OPINION: Referendum 90 Will Provide Youth With Needed Sex Education and Resources I Wish I’d Had

by Deaunte Damper

I grew up in the South End of Seattle. I always felt like I had to be silent about who I was as a person. I didn’t have an opportunity to be an openly queer male. I didn’t receive any validation growing up and didn’t have the education I needed when it came to this subject, especially when it came to my identity. My community, in which I was enmeshed, was heavily church-led and infused with a stigma around homosexuality.  

When I was 8 years old, I was molested. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself. I did not know what sexual consent even entailed. I lost a piece of my innocence that I can never get back. My community did not give a little boy like me the language or understanding of consent, my rights as a human being, and/or assistance in my healing. A lot of issues that needed to be addressed were swept underneath the rug with little to zero accountability. This is why I support Referendum 90, a measure on our ballots we need to approve. Referendum 90 would ensure every student has access to sex education and the tools and language to ask for help from caring adults. 

At the age of thirteen I identified myself as queer. However, I never said the words, per se, due to there not being a safe space to share. I moved to Florida and tried to find myself. I overcompensated sexually because I didn’t know who I was as a person. That integrity I felt I possessed as a child was stolen along with my innocence.

In high school, we didn’t receive any culturally relevant information about sexual orientation, risky behavior, or how to engage in safe sexual activities. When I heard about Arthur Ashe contracting HIV, that was the first time I realized the impact that this virus could have on the Black community.

If I had been educated about sexual risk and health disparities that afflicted my community, my life could have taken a different path. In 2013, when diagnosed HIV positive, I was twenty-seven years old. The person who let me know that HIV was going to change my life was my mother who said, “Don’t you claim that narrative.”  

It wasn’t until later I learned that one out of every two Black men in this space — queer Black males — is HIV positive. I also learned there were so many other people whose innocence was taken away from them at a young age due to sexual abuse, just like me. 

The trauma I have had to overcome was not just about my orientation and my Black skin but more about my integrity as an individual. I made the decision to be transparent about the life I’ve lived and have decided to reclaim my narrative due to leaders like state senator Claire Wilson. Wilson is the first openly gay lawmaker in the state senate, and she is making these conversations possible. This year, Senator Wilson led the initiative to improve sex education and ensure these essential tools and information could be accessed by all young people no matter what school they attended.  

That’s why I was so upset when I heard opponents of sex education had gathered signatures — during the COVID outbreak! They are attempting to block the new, updated law that would teach the critical concepts of consent and bystander training and give young kids more social and emotional learning tools and language to identify and manage feelings, develop healthy friendships, and find a trusted adult to talk to. But we have a chance to make sure the state’s new and improved sex education is made available to all students by voting to approve Referendum 90.  

Approving Referendum 90 will send the message that we believe kids deserve the language and the knowledge to protect themselves, to hold people accountable, and to have the opportunity to live full, safe, and healthy lives. Children are our future. If we give them a passport to the future, we must protect our babies — we need them to know what consent is and that nobody is allowed to take their innocence.

We have young kids growing up in our communities who identify as queer. Our young, gifted allies in this space can give students the information they need to understand their peers and classmates. This would stop the bullying and save kids like me from living in isolation and hiding from themselves on a daily basis. 

To me, voting for Referendum 90 to approve sex education is just as essential as voting for the next president. Addressing health disparities is key to equity, and it’s minority communities who are most impacted due to lack of information that leads to disease like HPV and HIV. Our youth, our families, and our communities need to have the curriculum to have conversations about sexual health, risk factors, and the need to be transparent about where they are at. 

Sex education does not make our children grow up faster. It will make sure they grow up smarter. Instead of growing up like I did, struggling to overcome trauma, I want to ensure the kids of tomorrow know exactly what can impact them. I want kids of tomorrow to know exactly what consent entails, how to hold people accountable for their actions, and to have access to the tools to deal with their trauma. 

It’s time to stop pretending that our young, Black, trans and non-gender conforming children are not in spaces where people are taking their innocence. It’s time to stop sweeping these wrongs under the rug. Join me in voting to approve Referendum 90, because sex education is one of the best tools we can give our youth to stay safe and healthy.

Deaunte Damper serves as the LGBTQ Chair of the Seattle Chapter of the NAACP, LGBTQ liaison for the City of Seattle, and BSU advisor for Rainier Beach High School and is teaching about HIV and sexual health in Seattle Public Schools.

The featured image is attributed to Leo-Sata under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.