Over the past few years, the veil between the “real world” and a safe school space for young people is growing thinner and thinner. More and more, we see parents demanding a hands-on approach in setting educational outcomes.
Lately, this has been in the form of protesting at boards of education demanding certain books not be allowed in libraries, the invasive policing of childrens’ bodies, and restricting LGBTQ+ affirming and culturally inclusive education.
Your child is not just your child. They first belong to themselves before they belong to anyone else.
To those parents who demand more restrictions on the education of young people: When you protest gender, sexuality, and human development education in schools, you are endangering your kids.
You limit their worldview with your ignorance. You let them know that if they are not straight or cisgender, then they deserve something less than safety in their relationships, homes, and schools. They learn from you that that being queer/trans means that being disrespected, harassed, or otherwise attacked is not only to be expected, but entirely warranted.
You’re letting them believe that being queer/trans is inappropriate and unacceptable. Would you then be surprised to know that…
- Almost one fifth of transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide in the past year
- 85% of trans and nonbinary youth and 66% of all LGBTQ+ youth said that their mental health was negatively impacted by the anti-trans bills sweeping the country. (Perhaps these same bills motivate you to protest scientifically accurate education on gender and sexuality?)
- 90% of LGBTQ+ students report being harassed or assaulted, much of which takes the form of “unwanted physical contact with sexual overtones.”
- 45% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year
- LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to become involved in the criminal legal system because they are abandoned by their families and communities and victimized in their schools.
What if that’s your kid? What if your kid is making another child feel less human because of your beliefs?
Many parents are concerned that this kind of education is “grooming” children. Unfortunately, the current reality is that children are at high risk of experiencing sexual violence.
Interestingly enough, teaching about consent, amongst other sexual health topics, actually prevents childhood sexual violence because kids get to practice consent in all areas of their lives, learn what grooming and abuse actually is, and can advocate for themselves and their peers when they feel unsafe in any setting. Teaching consent makes your kids safer.
In fact, these sexual health classes do more than just teach consent; they aim for young people to embody positive self-esteem, understand the impacts their environments can have on their mental and physical well-being, identify trusted adults in their lives, express feelings healthily, and understand the dynamics that make a healthy relationship, including what appropriate physical contact looks like.
It’s not a question of “culture war.” No one is harmed by learning what it means to respect bodily autonomy.
Inclusive and age-appropriate education around gender and sexuality is actually an incredible opportunity for children to learn that they deserve safety and respect in all areas of their life. Teaching an inclusive curriculum, especially around gender and sexuality, means that our kids get to learn what consent is, exercise their agency, understand that they have a right to their bodies, explore how they see and define themselves, and above all feel empowered and safe in their bodies. This kind of education that centers students’ needs can help them become leaders in their communities.
We all benefit when we encourage a whole generation of people to exercise self-advocacy because it means we’re transforming our culture of violence and apathy towards a culture of respect, healthy relationships and communities, and self-determination which all go a long way to creating a safer world.
We can all agree that children deserve a wealth of support, an abundance of resources, and communities in which they are safe, loved, and nurtured.
But let’s be honest, in many of Connecticut’s cities and towns, this is not happening. Under-resourced districts, underpaid teachers, staff shortages, lack of mental health professionals, and outdated educational tools and curricula mean that we are not doing what is best for our young people. Let’s also consider that schools cannot miraculously protect students from the perils of the “real world.” And often our students directly experience racism, transphobia, homophobia, and sexual and domestic violence, much of which can be measured by adverse childhood experiences. None of these make for a safe learning environment.
The “outrage” of the “influx” of critical race theory (100% not happening in any k-12 school) and LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum is overdramatized. The reality is most schools are simply trying their best with the little resources they have, which means that most schools just don’t have the capacity to get anywhere close to teaching a more inclusive and LGBTQ+ affirming curriculum. The dramatization of this “issue” is done precisely to enrage and mobilize some parents into becoming politically active, in this case, against schoolchildren.
Which brings us to another truth: queer kids exist. Kids who are not white exist. Sometimes, shockingly, kids who are both nonwhite and queer exist. All children, especially students who are queer, of color, or otherwise experience historical marginalization, deserve a nurturing educational environment where they can learn to be their best selves. This means that the threat of dehumanization, whether it’s protesting inclusive curriculum, abandonment, harassment, or victimization, cannot exist anywhere in our communities.
The Trevor Project’s study agrees: LGBTQ+ youth who felt high social support from their families and found their schools and communities to be LGBTQ+ affirming reported significantly lower rates of attempting suicide.
I want to live in a world where not a single kid ever believes that their being is less valid, and their life is not worth existence. It’s only a start to have an inclusive curriculum, but it’s a strong one.
Nanee Sajeev of Trumbull is an Anti-Violence Advocate and member of the Connecticut Mirror’s Community Editorial Board.