LGBTQ Community: We Need Updated Health Curriculum

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“LGBTQ adolescents face well-documented health disparities in suicide risk, substance use, and sexual health. These disparities are known to stem, in part, from stigma directed toward LGBTQ youth in the form of minority stressors such as violence, discrimination, and harassment. Given the proportion of time that LGBTQ students spend in school, schools provide a critical context within which protective factors may be developed and leveraged to improve the health and wellbeing of these populations.”

US National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health

It was about two years ago when the itinerant health teachers Naa Lomoley Sahin and Hannah Malcolm saw the first signs that LGBTQ issues needed to become part of the health curriculum they teach. There were students who emailed Sahin asking her to call them in a certain way; some students were making suggestions to the lessons that would imply that they were interested in more gender inclusivity.

Both teachers had already been including LGBTQ related topics into their lessons to various degrees. Malcolm used Advocates for Youth “Three R” curriculum materials when teaching social-emotional units. N. Sahin would try to open up a discussion of the lesson topic to include gender identity issues any time it was appropriate. They both knew that a more comprehensive approach was needed.

And that approach started emerging during the discussions held this January at the PE, Health, and Athletics Department. They were initiated by teachers Erin Michaud (L. W. Beecher Museum Magnet School of Arts and Sciences) and David Weinreb (Elm City Montessori School, pictured), the representatives of the City of New Haven LGBTQ+ Youth Task Force. It is a broad coalition of teachers, health professionals, youth-serving organizations, and LGBTQ+ advocates who “strive to build an affirming community and empower all NHV LGBTQ+ youth with resources and advocacy to lead healthy, open, safe, and meaningful lives.” The Task Force has done some deep and broad listening, and believes that the existing Michigan Model curriculum is insufficiently providing all students with honest LGBTQ-affirming health information and the resources and opportunities necessary to create sexual health equity for all youth. The Task Force developed and presented a proposal to update the curriculum.

david weinreb

Here are students’ opinions on the situation. Elisa Cruz (’22) from Career High school thinks that since the existing health curriculum is geared towards heterosexual relationships, for the LGBTQ+ youth “it just gives them knowledge that is not useful for them. In a heteronormative society knowledge about safe heterosexual sex is not inaccessible. In comparison, it is more difficult to gain knowledge about safe LGBTQ+ sex. What better place to learn more about a topic than school itself”. Assata Johnson (’22), also from Career school, is concerned by the lack of transparency in covering health related issues specific to LGBTQ students, and deficient curriculum: “We can break the idea in which straight is “default” and “normal”. The school curriculum needs to stop walking on eggshells around this topic”.

The Task Force have pointed to the excellent curricular resources that encompass essential LGBTQ-inclusive lessons, such as Advocates for Youth, Amaze and GLSEN materials (see the links below). All three entities offer materials that meet national standards in health education for K-12 students, and the Task Force has been advocating in partnership with the PE, Health, and Athletics Department for including these materials into the existing health curriculum taught in the district. They see a need for safer school environments, where lessons that avoid bias and include positive representations of LGBTQ people, history, and events are taught. For LGBTQ students, attending a school with an inclusive curriculum is related to less-hostile experiences and increased feelings of connectedness to the community (From GLSEN's 2019 National Climate Survey).

The proposal was presented at the Board of Education Learning Committee meeting and was approved. The next steps will include introducing the new materials during teachers’ professional development days for them to get acquainted with the new resources and proposed evolution of the curriculum.

To learn more about the City of New Haven’s LGBTQ Youth Task Force, contact nhvlgbtq@gmail.com.

While the discussions on the inclusion of the LGBTQ topics into the existing curriculum are ongoing, the City of New Haven’s LGBTQ Youth Task Force, New Haven Pride Center, Citywide Youth Coalition, and New Haven's Youth and Recreation Department offer the following summer opportunities for our youth:

Applications are available until May 21st.

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LGBTQ inclusive health education materials can be found here:

Advocates for Youth website:

https://3rs.org/3rs-curriculum/3rs-curric-search

Amaze website:

https://amaze.org/what-is-amaze

GLSEN website:

https://www.glsen.org

 

Photos by Lucy Gellman and Chris Peak.