By Adrian Nava (18 years old) and Scarlett Jimenez (18 years old)
Colorado Youth CREATE Council Members
As educators, advocates, and allies of sexual health, we often ask ourselves why we are still having conversations about the implementation and support of comprehensive sexuality education for young people across the nation. For a lot of us, the issue of reproductive rights and justice is one that hits very close to home. As advocates, our stories and personal experiences hold immense power in our work. They allow us to break down barriers when interacting with others, and to create room for meaningful human connections and a space to share why we are so passionate about the work we do.
We share our stories with the hope that we will create awareness and support for comprehensive sex education. Having personal stories that reflect a lack of inclusion of all sexual orientations, or lack of information about healthy relationships and self–esteem, we – Scarlett and Adrian – understand and are optimal examples of why sexual health education is essential for all youth. During our years in advocacy, we have both been exposed to a world of possibilities, and have actively participated in various levels of advocacy.
From local to national participation, both of us have had the opportunity to express ourselves as young people. During the 2013 legislative session at Colorado’s State Capitol, we were actively involved in advocating for the passage of House Bill 1081, what has become known as Colorado’s “updated sex ed law.” We wanted to make sure that young people’s voices and concerns were included throughout the process. As part of CREATE, a youth advocacy council sponsored by Colorado Youth Matter and Advocates for Youth, we testified in favor of the bill during committee hearings and organized a youth advocacy day, which brought more than 230 youth to the capitol to speak to their legislators about the importance of passing laws that increase access to comprehensive sex education.
I consider myself an advocate not only for programs and policies that promote youth sexual health, but for change founded on social justice principles. As an advocate, a person of color, and someone who identifies as gay, I remember sitting in a crowded 7th grade health class during my glorious awkward pre-pubescent years, asking myself what the ladies at the front of the room were talking about. It turns out that these women were teaching the girls how to say “NO” to males who would only want to have sex with females. I then realized that this uncomfortable discussion was actually part of a “sexual health” class. Yikes! This situation was uncomfortable not only because I did not know what sexual health education looked like, but because I was being targeted as a male. I was expected to insist on having sexual intercourse with women. I was ultimately astonished and speechless at the sexist, and judgmental tone that was being set within a classroom environment.
As a student, I was genuinely eager to learn about what was going on inside of my body and mind. But after much talk about “male and female relationships,” I asked the teachers if it was possible for two boys to be together, and the teachers ignored my question and moved on to talk about the importance of abstaining from having sex.
I began to feel like it was wrong to ask that question – which meant that something about me was wrong, since I was attracted to people of the same gender as me. The following day, my peers and I participated in an activity in which one person was assigned to be a person with “AIDS.” To my surprise, that person was me. I learned later that gay men are stereotyped as having HIV, which only deteriorated my self-esteem and self-love because I was not exposed to positive messages about LGBT people.
My negative experience of feeling ignored and stigmatized in the classroom is the reason I became actively involved in advocacy work for increased access to comprehensive sex education. I was made to feel ashamed of being gay, which harmed my emotional health for a long period of time. I wish I could have received comprehensive, inclusive, medically accurate, age-appropriate information about my body and mind – but I didn’t.
However, just because my school did not provide me with that education, it does not mean that future generations should not have access. I am completely in love with my advocacy work and impacting my generation, for the better. I find empowerment through making my voice heard and mobilizing young people to speak about and advocate for their sexual health.
I am an advocate for comprehensive sex education and reproductive rights and justice for young people, because I believe that the issues at hand should be considered as part of our basic human rights. I believe that young people should have the right to have access to accurate information about their bodies. Furthermore, youth deserve the opportunity to develop the life skills that are included in comprehensive sexuality education. I believe that my high school experience would have been a much happier and more successful time had that been included as part of my education.
On a daily basis, young women are bombarded with highly sexualized messages from the media that dictate the social norms. I think that it is absolutely essential for young women to learn that these messages are disempowering and are not actual expectations of women. All youth, regardless of their gender, deserve to hear that they are much more valuable than the media depicts them. High school is such a hectic and overwhelming stage for teens. Oftentimes, teens do not receive much needed positive and empowering messages about themselves or young people in general. I know that for myself, low sense of self-worth and a lack of basic sexual health information and the ability to communicate with my partner led me into an unsafe relationship and a very hard time in my life.
I am an advocate for comprehensive sexuality education, and all that it entails, because now I have a vision for future generations. Creating access to comprehensive sex education can inform and support youth to be empowered, inclusive, educated, compassionate, communicative, strong, and driven by their identified passions and goals.
See the authors testify in support of Colorado’s sex education law here.
The authors of this blog are members of Colorado Youth Matter’s Youth Advocacy Council, Colorado Youth CREATE. CREATE Council members work to Change, Respond to, Engage, Advocate for, Transform and Empower their peers on issues related to sexual health, access to comprehensive sex education and promoting social justice in communities across Colorado. Colorado Youth Matter provides a platform and encourages Council members to share their perspectives and personal experiences as young people working to improve youth sexual health. To learn more about CREATE and how you can support their efforts today, please visit Colorado Youth Matter’s CREATE homepage.