Falling Short: Sexual Health and LGBTQ+ Youth

This guest post comes from the Planned Parenthood Arizona Education Team’s Casey Scott-Mitchell, who serves as the community education & training coordinator at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

We know most young people in Arizona are not getting sex education in their schools — or if they are, it is often abstinence-only, not fact-based, and not inclusive of all students’ identities. Comprehensive sex education programs do a better job of approaching sexuality from a more holistic perspective covering a range of topics such as STDs, relationships, birth control methods, reproductive anatomy, and abstinence, at an age-appropriate level and utilizing fact-based information. Additionally, comprehensive programs are often more inclusive of students’ identities — specifically various gender identities and sexual orientations.


Schools should be responsible for educating all students about keeping themselves healthy.


However, even with comprehensive sex ed, we often fall short of inclusivity when addressing topics of pregnancy prevention and choices, healthy relationships, and sexual health.

As educators and providers of sexuality information to young people, when we talk about pregnancy we often slip into language that assumes (heterosexual and cisgender) identities, which leaves many folks out of the conversation. We all have a gender identity, a sexual orientation, and sexual behaviors that we engage in — sometimes those pieces line up in a way that is “predictable,” but oftentimes, they don’t.

For example, in working with a student who is a cisgender girl, how often are we going to automatically assume she is attracted to boys, and that she will then be having vaginal/penile sex and therefore be at risk for unintended pregnancy? The answer is often. Continue reading

The Price of Inaction on LGTBQ Homelessness

Infographic on the polar vortex. Image: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

When the polar vortex hit the U.S. last month, sending temperatures down to record lows that hadn’t been seen in a generation, I was in my own vortex of thoughts and reactions. I felt a guilty pleasure at the warm weather we were enjoying here in Arizona. I groaned when President Trump, instead of expressing concern for the millions who would face below-freezing temperatures, seized the opportunity to tweet his doubts about “Global Waming (sic),” even though five seconds on Google could easily explain how extreme weather, both hot and cold, fits within the projections of climate change science.


A comprehensive look at homelessness examines laws and public policies that put many LGBTQ people on the streets.


I also resented the online trolls I’d encountered months before, when a caravan of asylum seekers was approaching our border, who argued that we should take care of our own homeless people before we let in any more immigrants. It was a cynical framing, that we could only care for one or the other — and where were their concerns for the homeless now, when people on the streets throughout the Midwest and parts of the Northeast were at risk of dying from exposure? With wind chill reaching 75 below in some places, the cold hit levels that could cause frostbite within minutes, in addition to hypothermia and difficulty breathing.

A lot of those trolls, I remembered, had mentioned homeless veterans in particular, to the exclusion of other homeless people. It added another layer of cynicism. If they cast their compassion too broadly, they might have to reconcile it with notions that blame the poor for their own poverty, as if shortcomings in work ethic or financial planning are the only culprits, and inherited wealth, the vagaries of the economy, and other factors play no role in where the chips fall for each of us.

There are other uncomfortable facts people push aside if they avoid taking a broader, more comprehensive look at homelessness. One glaring example is the collective responsibility for laws and public policies that put many LGBTQ people on the streets. Continue reading

On the Road to Marriage Equality in Mormon Country

Members of Mormons Building Bridges march in Salt Lake City pride parade, 2012. Photo: Jay Jacobsen

Earlier this summer, Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds gave us an up-close look at the uphill battle for LGBTQ rights in the Mormon community. In the HBO documentary Believer, the alt-rock vocalist took viewers through his personal struggle to reconcile his commitment to LGBTQ equality with the many homophobic views embedded in Mormonism, his faith since childhood.

The Mormon church has been on a slow road to reform. It still asks gay and lesbian Mormons to deny their sexual orientation and enter “mixed-orientation marriages” — or choose celibacy. Its official website uses the phrase “same-sex attraction,” suggesting that sexual orientation is not a fixed status but a feeling, something as malleable or trivial as their favorite brand of shoe. That is a step forward, though. In the past, gay and lesbian members would simply be excommunicated as soon as their sexuality was discovered.


In Utah, religious influence is a fixture that is written into the geography of the capital city.


Reynolds himself is heterosexual and could have quietly sidestepped the issue, but he couldn’t ignore the toll the church’s views took on people. He saw it early on when a childhood friend, who was gay and Mormon, was confined to the closet. As an ally later in life, he met people who shared devastating stories, like that of a Mormon couple who lost their gay son to suicide.

Believer follows Reynolds as he promotes tolerance and acceptance through what he knows best: music. Along with Neon Trees singer Tyler Glenn, a former Mormon who is openly gay, Reynolds organizes the LoveLoud Festival, a benefit and awareness-raising event. The festival was held in Orem, Utah — a city that is 93 percent Mormon — in the hopes of bridging the Mormon and LGBTQ communities. At the festival, the camera turns to the attendees. Viewers see parents embracing their LGBTQ children. They hear testimony from LGBTQ adults, who tell how events like this could have helped them out of the isolation and depression they felt growing up. Continue reading

Dental Dams Help Spread Intimacy, Not STDs

It’s that time of the year when people focus on intimacy and romance. Most people think jewelry and roses are good gifts to give for Valentine’s Day. They’re nice, but you know what’s even better? Dental dams.

What’s a dental dam, you ask? Like condoms, dental dams are a way to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) by covering the vagina or anus during oral sex. Dental dams are usually made of latex, and some are made from polyurethane. Since they’re used for oral sex, dental dams often come in different flavors, and they’re flexible enough to fit in your purse.


Dental dams are an essential component of protecting your sexual health.


Dental dams are particularly useful for lesbian partners, since oral sex is a common form of sexual activity, but anyone who engages in cunnilingus (the oral stimulation of female genitals) can use them. Dental dams are also beneficial for consenting partners who enjoy anal play (aka “rimming”). Dental dams serve as a barrier against most STDs, since many sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, human papillomavirus (HPV), and herpes, can be passed simply by skin-to-skin contact. Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and hepatitis A and B viruses can also be spread through oral sex. HIV can be transmitted through oral sex if blood is present.

Unfortunately, dental dams aren’t distributed as widely as condoms are. You’re not likely to find a dental dam dispenser in a public restroom, and many community organizations provide dental dams on a request-only basis because they’re more expensive than condoms. And most drug stores don’t carry dental dams in the same aisle as condoms and lube because dental dams were originally created to be used during dental procedures. (Get it — dental dams.) Continue reading

STD Awareness: The HIV Epidemic at Home

In the United States, we understand HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — using a common narrative, one that gives us the impression that its deadliest chapters belong in decades past or distant places. It goes like this:

The disease emerged in the 1980s, cutting down young gay men in their primes and blindsiding scientists as they scrambled to unravel the virus’ mysteries. While AIDS initially whipped up mass hysteria among the general public, LGBTQ folks demanded equality, pushing to find treatments and a cure. AIDS activism and scientific research eventually led to the development of antiretroviral drugs, which tamed the plague by turning a death sentence into a chronic disease. Now, with the right medication, people with HIV can live long, healthy lives. The hysteria has died down, as most people realize viral transmission is preventable, and the infection is manageable.

One thing hasn’t changed, however: Just as it was in the 1980s, AIDS is still thought of as a disease of the “other.” Back then, it was a disease of gay men, a population cruelly marginalized by the general public. Today, it’s thought of as a disease of sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV prevalence is highest.

That narrative, however, doesn’t tell the whole story. Right here in our own backyards, the HIV epidemic continues to spread in the face of chilling indifference from those not affected. African-American MSM — men who have sex with men, who may or may not self-identify as gay or bisexual — have an HIV prevalence that exceeds that of any country in the world. In Swaziland, for example, 27 percent of adults are living with HIV/AIDS, but if current transmission rates hold steady, half of African-American MSM are projected to be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. Instead of taking this projection as a wake-up call to invest in lifesaving health policies, however, state and federal responses are poised to let it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Contrary to racist and homophobic stereotypes, data show that black MSM aren’t more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, use drugs and alcohol, or withhold their HIV status from partners. So why are they burdened with higher HIV rates? The answer lies beyond mere behavior, embedded in policies and practices that disproportionately harm people based on race, sexuality, and geography. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Transgender Men and Cervical Health

Healthy cervical cells as seen under a microscope. Image: National Cancer Institute

Just one month ago, headlines screamed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received a list of “banned words” from the Trump administration. One of those words was transgender, raising the alarm that the current president might be eyeing policies that would further marginalize the trans population and harm their health. (Other forbidden words include fetus, evidence-based, and vulnerable.) Some have argued it wasn’t Trump policy per se, but self-censoring on the part of the CDC to protect their budgets from being slashed by legislators hostile to transgender rights, abortion rights, science, people of color, and poor people.

In any case, refusing to use words like transgender can have grave consequences for trans health. If the CDC can’t reference the trans population when requesting money for services and studies, they will be hobbled in their ability to serve that population’s needs.


Recommendations for cervical cancer screening are the same for anyone with a cervix, whether trans or cisgender.


January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Anyone who has a cervix can develop cervical cancer — including transgender men who have not had their cervixes surgically removed. In observance of the month, and in defiance of directions to avoid the word transgender, today we’ll discuss the importance of cervical health in trans men — and why taxpayer-funded entities like the CDC and the National Institutes of Health must be able to study and serve this population.

Transgender men (or trans men for short) are individuals born with female reproductive organs, but who identify as male. Likewise, cisgender women were born with female reproductive organs and identify as female. Both trans men and cisgender women were born with cervixes, and wherever a cervix exists, the possibility of cervical cancer exists. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Kevin Patterson for Phoenix City Council District 6

The Arizona primary election will be held on August 29, 2017. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. In order to vote in the primary election, you must be registered to vote by July 31. Early voting begins on August 2. Make your voice heard in 2017!

Kevin PattersonKevin Patterson is running for a seat on the Phoenix City Council — specifically for District 6. Mr. Patterson is the director of talent management and leadership development for Banner Health, the largest employer in Phoenix. Mr. Patterson has spent his life advocating for marginalized constituencies and building consensus for common-sense solutions to some of our state’s problems. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed Mr. Patterson because of his strong support for reproductive health care.


“Health care is a human right.”


On July 3, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Patterson about his positions on health care advocacy, as well as his support of the LGBTQ community.

What motivated you to run for Phoenix City Council?

I am running for Phoenix City Council because I want my kids to grow up in a city where they feel safe, are provided opportunities to thrive, and [are] respected for their diversity. The national rhetoric right now is so divisive and combative that it makes me nervous to think about the type of world they will grow up in if more consensus-building policies aren’t put in place. I believe that change happens at home and in our communities on the local level. For our neighborhoods, I would like to create opportunities for responsible economic growth, safe neighborhoods, efficient public resources. Continue reading