one of only four states that requires educators to utilize affirmative examples of LGBTQ+ individuals in their teachings (SIECUS). In 2013, California had about 5.0% self-identifying LGB students and 0.5% transgender students, so for every class of 30 students, there are about two students who are LGBT (Chapman Study). It is our duty as health educators to ensure that– no matter the gender identity of our students– they feel included in conversations about sex, healthy relationships, STIs, birth control, puberty changes, and sexual violence prevention.

At Health Connected, we make an effort to go beyond the minimum threshold for the inclusion of transgender students by integrating examples of trans and non-binary identities throughout all of our curricula and across a range of health topics. While we, of course, have a lesson dedicated to sexual and gender diversity in all of our courses, we also incorporate trans characters into a variety lessons– from pregnancy options to dealing with sexual harassment– and we use gender-neutral pronouns as often as possible when referring to anatomy, sex, and relationships.

Trans inclusion is not just a matter of making trans students feel included, it is also a matter of trans safety. In 2020 so far, at least 22 trans or gender-nonconforming people have been murdered; this violence disproportionately affects trans women/femmes of color, Black trans women in particular (Human Rights Campaign, 2020). Sexual health educators have a responsibility not only to address transphobia in the classroom, but to hold young people accountable for putting an end to violence against the trans community in their generation.

As health educators, towards the end of our time spent with students, we can see subtle and not-so-subtle changes that indicate that our inclusive approach has led to growth in understanding and respect. Sometimes it’s a joyful expression when an educator corrects misgendered pronouns used in class. Sometimes it is running into students at a community ‘Transgender Day of Remembrance Candlelight Procession and Memorial Program,’ when earlier in the year they had their own questions about what does it mean to be trans. Sometimes it is an email from a parent of a young trans student that felt validated when we used gender-neutral language to talk about body parts, period products, or birth control.

We can confidently say, however, that during the time that a Health Connected educator teaches, we become a supportive adult that makes sure that all students feel respected, validated, safe, included, and supported. No matter their identity or life journey.

Sources:

Stephenson, Syd. “12 Transgender People on What They Wish They Had Learned in Sex Ed.” Teen Vogue, Teen Vogue, 2 Jan. 2020, www.teenvogue.com/story/transgender-people-what-they-wish-they-learned-in-sex-ed?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=40abd726-e11a-4be1-8e07-1d7d7175ca32

(SIECUS) Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. State Profiles: FY 2018. “State Law Policies Across the United States.” https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/FY18-State-Law-and-Policy-Chart-Final-1.pdf

“Health and Safety of LGBT Youth in California.” Health and Safety of LGBT Youth | Chapman University, www.chapman.edu/education/research/health-and-safety.aspx.

Human Rights Campaign. “Violence Against the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Community in 2020.” Human Rights Campaign, https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-trans-and-gender-non-conforming-community-in-2020

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