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 Racist Roots of the War on Sex Ed

JBS-supported billboard accusing Martin Luther King Jr. of communist ties. Image: Bob Fitch photography archive, Stanford University Libraries

The 1960s were a decade of dramatic social and political changes, many of them catalyzed by the shock of assassinations or the dawn of culture-changing technology like the birth control pill.

It would seem, then, that by the end of the decade it would have taken an especially grave development to prompt warnings of a “subversive monstrosity,” a “mushrooming program” that was forced upon an unwitting public through an insidious campaign of “falsehoods, deceptions, pressures, and pretenses.”

The John Birch Society published those words 50 years ago this month in their January 1969 newsletter. What atrocity spurred JBS founder Robert Welch Jr. to write this clarion call? No trigger warning is needed for this one. He was alerting his readers to the “filthy Communist plot” known as sex education.


It wasn’t just premarital and extramarital sex that stirred anxieties. So, too, did interracial sex.


Welch’s alarmist language was common currency in an organization that was known for its anti-Semitism and its espousal of conspiracy theories. They were traits that kept the Birchers’ numbers modest throughout the 1960s and ’70s — an estimated 20,000 to 100,000 members — and led to the group’s decline in later decades. The JBS, a far-right group that advocated for limited government, got its name from a Baptist missionary and military pilot who was killed by Chinese communists — an early martyr of the Cold War.

However fringe they may have been, Welch’s words signaled the beginning of intensive backlash against sex ed among a broader base of conservatives. Within months, that backlash put organizations like the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Medical Association on the defensive. As the debate raged, the NEA sought allies nationwide in churches, civic groups, and the media to save sex ed. By the following year, the NEA was reporting that sex ed programs had been “canceled, postponed, or curtailed” in 13 states and were under scrutiny in 20 state legislatures. 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

Meet Our Candidates: David Schapira for Superintendent of Public Instruction

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 voters need to be 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!

David Schapira is not a newcomer to education or politics in Arizona. A passionate educator and lifelong Arizonan, Mr. Schapira has advocated for public education as an elected official for more than a decade. He has served in a diverse array of roles — ranging from the Tempe Union Governing Board to the state Senate — and this November he will challenge Republican incumbent Diane Douglas for the office of superintendent of public instruction.

Sexual and reproductive health care education are critically important to the overall well-being of Arizona’s students. Our state’s current laws regarding sex education fail students by limiting access to medically accurate information, disingenuously promoting abstinence above other contraceptive methods, and actively perpetuating homophobic myths about HIV. Our next superintendent of public instruction should be someone who will help guide Arizona out of the Stone Age and into the modern world, where young women and men are empowered to make informed decisions about their bodies and their futures.


“If your goal is to reduce teen pregnancy and abortions, then the best way to accomplish those two goals is to have comprehensive sex ed.”


Mr. Schapira has a track record that speaks to his support for reforming Arizona’s outdated sexual education statutes. As both a member of the Senate and a member of Tempe Union’s Governing Board, he spearheaded campaigns to include LGBTQ students in anti-bullying and anti-discrimination protections. He has also volunteered for Planned Parenthood since childhood, and played an integral role in the 2014 overhaul of Tempe Union’s sex-ed curriculum.

If elected, Mr. Schapira says he will work to restore respect to the teaching profession, which he believes has eroded as a result of the Arizona Legislature’s animosity toward public education. His open support for the #RedForEd movement stands in stark contrast to that of his opponent — Diane Douglas — who on April 24 threatened punitive action against teachers who participate in a walkout. Douglas’ stance reflects her general disdain for traditional public education, which continues to be starved by her ongoing efforts to funnel public funds into private and charter schools. Continue reading

Pride Month: Toward a Future Where Pride Is a Big Party

June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate the LGBTQ community. And while it has become a celebratory thing, it is important, especially in the current social and political climate, to remember that Pride Month did not start as a march. It did not start as a party. It did not start as a celebration. Pride Month commemorates the Stonewall Uprising.

In 1969, while it was illegal to be gay, there were gay clubs. One was the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City. The police would raid it every so often. They would arrest the patrons. They would beat the patrons. And they would look the other way if the patrons were murdered.


We are still here. You will not silence us. You haven’t been able to yet, and you never will.


One day, a group of gay people, mostly trans women and street kids, mostly people of color, said “NO MORE!” and fought back. That started six days of riots, where LGBTQ people from all over the city converged in Greenwich Village and demanded their rights. To demand their lives!

We have gotten used to Pride Month being kicked off with a Presidential Proclamation. Every year for eight years, we had President Obama issue a proclamation. As far back as 1999, when President Clinton issued the first one, we have grown accustomed to a march forward in our rights, our visibility. But we have forgotten about our origins, the roots of Pride Month, which are steeped in the struggle against homophobic, anti-LGBTQ violence. Continue reading

Mike Pence’s America

mike-penceSince the election of Donald Trump in November, countless people have reveled in the hope that perhaps some obscure constitutional gambit or criminal indictment would take place preventing him from taking office on January 20.


Mike Pence’s legislative record stands in opposition to his self-proclaimed reverence for life.


The sentiment is understandable to those of us who abhor this man and all that he stands for, but such a scenario would present an awful alternative in the form of Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who would take Trump’s place in the Oval Office as our new president.

While Trump has spoken about his frightening and detestable political views, he has no legislative record to back them up. Former congressman and current Indiana governor, Mike Pence, however, has a lengthy one.

And it is positively horrifying. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About … Being the Parent of an LGBTQ Child

The following guest post comes to us from Planned Parenthood Arizona’s education staff. Contact them at education@ppaz.org.

father-and-son-thumbnailOctober is Let’s Talk month, when Planned Parenthood advocates for better parent-child communication around sexuality. Last year we wrote about why it’s so important for any parent to talk to their child about sexuality — early and often. Parents are the primary sexuality educators of their children, and children who can talk to their parents about sexuality wait longer to have sex, and are more likely to use protection.

Planned Parenthood has great resources to help parents talk to their kids. Advocates for Youth also has a comprehensive guide to help parents through difficult conversations. Planned Parenthood also has resources for parents of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) youth. You might also ask your friendly local librarian about one of these books recommended by PFLAG, a national organization for families, friends, and allies of LGBTQ people.


Demand LGBTQ inclusivity and comprehensive sex education in your school district.


On November 2, Planned Parenthood will host an interactive workshop in Phoenix for parents of LGBTQ youth, where they can practice being an “askable” parent. Parents of LGBTQ kids may find it a little more difficult to be an “askable” adult. But it’s even more important because your children are at particular risk. LGBTQ youth face significant obstacles in their schools, in the world, and, sometimes, unfortunately, in their own homes. LGBTQ youth experience high rates of homelessness, depression/anxiety, and astronomically high rates of suicides — 3 times higher than straight youth. Study after study has shown that, in schools, LGBTQ youth face much higher levels of bullying, harassment, intimidation, threats, and physical assault than their peers. Stopbullying.gov reports that bullied LGBTQ youth (or youth perceived as LGBTQ) are more likely to skip school, smoke, use alcohol and drugs, and to engage in other risky behaviors.

If your child is transgender, their risks are exponentially higher. Almost all transgender students report being harassed at school about their sexual orientation and/or gender. More than half of transgender students report being physically harassed (pushed, shoved) in school. And about a third report being physically assaulted (punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon). For more information on transgender discrimination in schools, please see Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools, available online here. Continue reading