News (USA)

Arizona schools are failing to provide sex education & homophobia is to blame

Exhausted teacher in the classroom in fron of the blackboard. Back to school concept.
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At least eight Arizona school districts offer no sexual education, using opposition to LGBTQ+ issues as an excuse, LOOKOUT reports.

Investigators analyzed the sexual education curriculum of 18 public schools across rural, suburban, and urban areas of the state, reaching out to school officials from each district. Of the 18 public schools that were analyzed, eight of them were found to have no sexual education policies and are especially lacking in provisions for LGBTQ+ students. These districts are Gita Bend, Duncan, Parker, Heber-Overgaard, Kingman, Ganado, Nogales, and Scottsdale. 

“Arizona sex education needs to change because sexual health disparities are pretty grave in our state,” Courtney Waters, an assistant research professor at the University of Arizona, told LOOKOUT. “Sexual health outcomes are bad across the state for youth, but we see it specifically among LGBTQ+ youth.”

These districts collectively represent over 37,000 students across the state.

They’re able to justify this lack of policy due to the bureaucratic loopholes. Initiating a sex education policy in a school requires a great deal of paperwork as well as district meetings, public forums, parental guidance, and administrative oversight. However, this can be tossed aside if it’s decided that sex education isn’t in the “community interest.”

Moreover, many school districts aren’t ready to handle the “concerned parents” and “the storm or frenzy” that would be caused by “teaching affirming and inclusive sexual health education,” according to Nate Rhoton, CEO of One-in-Ten, an LGBTQ+ youth advocacy organization. Some districts “walked away” from creating the curricula as a result, he said.

Additionally, schools that have a sexual education curriculum are often lacking in what they offer, with many districts providing insufficient education in regard to sexually transmitted infections and LGBTQ+ health.

This problem can be attributed to conservative backlash to the 2019 repeal of Arizona’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, also known as “No Promo Homo,” which restricted the sexual education curriculum of schools regarding HIV and AIDS due to their perceived association with homosexuality.

This approach is especially harmful in Arizona, where there is a 30% greater chance that residents will have a sexually transmitted disease. There is also a 65% higher rate of unintentional pregnancies within Arizona compared to the national average.

Better sexual health curricula have been demonstrated to reduce the risks of sexually transmitted infections and risky sexual behavior.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that “comprehensive sexuality education should be… providing information about normal reproductive development, contraception (including long-acting reversible contraception methods) to prevent unintended pregnancies, as well as barrier protection to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs).”

They also emphasize that sexual education should “begin in early childhood and continue through a person’s lifespan” and should include discussions about LGBTQ+ individuals.

However, while programs in schools are currently lacking, there are organizations in Arizona providing comprehensive sexual education outside of schools.

One-in-Ten organizes monthly classes for LGBTQ+ youth and families through their “SexFYI” program, run in conjunction with Affirm and the Maricopa County Health Department.

Southwest Institute for Research on Women works with Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation and El Rio Health to provide a program called “Spectrum+” that also aims to fill in the gaps from schooling.

Arizona sex educator Hannah Woelke said of the lack of adequate sexual education in Arizona schools, “Everyone knows it’s a problem. Parents know, teachers know. But nobody has the stomach to really do anything about it because it’s such a fight.”

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