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What's happening: California school teachers who conduct sexual education classes are now encouraged to address gender identity and to offer advice for LGBTQ teenagers under new guidelines issued by the state's board of education.
The guidelines offer tips on discussing gender identity with children as young as kindergarten. It also includes advice for integrating "gender-neutral and LGBTQ-inclusive language," discussing masturbation and promoting safe sex practices for both straight and LGBTQ students. The new format is not mandatory, but rather intended as a blueprint for schools that choose to use them.
Why there's debate: Advocates for LGBTQ issues have applauded the reforms for providing information to a population of students that is often overlooked in sex ed coursework.
Some parents have complained that the guidelines violate their rights to decide what their children learn about sexuality and when they learn it. Conservative groups have also argued that frank discussions about sex and gender have no place in the classroom.
What's next: California's new guidelines are part of a larger movement taking place in a number of states as policymakers reconsider the standards for teaching sex ed. Colorado's legislature recently passed a bill to mandate "comprehensive" sex ed and bar schools from teaching abstinience-only programs, which are the only type of sex ed programs allowed in several states.
Arizona and Utah recently repealed their so-called no promo homo laws, which banned schools from discussing LGBTQ issues during health courses. Similar laws remain on the books in six other states. Changes to sex ed are taking place in other countries as well. Courses in British schools will include LGBTQ material under new guidelines passed in February.
Excluding LGBTQ issues from sex ed is detrimental to student health
“Removing sexual orientation, biological sex and gender identity language from any framework or curriculum does not erase LGBTQ+ youth from existence. Instead it exacerbates their risk for negative health outcomes and other inequities.” — Kelli Bourne, EdSource
Parents are being left out of deciding what is taught to their kids
“The opinions of parents matter. Sex education is personal and sensitive, evoking diverse medical, moral and religious issues. Everyone has a different opinion about what should be taught to whom and when, and those opinions should be considered when school districts implement a sex education policy.” — Lori Kuykendall, Dallas News
“Parents — not school systems — should hold authority over what their children learn about sexuality and gender and when.” — Maria Keffler, Washington Post
Exclusion from sex ed can be dangerous for the mental health of LGBTQ students
“I knew I didn’t belong when the remainder of my sex education failed to mention LGBTQ people at all. I graduated high school feeling like a statistic — the kid who gets bullied for her sexual orientation, the one who feels suicidal thanks to everyday hatred.” — Erica Lenti, Globe and Mail
Sex ed has no place in schools
“The lessons stomp on childhood innocence, parental authority and teacher rights.” — Rebecca Friedrichs, Orange County Register
Inclusion in sex ed curricula helps LGBTQ students feel accepted
“If I had been given information about the kind of relationships I would later come to be in and given the space to think critically about my gender it would have made my road to self-acceptance a less bumpy one.” — Kennedy Walker, Guardian
A limited view of sexuality leaves kids unprepared
“Sex is like a Cheesecake Factory menu: There are endless options, some you might be interested in trying, some you’re not into and some you might try later. Framing sex as a single activity ― penis-in-vagina intercourse between two consenting heterosexual adults ― isn’t going to cut it anymore.” — Brittany Wong, HuffPost
Leaving sex ed to parents results in kids who are uniformed and unprepared
“Conservatives often frame sex ed as government overreach, arguing that lessons in sexuality and relationships are best provided by parents. But most parents can’t or don’t provide such guidance.” — Andrea Barrica, New York Times