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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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

The Past Isn’t Always in the Past: Covington Catholic and the Politics of Race and Gender at Southern Private Schools

Nathan Phillips (center) leads a dance at the Indigenous Peoples March. Image (detail): Joe Flood

It was hard to miss the video that went viral on the weekend of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

On January 20, footage of a white high school student, flanked by his classmates as he stood in front of a Native American elder, took the news and social media by storm. The student stood at a close distance, wearing an apparent smirk below his “Make America Great Again” hat. The Native elder stood calmly but firmly, beating a small hand drum and singing over the noise from the student’s classmates, many of whom also sported the iconic red baseball caps of Trump supporters. One classmate appeared to taunt the Native elder with a gesture mocking a “tomahawk chop.”


The March for Life incident is a troubling reminder of a history that links segregated private schools to the anti-abortion movement.


The scene was from Washington, D.C., where students from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, were attending the anti-abortion March for Life. It was an event that coincided with an Indigenous Peoples March, a grassroots gathering of community leaders, celebrities, and activists to address the environmental and human rights issues facing Native American, First Nations, and other indigenous people.

The incident drew conflicting narratives as more footage was pieced together to show how Nick Sandmann, the Covington student, came face-to-face with Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder, veteran, and activist. What gained general agreement was that tensions had first been elevated by verbal exchanges with another, smaller group identifying themselves as the Black Hebrew Israelites. A few members of that group could be seen subjecting the Covington students to inflammatory language and insults. Thereafter, people have been divided, often along partisan lines, on whether Sandmann or Phillips was the instigator of the face-off. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Stephanie Parra for Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board, Ward 3

The time to fight back — and fight forward — for reproductive justice is fast approaching. The stakes are high in this year’s state election, with candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and other races on the ballot. The Arizona general election will be held November 6, 2018, and with early voting beginning on October 10. Voters need to be registered by October 9 to cast their ballots. Reproductive health has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who put our health and our rights first. Get to know them now in our series of “Meet Our Candidates” interviews, and make your voice heard in 2018!

Phoenix Union High School District is one of the largest high school districts in the country, with 20 schools, more than 27,000 students, and nearly 3,000 employees. Phoenix Union covers 220 square miles of Arizona’s capital city.

Stephanie Parra has served on the Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board for the past four years, representing PUHSD Ward 3. With Ms. Parra’s leadership, in October 2015, the Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board issued a resolution regarding inclusive comprehensive health education. Although they were proud that their newly comprehensive sex education policy was “a significant step forward,” they expressed regret that it was “not truly inclusive.” Despite the Governing Board’s wish to be inclusive of all students, including LGBTQ kids, an archaic state law — nicknamed “No Promo Homo” — has the district in a straitjacket. The school board has called this law “offensive” and “shaming,” and states that it “has no place in Arizona educational policy.”


“The more we can educate students about the importance of healthy relationships, the better prepared they will be when engaging in relationships.”


“No Promo Homo” refers to one of Arizona’s most disgraceful, archaic laws. The offensive language is planted in the HIV Prevention Education section of the law, stating that education shall not include “instruction which (1) promotes a homosexual life-style, (2) portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style, (3) suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.” To be clear: The purpose of this law is to degrade and shame students who are already at a 40 percent increased risk of suicide. It does nothing to attain educational goals or protect the health or safety of students. Only six other states — and Russia — have laws similar to Arizona’s No Promo Homo law.

On August 30, 2018, Ms. Parra was gracious enough to take time from campaigning to share some of her story and vision for PUHSD.

Please tell us a little about your background and why you’re running for this office in this political climate.

I have dedicated my life to improving the lives of children and families in Arizona. I began my career in social work, advocating for children at risk of abuse, and quickly learned the critical role that educators play in the lives of our youth. That realization led me to a career in education and I have now found myself serving as a full-time public school advocate. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Hazel Chandler for State Representative, LD 20

The time to fight back — and fight forward — for reproductive justice is fast approaching. The stakes are high in this year’s state election, with candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and other races on the ballot. The Arizona primary election will be held August 28, 2018, and early voting began on August 2. Voters need to have been registered by July 30 to cast their ballots. Reproductive health has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who put our health and our rights first. Get to know them now in our series of “Meet Our Candidates” interviews, and make your voice heard in 2018!

A wealth of experience has brought Hazel Chandler to her current bid for the Arizona Legislature. A 40-year resident of Arizona, she is a longtime advocate for public education and social justice whose career spans decades in the government, nonprofit, and private sectors.

For Ms. Chandler, though, the focus is not on what’s behind her but on what’s ahead. Ms. Chandler holds degrees in early childhood development and management, and with those in her toolbox, she has spent much of her career working for the next generations of Arizonans. For eight years she served as the regional director of First Things First, an agency in Phoenix that promotes early childhood education and other measures to ensure the success and wellbeing of Arizona’s children. Along with school funding, Ms. Chandler has been an outspoken supporter of funding KidsCare and other programs to ensure that children’s health care needs are being met, regardless of household income. As she told the Arizona-based Children’s Action Alliance, “Providing children with health care needs to be a priority for our state.”


“It is our moral responsibility to make sure that everyone has access to affordable, quality health care, including reproductive care for women.”


Ms. Chandler’s focus on the future also means a commitment to a clean environment. As she states on her campaign website, environmental protection “isn’t just an issue, it is the entire context in which we have to make all our public policy decisions.” For her, creating a sustainable future is about conserving resources to meet long-term economic needs — as well as protecting people from the health effects of pollution and climate change.

In fact, much of Ms. Chandler’s platform — from her views on preventing crime to getting big money out of politics — circles back in some way to public health. Within that comprehensive view of health, she is also committed to reproductive justice. That conviction has helped garner the endorsements of Arizona List, the Arizona NOW Political Action Committee, and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Jennifer Jermaine for State Representative, LD 18

The time to fight back — and fight forward — for reproductive justice is fast approaching. The stakes are high in this year’s state election, with candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and other races on the ballot. The Arizona primary election will be held August 28, 2018, and early voting began on August 2. Voters need to have been registered by July 30 to cast their ballots. Reproductive health has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who put our health and our rights first. Get to know them now in our series of “Meet Our Candidates” interviews, and make your voice heard in 2018!

Jennifer Jermaine has a long history of being politically engaged, advocating for women’s rights, public health, and other causes on behalf of nonprofit and social services organizations. But the last two years have brought two waves of activism that were transformative for the longtime Chandler resident, inspiring her to launch her own advocacy organization — and run for state Legislature.


“Health care decisions are very personal and private and should be kept that way.”


The first wave was the mounting protests in the wake of Donald Trump’s election in 2016. The victory of such a far-right candidate prompted Jermaine to post a call for action on Facebook. Her idea was a network that would register voters and organize communities, a group she dubbed Stronger Together AZ. Within days, she had 10,000 members. By the end of the month, an inaugural meeting drew 1,000 participants.

The second wave was Arizona’s #RedforEd movement, which sparked strikes and walkouts this spring for better teacher salaries and school funding. Strengthening public education is the first issue Ms. Jermaine mentions on her campaign website. She seeks to represent Legislative District 18, which includes Ahwatukee and parts of Chandler, Mesa, and Tempe, “because the children of Arizona deserve fully funded public schools.”

Along with that focus, Ms. Jermaine is committed to standing up for civil rights and equality on behalf of women, people with disabilities, communities of color, and LGBTQ people. That includes recognizing women’s bodily autonomy and their right “to make their own health care decisions without government intervention or impositions.” 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