Advocates and local politicians held a digital rally on April 22 urging state lawmakers to make sweeping changes to sex education in New York.
Under Senate bill S.2584A and Assembly bill A.06616, schools in New York would be required to teach students in grades K-12 sex education curriculum that is medically accurate, age-appropriate, and LGBTQ-inclusive. Currently, advocates say teachers are failing to teach students comprehensive sex education — and as it stands, the state does not require all schools to teach sex education. The legislation has not yet passed either house to this point.
“Of the public schools that do provide sex education, the curriculum is often inaccurate, incomplete, or biased,” states the bill’s text. “It often fails to prepare students to make healthy, informed, and consensual decisions about relationships. LGBTQ relationships are often stigmatized or ignored entirely. Even basic information about anatomy is inaccurate, and materials often reinforce negative gender stereotypes.”
Improving sex education in schools yields several benefits, including fostering healthy relationships among young adults, reducing anti-LGBTQ bullying and costly sexual health interventions, and protecting students against sexual assault, research shows.
According to the bill’s text, however, school districts are required to create a process for parents to decide if they want to opt their child out of specific lessons on HIV/AIDS prevention — though the justification for that exception was not fully explained. The lead sponsors of the legislation — State Senator Samra G. Brouck of Rochester and Assemblymember Catherine Nolan of Queens — did not respond to questions about that provision.
Furthermore, the bill does not explicitly mention intersex youth, despite calls for increased visibility and awareness of the community’s health rights.
Rachel Geller, director of prevention and policy at the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, an advocacy group to prevent sexual violence, said comprehensive sex education is essential in combatting assault.
“Comprehensive sex education is a vital tool in preventing sexual violence,” Geller said in a written statement. “The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault is dedicated to breaking down harmful gender stereotypes that can often lead to unsafe environments in which sexual violence persists. By teaching students at an early age the importance of respect, consent, and body autonomy, we can empower our young people to engage in healthy relationships and prevent violence from the start.”
Kimberleigh Joy Smith, senior director for community health planning and policy at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, said this information is critical in promoting healthy relationships among school-aged populations.
“We need comprehensive sexual health education to help close the unacceptable gaps in information faced by our young people in New York State today,” Joy Smith said in a written statement. “Comprehensive sexual health education can improve a young person’s emotional and physical health. In addition to offering age-appropriate medical information, inclusive and affirming sex ed will empower the LGBTQ youth we serve at Callen-Lorde and all young people.”
Joy Smith added, “It will go a long way toward creating a culture of consent, preventing bullying and harassment and ultimately improving health outcomes for our kids. I think that’s something we should all get behind.”
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