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Health News Florida

Let's Talk About Sex Ed In Miami-Dade, Say Activists

A Miami-Dade low-income advocacy group is trying to expand sexual education for students in the county's schools.

The Miami Worker's Center launched a Sex Ed survey this week for Miami-Dade high school students. The survey is the first step in shaping and eventually implementing a comprehensive sexual education curriculum for students in Miami-Dade County.

WLRN's Lisann Ramos spoke to Lutze Segu, the gender justice organizer for The Miami Worker's Center, about the initiative.

WLRN: Tell us, what is this campaign is about?

I am currently gender organizer and my role is to create consensus around trying to shift policy to get comprehensive sex dducation into Miami-Dade County public schools that's age appropriate from K-through-12.

We launched a sex ed survey that is open to all young people who attend a Miami-Dade County public high school. What we are trying to do is to collect data and find out what are young people being taught,  how they feel about what what they were taught, what ideally they would like to learn about sex and sexuality.

What does  comprehensive sex education mean?

First of all, we're looking at it as a human rights issue. All people have bodies, all people should know what their bodies entail. And if some folks want to engage in sexual practices, how do they go about doing that in a way that doesn't put them and other people at risk?

So comprehensive sex ed means how we talk about sex in a way that doesn't only take into account heterosexual folks. It would also take into account transgender young people, gender nonconforming people, young people with visible and invisible disabilities, etc. 

We would tell them that, if they want to engage in sexual practices, this is how we do it. These are the body parts, this is what they do, this is what they look like, those kinds of things. We’d be talking about something that's science-based, something that’s rooted in values and is rooted in folk’s humanity and dignity.

We’d keep in mind that there are diverse people and diverse bodies and those diverse people and diverse bodies engage with their bodies in various different ways.

Comprehensive also means we're not just saying abstinence only. Abstinence is a tool, but in the past it’s been taught to our young people in a way as if it's the tool box. So it's one of those things that they can do. However, if they choose to have sex, there are the other options as well. And we also want to take into account that not all people want to have sex. There are asexual young people and so they may not want to have sex. But it still behooves us to educate them on their bodies.

There are certain parents or guardians that won't really allow their kids to have a sexual education. So what kind of backlash do you expect on wanting to expand it further?

Actually, I don't expect a lot of backlash at all. A survey from a while ago shows that a vast majority, more than 50 percent of parents in South Florida, actually do believe that school is an appropriate place for their young person to learn about sex. So we don't expect any backlash. Science already tells us that young people are doing something by seventh grade. If you try to have the conversation with them at that point, you're kind of too late.

We know that South Florida and Miami-Dade County is the leading place for HIV infection. Looking at the demographics of people, those are young people being infected. I think it's safe to say that a lack of comprehensive sex ed could very well be a representative in the amount of infection rates that we have.

You want sex ed from kindergarten to 12th grade. What does that look like?

It’s about talking to little people about what's appropriate to touch and their bodies. Who's allowed to touch them and who’s not allowed to touch them. Unfortunately child sexual abuse is something that is very common. So how do we use education as a form of normalizing consent? Normalizing what is appropriate, what's not appropriate and such.

So at that age, talking about how we don't need to separate young boys and girls because even in kindergarten level we can have young people who are coming out and into their own knowledge about being trans or gender nonconforming.

So teaching young people to start to be tolerant of the differences that are among them. At that age they're already seeing differences in skin color and differences between boys and girls and just adding this info into their toolbox.

We also want to be able to inform them how they as little people can advocate and let folks know if something inappropriate is happening. This could stop inappropriate behavior before it goes too long.

Science already tells us what different age groups are thinking and feeling, so comprehensive sex ed speaks to their particular age group [about] what they can handle. We want to be able to build upon that each year because when you start talking about it to a high-schooler. At that point a lot could have happened.

We want to normalize it before it gets that far. Everyone has a body, everyone has body parts and different various levels of our engagement with our bodies. We just want to start adding to young people's education about their bodies.

Where would the education be incorporated?

Now you're talking about implementation. So I don't know. Do you create a new course? Is it part of extended biology? Some schools teach it in health.

But that’s definitely putting the cart before the horse because we haven't even gotten to a place where we have the actual policy. If it were something that the school board mandated, we could get to the place of figuring out where within the curriculum it should fit.

We do have data that says it’s sometimes better if it’s a semester-long course. But it all depends on whether we have the political will to make this happen. And if we do, then let's talk implementation because Broward County has implemented this [in its science courses].

Broward is up the street from us. So they can do it there, they can do it in Dade County. It's the fourth largest school system in the United States. That's a lot of young people that we are responsible for educating, and we have to agree that it's we who are responsible for educating them about their body.

Miami-Dade County Public high school students can take  The Miami Worker's Center Sex Ed survey online or contact The Miami Worker's Center for a hard copy. 

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