Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Boston Teens Speak up for Sex Ed


This afternoon, Boston City Council's Committee on Women and Healthy Communities held a public hearing on a proposal to bring sexual health education and condom availability to Boston Public High Schools. Committee Chair Ayanna Pressley presided with eloquence and insight over the hearing this afternoon.

While I am happy to express the depth and breadth of my support for sexuality education and condom availability in the Boston public schools in future posts, for this post I will focus on what I experienced as the most powerful part of this afternoon's proceedings: the testimony from the teenagers themselves.

The Boston teens who spoke today totally stole the show, and rightly so. The teen activists from the Hyde Square Task Force have been leading this work all year. “Sexuality is a part of our lives,” said one teen, insisting that young people want to make responsible decisions but need the tools that will help them on the path. The teens advocated not just for condom availability but also for access to broadly comprehensive sex education. The teens named issues such as health, relationships, identity, power, and control.

Two teenagers from the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence also spoke. One said that sex education has the potential to help each student learn how to become a better person and a better partner. The other said that her last relationship had been unhealthy, but she did not know it until she had the opportunity to learn about healthy relationships through her involvement in this task force. Her story illustrates the importance of making this education available to all teens.

A representative from the Boston Student Advisory Council said that without sexuality education, students feel confused, and they feel they are not receiving the support they need from their school. She wants teenagers to learn about both the emotional and physical risks of sexual activity.

Two teens spoke for Massachusetts Asian and Pacific Islanders for Health (MAP for Health). The first teen scrolled through his Blackberry, reading aloud that students need an environment in which they can ask questions without judgment. When he finished, he reached across to pass the Blackberry to his fellow speaker. Lovely laughter flowed through the room. I felt it was a very sweet and humbling moment… The next teen was a bit flustered, but soon he started speaking and spoke eloquently. He emphasized that teachers need appropriate training in order to feel comfortable addressing issues of sexuality in the classroom. Therefore, he argued, Boston should invest in getting more teachers trained and certified to teach sexuality education. Both teens also made a plea for sexuality education that is fully inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth.

Many adults who work in various capacities to address the health and wellbeing of Boston youth also spoke with poise and insight, as did the Chair herself. But tonight, I am prioritizing the voices of the teens themselves, the people whose lives and whose friends’ lives can be changed for the better through the passage of this bill. Let’s listen to the voices of the teenagers, who organize their peers, educate themselves and others, and have the courage to speak at City Hall and ask that their right to education be fulfilled. These youth really want to be educated and equipped and responsible and healthy—we, the adults in power, now need to give them what they want.

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