Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What's SexEd Got to Do With It?

Is it OK for us to finally catch our breaths? There's just been so much Nevada Legislature news lately that it's been difficult to keep up with it all. But yesterday, another important bill was heard.

This time, it was AB 230. And fortunately, The Sin City Siren was there to cover what happened. Here's a taste.

Of course, it was no surprise that a hearing about comprehensive sex education would be controversial or even draw a crowd. The conservative, anti-sex-ed crowd —a surprisingly homogenous, lily white, and largely grey haired group —was there in force. One proud grandmother boasted driving in from Pahrump to give her testimony. Alrighty then. Indeed, there were many proud grandparents on the anti side of the room. (I’ve got nothing against grandparents, but there were an awful lot on the anti side.) Many wore their religion like a banner and brandished it like a weapon, intent on cutting out the very heart of sex education in Nevada.

“Strike the whole thing. I am against sex education!” was spoken by more than one in the opposition.

On the other side of the aisle was a more diverse group with people of color, LGBT individuals, students, parents, teachers, at least one clergy member, and even a few grey hairs sprinkled in the mix. I was proud to sit next to Northwest Community Church’s Rev. Greg Davis, who was the first in Las Vegas to testify in favor of AB230. (Full disclosure, I am a member of NCC.) Committee Chairman, Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, was taken so by surprise to see a clergy member speaking in favor, he interrupted to ask if Rev. Davis was, in fact, speaking in opposition.

“No. I’m for this bill. I’m for sex education,” Rev. Davis replied.

Just before the hearing opened up to those in Las Vegas, we watched some truly powerful testimony by people who shared their experience with intimate trauma as a result of a lack of education on healthy relationships, violence in relationships, and what consent to sex means (and how a lack of consent is the hallmark of sexual assault, or rape).

Assemblywoman Lucy Flores gave tearful, raw testimony about growing up in a family of girls who got pregnant as teens. When she found herself pregnant at 16, she went to her father to get money to have an abortion, something she said she had never admitted publicly before. Flores’ story is just another thread in an amazing story of redemption that found a former gang member turn good by getting her GED, then law degree, and who now works as a state legislator. She described being raised, one of 13 children, by a single father after her mother walked out when she was nine. Flores described the hardship that she saw her sisters go through as teen parents and said she was determined to change the cycle —one that is all too common in the largely Latino district she now represents. It was inspiring and moving to witness a politician lay bear such a heart-felt and sincere plea for a change in law.

“I had an abortion because I didn’t have access to birth control, or even an understanding of what that meant,” an emotional Flores said. “I didn’t even understand that my worth did not come from men, or sex with men, trying to fill up a hole in me from so much pain.”

That's the problem. Because many Nevada students are not receiving the sex education they need, they may not know how to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. That's why AB 230 is so badly needed.

Again, here's the problem.

The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. In addition, while young people ages 15-25 in the United States make up only one quarter of the sexually active population, they contract about half of all the country's 19 million sexually transmitted infections and almost one-quarter of the estimated 56,300 new HIV infections. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than three million teen girls have a sexually transmitted infection. That's at least one in four.

Teens need medically accurate, age appropriate, comprehensive information to help them both postpone sexual activity and protect themselves if they become sexually active.

Did you know?

Nevada has the second highest teen pregnancy rate, the third highest teen abortion rate and the 8th highest teen birth rate [according to the] Guttmacher Institute. The communities of color are bearing the brunt of teen pregnancy in Nevada. The Latina teens have three times the rates of pregnancy of their Caucasian counterparts; the African American teens have twice the rates of pregnancy and the Asian population in Nevada has twice the rate compared to national average. Our teens deserve better.

Nevada taxpayers contributed $67 million associated with teen childbearing in 2004 [according to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies].

This is the problem. And this is why AB 230 is no laughing matter. Rather, it's dead serious. And Nevada has to fix this problem soon.

All our STIs and teen pregnancies are costing us. And they cost us far more than simple prevention with comprehensive sex education. So why not start solving the problem now?

This is why SexEd matters. So will we finally do something about it?

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