Debra Haffner, minister, sexologist, and Executive Director of the Religious Institute, just wrote a post called "Adults are the problem with teen sexuality." I couldn't agree more. For very recent evidence she cites the fake prom in Mississippi, the threat by Wisconsin DA Scott Southworth to charge educators with crimes if they teach the state's sex ed curriculum, and the Catholic Church's ongoing inability to formulate a helpful response to the sex abuse scandal in its own ranks.
And then instead of focusing on the critical she turns it around and tells us what she wants teens to be able to expect from adults who are truly looking out for them:
What do I want teens (and the adults who care for them) to know? That forming a sexual identity is a developmental task of adolescents. That adults need to support the teen virgins and the teens who engage in sexual behaviors. That truth telling should be the hallmark of all of our programs. That adults will do everything they can to protect youth from abusive adults, regardless of profession. That young people have the right to ask questions and a right to have answers. That they deserve our respect and our support as they become adults.
Those are among the smartest words I've read about how we should be addressing the developmental needs of teens. At a time when others, guided by moral panic, are focused on keeping information away from teens Haffner understands what they really need: support, truth, trust and respect.
I'm glad there are people of faith out there who understand that sexuality is not an awful thing from which we need protection but rather a part of being human and something we need to cultivate and understand.
According to The Advocate, and the young woman herself:
To avoid Constance McMillen bringing a female date to her prom, the teen was sent to a "fake prom" while the rest of her class partied at a secret location at an event organized by parents.
McMillen tells The Advocate that a parent-organized prom happened behind her back — she and her date were sent to a Friday night event at a country club in Fulton, Miss., that attracted only five other students. Her school principal and teachers served as chaperones, but clearly there wasn't much to keep an eye on.
According to an AP News story a school district in Mississippi has canceled its senior prom rather than let a lesbian in a tuxedo attend with her female partner. Because they were not allowed to discriminate and keep the two young women out they decided to keep everybody out and just shut down the event. In other words, homophobia and heterosexism are being used to keep straight kids from having their quintessential high school ritual. And they ought to be furious.
Their fury should be directed at the Itwamba County school district, not at Constance McMillen and her partner. All they did was stand up for their rights to attend together as other couples may, and to dress as they wanted, as other couples do. In fact, they only intended to dress in exactly the same types of outfits as other couples. (I'm sure the school board wouldn't have been any happier had they wanted to each wear a prom gown.)
I applaud Constance's parents for supporting her and telling her to return to school after the decision, retaining her pride in who she is and in the knowledge that her courage in standing up for her rights will help others who come after her. Many of us are not so brave.
I am disgusted by the bigotry and small-mindedness of the Itawamba County School Board. When the option of discrimination was taken off the table they chose to deny everyone their prom experience just to make certain that the lesbian couple were denied their rights. The only way to rightfully discriminate against Constance and her partner was to punish the straight kids too. So that's what they did.
Constance's classmates ought to be applauding her courage and they ought to turn their anger against the school district demanding that the prom be held and that it be open to all students. Better yet, they ought to organize a prom themselves, with freedom, equality and acceptance as their themes.
There's a saying in the labor movement: An injury to one is an injury to all. This story is powerful evidence that the truth of that statement goes well beyond labor rights.
Two nights ago someone (or some group) vandalized the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth Center (LIGALY). The front door was shattered as were the windows on the van that LIGALY uses to help teenagers get to the Center for meetings and social events. Nothing was stolen. It was clearly an act intended to send a message rather than for any kind of personal gain.
LIGALY (pronounced "legally") is one of my favorite Long Island organizations. It was started by David Kilmnick, who I'm proud to say is a friend of mine. He began with nothing but an idea for a project as he worked toward his Masters in Social Work and built one of the most powerful and wide-reaching LGBT organizations on the Island. (He also got his Doctorate in Social Work along the way.) LIGALY now serves not only young people but also LGBT seniors, offering social, educational, and support services. Its Safe Schools Initiative helps counter homophobia in schools, and offers organizing assistance to students wanting to start or maintain Gay Straight Alliances in their schools.
The good news is that there has been an enormous show of support for LIGALY. David reports thatthere have been phone calls, blog entries, news stories, and even a letter from Governor Paterson. Most importantly just since yesterday there have been enough donations to help get the Center's door fixed and its van back in service.And then there's the bad news.
The story in last Thursday's New York Times began:
Twenty-one sexually exploited children have been saved from the streets, and 389 people arrested on charges of trafficking children for prostitution, in what the Federal Bureau of Investigation calls the largest such multistate sweep ever, officials said Wednesday.
The five-day operation, this week and last, spanned 16 cities and involved hundreds of local, state and federal agencies in the work of rescuing missing children, many of them runaways, and identifying networks behind domestic child trafficking for the sex trade. (Susan Saulny, "Hundreds Seized in Sweep Against Child Prostitution" June 26 2008)
Thanks to Feministing I learned about Condom Awareness Week before the week was quite over. In any case, as a result of that post I surfed over to the Advocates for Youth condom campaign page where they've got lots of great "e-cards" promoting condom use. This is one of my favorites, but click here to see the whole page. Send one to someone you love!
In fact, what a great way to start that safer sex conversation you've been meaning to have!
Also, click here for their "Rights. Respect. Responsibility." Condom Art Contest, whose mission is:
to normalize discussion about safer sex, to provide science-based information about the effectiveness of condoms, and to increase partner communication about using condoms for those who are sexually active.
Certainly that's a mission we support here!
And here is a page of links to stories by teens about buying condoms, using them, and about the need for self-protection.
Via two of my favorite blogs yesterday I learned about some kids who really put the lie to the assumption that teens are too immature to handle clear conversation about sex.
First, from Jessica at Feministing I learned about two 8th grade girls who, to protest their school's teaching abstinence only sex ed wore t-shirts that had condoms pinned to them, and the words "Safe Sex or No Sex" written across the front. They were suspended for two days for causing a distraction and dressing inappropriately.
Missing the excitement of all those awards shows that you'd be enthralled by right now if it weren't for the intransigence of the Producers association? This contest is way better: Teens and young adults making videos demonstrating the need for improved sex ed programs.
You know that I've long argued in favor of age-appropriate comprehensive sex education for kids starting in elementary school and working through high school. You also know that's a hard sell in a nation that increases funds abstinence-only sex ed even while states are rejecting the money and even though research shows it to be ineffective.
To help spread the message about how necessary comprehensive sex ed is, and also about how bad a lot of the sex ed that teens now receive can be, RH Reality Check in partnership with SIECUS, Isis Inc., Advocates for Youth and the National Sexuality Resource Center sponsored a video contest. Young people were invited to send in short videos describing their sex ed experiences or envisioning the kind of sex ed they think is best.
The top 10 videos are posted here and you can vote for your favorite until January 16.