by Aisha Hauser
COVID-19 is making the 2020-2021 school year incredibly challenging for parents, teachers, and students. These groups have been asked to create, participate in, and support a new way of learning exclusively online, while caring for their own families during a global pandemic. But just as important as ensuring our students keep learning academic essentials, it is also our responsibility to ensure they are provided with the knowledge and tools they need to stay safe and to live healthy lives.
Sex education is one proven way to do this, and we are fortunate that our state has provided comprehensive age-appropriate sex education guidelines to schools for more than 15 years. However, only 60% of schools were making health and sex education curriculum accessible to students, leaving thousands of kids in the dark. Earlier this year, the state legislature passed a bill to strengthen the guidelines, making sex education accessible to all students no matter what zip code they lived in, and improving the curriculum to include valuable lessons on consent, bystander training, and inclusivity.
This spring, during the height of the coronavirus outbreak when we were all supposed to be staying home and staying safe, a group funded by Republican leaders called Parents for Safe Schools gathered signatures to put Washington’s sex education law up for a vote on the statewide ballot as Referendum 90.
I have joined with over 100 faith leaders across our state to speak up and urge voters to approve Referendum 90. No matter what zip code they live in, every student deserves access to critical social and emotional learning, information about human development, and tools to build healthy relationships. Signed by faith leaders of several faith traditions including Evangelical, Methodist, Baptist, Protestant, Jewish, United Church of Christ, and Unitarian Universalist, this joint statement serves as testimony to widespread public support for providing the knowledge and tools Washington youth need for safe and healthy futures.
Comprehensive, accurate, and age-appropriate sexuality education is essential to creating a more equitable society. When children and youth learn early how to treat themselves and others with respect while learning about their bodies, they are learning how to be empathetic and compassionate toward others. This is especially important in fostering compassion and care for those who are part of the LGTBQ and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities.
Young children are inundated with messages about gender and sexuality. These expectations are often unhealthy at best and can be rooted in misogyny, racism, heteronormativity, and patriarchy. Understanding what is biologically accurate will help create a shared reality at a young age. Our transgender siblings are targeted due to society’s lack of understanding of the biology of being a transgender person, which can result in discrimination and even death.
As a trainer for the Our Whole Lives, a sex affirming and sex positive program offered in Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ congregations all over the U.S. and Canada, I have witnessed the power of sex education to inspire healthier lives, mutual respect, and human dignity. My work with The Lead Ministry Team with the Church of Larger Fellowship includes education for over 1,200 incarcerated Unitarian Universalists and demonstrates the power of healthy, informed sexuality as a building block to a more just and equitable society.
Growing up in a sexually unhealthy and uninformed environment, I have experienced personally the negative ripple effect that lack of accurate information can have on how we see ourselves and how we treat others. I was raised in a fundamentalist religious home where the only sexuality education communicated was: Do not have sex before marriage because a woman’s worth comes through her virginity. There was no other information given to me with regards to the biology of our bodies.
Systemic racism and structural inequities result in health disparities such as Black youth disproportionately facing reproductive and sexual health challenges. For example, the pregnancy rate for Black teens has been 2.5 times higher than that of white teens.
I will vote to approve Referendum 90 because of my own difficult experience having to unlearn harmful messages about sexuality. But also because today, I’m the proud parent of two young adults who have learned about healthy sexuality and are much more equipped to navigate decision making in a holistic, informed way. Our kids deserve to have the information and tools they need to protect themselves and to live healthy lives. Understanding human development, how to identify and report inappropriate behavior, how to give and receive consent, and develop in sexually healthy, positive ways is critical to their futures.
Aisha Hauser, she/her/hers, MSW, is a self proclaimed LOUD TALKER, both literally and figuratively. Hauser is resident of Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood, and a religious educator, facilitator, author, and advocate of equity and justice. Hauser also serves as President of the Liberal Religious Educators Association and is a member of the Lead Ministry Team with the Church of the Larger Fellowship.
Photo courtesy of Planned Parenthood & the Approve 90 campaign)