When people debate issues pertaining to gay rights, the word “children” often comes up. What will legalizing gay marriage mean for grade school children? Will anti-bullying programs lead to homosexuality being taught in schools?
Neither of those two questions, of course, fuel a healthy dialogue, and are based more on talking points from the National Organization for Marriage or the Family Research Council than actual reality.
But students sometimes do need an environment where responsible dialogue about LGBT issues, or issues about sexuality can be raised and discussed. Head on over to Washington, D.C., where students at Georgetown’s Harvey Middle School were given a survey asking questions about their gender identity and sexual behaviors. The survey was designed by Metro TeenAIDS, a nonprofit focused on HIV/AIDS awareness among youth.
Parents were informed about the survey and given the choice to opt their children out of the survey if they were uncomfortable. By giving power to the parents to determine whether the survey was appropriate for their children, educators were putting the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of moms and dads — if they were uncomfortable with the survey, they could simply opt their child out.
The survey starts by asking: “What is your gender?” Options include Male, Female, Transgender (M to F), and Transgender (F to M). The survey also asks students to identify their sexual orientation as straight, bisexual, gay or lesbian, questioning, or other.
The survey goes on to ask if and when the student has last been tested for HIV, how risky they think various behaviors are, and some basic questions about the student’s sexual history. While some may consider this inappropriate for students, consider the fact that many middle school students are engaging in sex. Researching their beliefs to better educate them about the risks of sex could be valuable in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers.
A 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that almost 23 percent of middle school students in D.C. have already had sex, 38 percent have had a drink, and 11 percent have used marijuana. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that in order for sex education to be effective, it has to come before students figure things out on their own. If students have sex before learning about protection and safe sex, they might not know how to avoid risky behaviors and protect their health.
Polling in D.C. shows that most parents support comprehensive sex education in schools. Despite the negative press that the survey has received, parents want their kids to be educated about sexual health. Surveying children about their experiences is not shocking, harmful, or inappropriate; it’s beneficial for their safety. Committed advocates for children — those who care about children’s health beyond just some pre-packaged talking points — should be pleased to hear that D.C. schools are taking action to prevent unsafe sexual activity among middle school students.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons