By Marcia Quackenbush, MS, MFT, MCHES | October 15, 2014
What an amazing experience. Like many of you, I’ve been following the activity on Twitter in support of #AllyWeek. Sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), this event gives us all an opportunity to reflect on the ways we and our organizations are stepping up to give support to LGBT youth.
I’ve been involved in the field of health education long enough to remember a time when even mentioning that LGBTQ students were in our schools and our sexual and reproductive health classes was a radical and courageous act. And I admit I did not always take that courageous path myself when the opportunity presented itself.
This is one of the reasons I am so heartened by the work of GLSEN, PFLAG, GLAAD (celebrating #spiritday on October 16) and all of the other tireless activists who have kept conversations about LGBTQ youth going over the past 35 years or so. I am grateful they have given each of us plenty of opportunities to join in.
In 2012, I was honored to work with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, City of New York, and staff from the New York City Department of Education (including Betty Rothbart, a truly outstanding advocate and educator) to develop a supplement to Reducing the Risk (RTR). RTR is, to date, the best-proven evidence-based program addressing prevention of pregnancy and STD/HIV among teens. It is widely used in schools across the nation. The supplement provides background, training and classroom activities that help teachers build greater inclusiveness for LGBTQ students in RTR classes.
Response to the RTR supplement was so enthusiastic, ETR used it as a model for a second supplement designed to work with any sexual and reproductive health program geared towards teens.
Creating inclusive classrooms is vital for LGBTQ youth. Compared with heterosexual students, LGBTQ students have a range of elevated risks in sexual behaviors, experience of harassment and victimization, mental health challenges, substance use and abuse, and academic function. Inclusive curricula which offer positive representations of LGBTQ people, history and events appear to reduce some of these risks.
All of us feel better when we are recognized as part of a community. Helping students feel connected to and part of their school sets a foundation for greater academic and personal success. I hope you’ll join me in speaking up, standing up, and doing all we can to create a safe world for LGBTQ youth.