photo by Martin Greffe

Every time a young person ends up having sex they feel ambiguous about because they haven’t learned how to say no, I have failed.  Every time a young person contracts HIV due to lack of knowledge, I have failed.  Every time a young person is bullied or ostracised because he or she is gay, I have failed.  Every time a young person kills herself or himself because of any of these issues, I have really, really failed.

I failed a lot this year.

But so has every other adult.  It is our duty and our responsibility, each and every one of us, to help keep young people from the physical and emotional harm that simple education can .  This includes physical and emotional harm from all sorts of issues, but sexuality is right up there.  And we are failing on a dramatic scale.

Our massive collective failure can only be understood in terms of little failures happening every day, all around us.  Most of these failures should be thought of in terms of sexuality education.  When a young person says “That’s so gay” or calls someone a slut or a ho or a cunt or slaps someone’s ass in the hallways and the adults around miss their teachable moment, that is a failure.

It’s hard to catch these moments as they happen, and respond effectively and immediately.  It’s hard, even as an adult, to stop young people from their playful interactions and bring the gravity that the interactions well deserve.

Today I am feeling particular pain over the vast disservice we are doing to our youth by teaching them that gay men and women are second class citizens.  We are teaching young people that gay men and women should not have the right to be sexual (through a combination of abstinence-only-until-marriage propaganda combined with laws denying their rights to marriage) and are so damaged that they are not allowed in the military (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the overturning of which was filibustered in the Senate).

Young people learn their hateful, bullying words from adults using them in political and personal discussions.  Young people learn their hateful, bullying feelings towards themselves from adults and peers alike.

This is our fault.  I take responsibility for the pain that happens in my community because a young person has not had someone reach out to them and say, “You’re okay, just as you are.”  I take responsibility for the lack of education young people experience every day.  I take responsibility for reaching out and starting the conversations and making a difference in the world of each young person who crosses my path.  I take responsibility for not letting those teachable moments pass me by.

I hope you will take responsibility too.  If enough of us do it, we can change the world!

Some resources for teachers, parents, and youth:

Welcome Schools – An LGBT-inclusive approach to addressing family diversity, gender stereotyping, and name-calling in K-5 learning environments.

Think B4 You Speak – This campaign aims to raise awareness about the prevalence and consequences of anti-LGBT bias and behavior in America’s schools. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce and prevent the use of homophobic language in an effort to create a more positive environment for LGBT teens. The campaign also aims to reach adults, including school personnel and parents; their support of this message is crucial to the success of efforts to change behavior.

It Gets Better Project – This is a project organized by the sex-advice columnist Dan Savage.  From Dan’s column about Billy Lucas:

“Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother’s property. He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates—classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body…. I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.

“But gay adults aren’t allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don’t bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.

“Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.”