STD Awareness: Fighting STDs with Education

Here in Arizona, Tucson Unified School District has been taking steps toward adopting a comprehensive, inclusive, age-appropriate, and medically accurate sex education program, but it’s been repeatedly delayed by a vocal minority. In September, a vote was put on hold after the superintendent recommended changing the proposed curriculum to focus on abstinence as the preferred method for avoiding STDs and unintended pregnancies.


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Additionally, many opponents of TUSD’s proposed curriculum believe its inclusiveness of LGBTQ kids is tantamount to “indoctrination,” that this type of education “sexualizes” children, and that discussions of gender identity will confuse students. LGBTQ kids have traditionally been ignored or demeaned in sex education programs, and their health matters too. Presenting medically accurate and age-appropriate information does not indoctrinate or sexualize children — it simply helps them make healthy decisions, no matter who they are. And these days, students need to be empowered with as much knowledge as possible to make decisions that protect their health.

Confronting the STD Epidemic

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its annual report on sexually transmitted diseases. It did not contain good news. For the fifth straight year, STD rates are climbing.

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Everybody Deserves Good Sex Ed

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.

Is sex education part of your school day? If you are getting information in your classroom about birth control, consent, healthy relationships, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), then you are among a small number of students in Arizona who get this essential health information.

In the state of Arizona, sex education is not currently required — which means it is up to your school district to decide if they want you to have sex education in the classroom. Unfortunately, most school districts have chosen not to provide sex ed to their students.


Arizona doesn’t require sex education in the classroom.


Beyond that, there are a couple of other laws that have affected how sex ed is taught even if your school district decides to provide sex education in the classroom:

  • We are an “opt-in” state — meaning that a parent or guardian must sign a permission slip for you to participate in a sex education class at school.
  • We had what are referred to as “No Promo Homo” laws on the books until April of this year — meaning that teachers could not represent being gay in a positive light, and they could not discuss methods of safe sex for “gay sex.”
  • Comprehensive sex education is not required — meaning that if a district chooses to provide “abstinence-only” sex education (programs that only promote refraining from sexual activity as a method of safe sex and do not review topics like birth control, condoms, etc.) they are allowed to do so.

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Victories and Vigilance

If you are keeping count, last week saw the 100th day of our Arizona state legislative session. Some might say that the lack of any outright proposals to attack abortion during this legislative session should feel wonderful. It does.

But — although there has been a 63 percent increase in six-week abortion bans introduced in state legislatures across the country — Arizona has seen zero bills further reducing access to reproductive health care because Arizona is already one of the most over-regulated states in the country for abortion care. It does not mean progress has been achieved when it comes to gender equality.

Remaining Vigilant

Instead of introducing another ban on abortion, Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) decided to go after state funding for 2-1-1, a hotline that connects people with resources across Arizona, especially in times of need. Cathi Herrod, who leads CAP, is jeopardizing more than 900,000 Arizonans’ connection to critical social services for $33 worth of calls from people seeking information on their private, constitutionally protected right to abortion care. It is simply more proof that Arizonans’ health, safety, and practical needs are being dismissed for an extremist agenda at the expense of our collective well-being.

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) failed to move forward and the efforts to pass it this session have been stopped in their tracks. Even with the groundswell of women who led in voting in the midterms, it is still an uphill battle to get the ERA passed and eventually ratified.

Celebrating Victories

These setbacks have not deterred our endorsed legislators, who piece by piece are getting protections and advancements for people’s rights to the governor’s desk. Continue reading

Reproductive Health-Care Providers Challenge Arizona Laws That Put Women’s Health at Risk

On Thursday, April 11, women’s reproductive health-care providers filed a federal lawsuit seeking to remove Arizona TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws that prevent and delay many women from accessing abortion. The lawsuit was filed by reproductive health-care provider Planned Parenthood Arizona and individual clinicians represented by O’Melveny & Myers, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Squire Patton Boggs.

Arizona’s extreme, medically unnecessary TRAP laws violate Arizona women’s constitutional right to access legal abortion. Their effect has been dramatic: a 40 percent decline in abortion clinics, leaving 80 percent of Arizona counties with no access to abortion clinics, and weeks-long waiting times for services. There is only one abortion provider in the northern part of the state, and that health center only provides medication abortion one day per week.

“Arizona lawmakers have made it difficult or even impossible for women to access safe, legal abortion,” said Bryan Howard, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona. “Medically unnecessary laws that only serve to attack women’s rights and put women’s health at risk should be overturned to protect women’s health and rights.” Continue reading

STD Awareness: The Syphilis Outbreak’s Youngest Victims

Arizona is officially in the midst of a syphilis outbreak that in 2018 claimed the lives of 10 infants. That’s the most babies to die of congenital syphilis in the state’s recent history. In addition to the 10 deaths, another 43 babies were born with syphilis, which can cause severe health problems.

The word “congenital” simply means the baby was born with syphilis after acquiring the infection in the womb. The bacteria that cause syphilis can cross the placenta to reach the fetus — and will do so in 80 percent of pregnancies in which syphilis is untreated. As many as 40 percent of babies infected with syphilis during pregnancy will be stillborn or will die soon after birth. The condition can also cause rashes, bone deformities, severe anemia, jaundice, blindness, and deafness. The good news is that congenital syphilis is almost completely preventable. When it is administered at the appropriate time and at the correct dosage, penicillin is 98 percent effective.


Prenatal care must include screening for syphilis, which can be cured with penicillin but can be deadly if not treated.


Syphilis used to be the most feared STD out there, but rates have been plunging since the discovery of effective antibiotics during the first half of the 20th century. By 2000, syphilis rates hit an all-time low, and many health experts thought the United States was at the dawn of the complete elimination of the disease. But it’s been making a comeback, and between 2013 and 2017 nationwide congenital syphilis rates more than doubled, with the number of affected babies at a 20-year high.

Areas in the southern and western United States have been especially hard hit. Arizona has the sixth-highest congenital syphilis rate in the country, after Louisiana, Nevada, California, Texas, and Florida. Our congenital syphilis rate doubled between 2016 and 2017 — in terms of sheer numbers, most of these cases originated in Maricopa County, but officials say it’s disproportionately affecting rural areas. Gila County, which is east of Phoenix and home to the old mining town Globe, has the highest syphilis rate in the state. Continue reading

Women Fighting for Everyone’s Health

Happy Women’s History Month! Throughout the history of medicine, the health of women and children hasn’t always been prioritized. Safeguards might not have been in place to ensure drugs were safe during pregnancy, the right to abortion care has been under attack by both terrorists and lawmakers, and people haven’t had the tools they needed to prevent pregnancy. But throughout that same history, women have confronted these issues head on, creating a better world for everyone and keeping important conversations alive.

Let’s meet some of these incredible historical figures now!

Frances Oldham Kelsey

President Kennedy honors Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey with the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service in 1962.

In 1960, Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey was evaluating drug applications for the FDA. When she received an application for a sleeping pill called Kevadon, she was unsettled by scant information on the drug’s safety and demanded additional data, triggering a game of tug-of-war between the pharmaceutical company and the FDA that persisted for more than a year.

In November 1961, Dr. Kelsey was vindicated. Kevadon — aka thalidomide — was discovered to cause severe birth defects. According to the New York Times, children “were born without arms or legs, some with no limbs or with withered appendages protruding directly from the trunk. Some had no external ears or deformities of the eyes, the esophagus or intestinal tracts.” One estimate holds that 20,000 babies were born with deformities, while 80,000 died during pregnancy or shortly after birth. But, thanks to Dr. Kelsey, thalidomide was never approved in the United States.

Frances Kelsey’s career might have been made possible by a misunderstanding. Her graduate advisor at the University of Chicago wasn’t a big booster of women in science, but he hired her after reading her name as Francis and assuming she was a man. Dr. Kelsey always wondered, “if my name had been Elizabeth or Mary Jane, whether I would have gotten that first big step up.” At the time, though, she wondered if she should even accept the offer to join the University of Chicago as a grad student.

“When a woman took a job in those days, she was made to feel as if she was depriving a man of the ability to support his wife and child,” Dr. Kelsey told the New York Times in 2010. Fortunately for an untold number of wives and children — and everyone else — she decided to claim her rightful place at the university, leaving behind an incredible legacy.

Sherri Finkbine

The Finkbines traveling back to Phoenix, en route from London.

Sherri Finkbine was known to thousands of children as Miss Sherri on the local edition of the children’s show Romper Room. But Finkbine entered the spotlight for another reason in 1962, when she learned during her fifth pregnancy that she was at risk of having a child with severe birth defects. Finkbine was using sleeping pills that her husband had brought back from Europe, and the pills, she found out, contained thalidomide. Wishing to warn others about the drug, Finkbine shared her story with a reporter from the Arizona Republic.

Though she had been promised anonymity, her identity was exposed and her story created a media firestorm. 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