sweet valley high
Just Say Yes

While "our leaders" in mainstream LGBT organizations focus on elections and marriage, the sexual and educational rights of American teenagers – queer and straight – are under attack:

These days, it's almost impossible for a teenager to fuck in peace.
The rise of the Right and the resulting Rightward lean of political discourse in this country has made youth-bashing and fear-mongering fashionable among Republicans and Democrats alike. Conservatives and  liberals blame teenagers – particularly teens of color and those who are women, queer, and/or poor – for a supposed "downward spiral of American values," while privileged teens are purposely mis- and under-educated in the name of "protecting" them. The philosophy is a tired and old one: ignorance is bliss; what they don't know can't hurt them. Only it can.

The attack on young people's rights comes down especially hard on teenagers' rights to know about, and yes, to have, sex. Under the guise of protection, opponents of comprehensive sexuality education (which includes frank, explicit information about safe sex, birth control, masturbation, queerness, abortion, consent, and pleasure) use fictions like "family values" and "traditional family structure" to legislate serious abuses of young bodies and lives. Their "wait-until-marriage" and "only-in-the-home" rhetoric invents a mythical "model family" that is invariably white, upper-middle-class, heterosexual, and Christian, with two parents – a man and a woman – who are married to each other, and two heterosexual kids – who are "waiting until marriage." This mythology attacks sexual diversity and makes queer and otherwise "nontraditional" relationships and sex socially criminal.

The conservative "abstinence-only" (anti-)sex (mis)education curricula that have successfully taken over US schools have in common gaps in information; medical inaccuracies; an exclusive focus on abstinence as the only appropriate choice for adolescents; and sexist, homophobic, and anti-choice biases. Scare tactics are used as the major strategy for encouraging premarital abstinence. These strategies fail miserably to deal with the reality of American teenagers' lives: 77% of teenage girls and 86% of teenage boys have had sex. One in four young people contracts an STD by the age of 21. One in four new HIV infections in the US occurs in someone younger than 22. Transgender, lesbian, bisexual, and gay youth are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts. Obviously, there's a lack of adequate sexuality education and support for young people. Teen sexuality is continually feared and stigmatized; as a result, far too many sexually active teens don't have the necessary information or the means to have protected, pleasurable, consensual sex.

But rather than making sure information about sex is available to teens in their schools, comprehensive sex ed opponents take such information out of the public realm (and consequently out of reach for many teens) by telling us that sex education should be conducted "only in the home." According to such campaigns, most sex is evil – those of us who are unwed, queer, and/or young don't deserve to have sex without negative – and even deadly – consequences.

Frank, explicit information about sex shouldn't be privileged knowledge. People of all ages, races, genders, classes, and orientations are entitled to know about our bodies. We need to know how to protect ourselves from disease and unwanted pregnancy when we have sex we want to have, and how to protect ourselves from sex we don't want.

Queer adults, made complacent by the crumbs of "social acceptance" grudgingly thrown our way, are all too happy to forget the complexity of our own adolescences and to neglect the needs of the next generation. Why  should queer adults care about sex education? Because we were once inadequately sex-educated teenagers, and we want the next generation's experiences to be better. Because keeping sexuality information from teenagers is a policing of bodies and sexualities. Because we want to fight for the rights of all  people, especially those of us who've been fighting systematic oppression and marginalization. And because positive, comprehensive sexuality education for youth today will help to create a more free and open society for all  of us in the future.

Teen sexuality – queer or otherwise – and access to accurate, inclusive information about sex are nothing to be afraid of. What we should  be afraid of is keeping this generation of teenagers in the dark. We should be afraid of adults shirking responsibility for the health and welfare of young people. Teenagers need, and deserve, freedom to talk about their sexual desires, anxieties, practices, and experiences in their primary social and educational context--their junior high and high schools. Queer adults should be at the forefront of the movements toward that freedom, contributing to a supportive environment in which teenagers exercise absolute control over their own sexual and reproductive choices. Queer adults should join forces with those who are working to provide teenagers free access to nationally- and fully-funded safe sex education, condom/latex distribution, abortion, birth control. And finally, queer adults must fight for and with this generation of teenagers until we all  can access resources to help us survive and fight misogyny, homophobia, ageism, classism, and racism; and until queer-bashing, youth-bashing, queer teen suicide, unwanted pregnancies, and HIV are no longer a part of our lives.

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