V Interesting

Reckoning with Pop Culture with Aisha Harris, Postpartum Progress, Regal Beagles

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A new pill could help hundreds of thousands of women who suffer from postpartum depression each year. Thousands of beagles are celebrating one year of freedom after being rescued from an inhumane breeding facility. And V chats with NPR culture critic Aisha Harris about her new book, “Wannabe: Reckonings with the Pop Culture That Shapes Me,” and what it means to be a critical consumer of pop culture media.

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Jennifer Coward, Britanny McBride, Aspen Schenker, V Spehar

V Spehar  00:37

Hey, friends, welcome to a special episode of V Interesting from Lemonada Media. I’m V Spehar. Let’s talk about sex baby. No, but really, can we talk about it? You guys, we have a problem. Only 39 states of the United States mandate some sort of sex education in schools. Now you might look at that number and say well be I mean, I think that’s pretty good. But think again, because a lot of these states don’t require a sex ed classes to be unbiased, inclusive or even medically accurate. I mean, seriously, the most popular reference young folks have of sex ed is that one scene from mean girls when the coach tells a group of kids and health class to not have sex or they’ll die? Jokes aside, this scare tactic does more harm than good. It only sets people up for having to deal with very real circumstances, like teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases without knowing their options and with feeling ashamed. We have to grow up and be realistic. This idea that if we don’t talk about it, it won’t happen is just not a solution. Thankfully, there are people out there who are advocating for teaching students how to be safe so that they can grow up to be successful, healthy adults, instead of keeping them ignorant because some adults who are supposed to be doing the educating are just too prude to provide medically accurate information. Today, you’ll be hearing three very important voices each one of these people has a unique perspective to offer. First, we have a graduating senior who wasn’t given the option to learn sex ed in school, a parent who has fought for evidence based sex ed classes, and a national expert who has trained hundreds of districts on LGBTQ affirming sex education curriculum, we’re going to get into why sex education is vital to someone’s overall well being and how if taught, right, these classes can armed people with the tools they need to confidently enter adulthood. Thank you to Advocates for Youth for making today’s conversation possible. So let’s start with somebody’s firsthand experience of what they may have learned or rather didn’t learn in high school. I’m joined by Aspen Shanker, an 18 year old recent high school graduate from Florida. We’re also joined by Jennifer Coward, a mom and Doctor Who supports having evidence based sex ed in schools that provide a safe and welcoming space. And Brittany McBride, a national expert who has helped dozens of districts nationwide implement sex education that meets state standards and community norms. I appreciate all of y’all being here with me today. Let’s jump in. So Aspen starting with you, I understand that you were offered basically no sex education at all in your Florida School.

Aspen Schenker  04:17

Yeah, so my situation is a little bit interesting. I was homeschooled until about eighth grade. So I didn’t have access to it in my like previous school system. I did receive like a basic like you’re going to get a period where a condom and that was the basis. And my mom was amazing at this. She was very, very big on medically accurate comprehensive sex ed and I have a very vivid memory of being in like third or fourth grade and we were like building vagina bottles and like she’s like, this is what you need to know because they she recognized It’s the lack of sex education in our country and wanted me to be prepared because you know, that’s important. And then once I got to high school, I was speaking with a lot of my peers. And I learned that like my school, it’s was K through 12. And it wasn’t even an option at that school, there was a health class but that focused again on you’re gonna have a period wear a condom.

V Spehar  05:27

I just think it’s so interesting when they say kids can’t learn about sex ed, kids don’t need to know about periods or any of this kind of stuff. We all remember the girl who got her period first when we were kids, right? Because we all came home to our mom. And we’re like, this cannot happen to me like this. This seems terrible. I was like, my Leanne is like having this terrible medical problem. And she was in my gymnastics class. I remember everything about her right? We all remember that girl who was the first one that we learned from, and my mom was like, Okay, I guess it’s time to have the talk here. And my mother was a nurse. So she she was pretty straightforward about it. And I was grateful for the education. Did you find it to be awkward or confusing? Or that you weren’t ready for it when your mom presented this to you young?

Aspen Schenker  06:06

No, I think it really, it depends on how you’re approached. My mom didn’t approach it as this scary thing that is going to happen. And it’s impending doom and all of that fun. attitude that I guess is usually brought towards the subjects. My mom was just like, these are the facts. Here’s how you deal with them. And if you have any questions, this is a safe space, which was incredibly helpful, I think, for me to understand everything.

V Spehar  06:39

Did you feel any sort of like duty at the young age to help educate your peers about what you learned?

Aspen Schenker  06:46

Somewhat? Honestly, in my homeschool group, everybody pretty much understood I was one of the younger, like students there. So it wasn’t necessarily like a feeling of duty. But it wasn’t like a taboo topic either. Like it was something that I discussed with people around me. And it was just more of like a productive conversation on a basis of common common understanding, instead of like, this is what’s going to happen, beware.

V Spehar  07:17

And you do a lot of peer learning in the sex ed space, how do you start the conversation with somebody? Or how have you gotten into this work?

Aspen Schenker  07:27

So I work for Planned Parenthood leaders igniting a generation of healthy teens program. It’s a pure education and like, community source that they provide. So I kind of put it out there, like on social media that, like, if you have any questions, I’m here. Also, if you need any contraceptives, or need any, like checkups, or anything through Planned Parenthood, I can help you get that situated. So the conversation was kind of started from there, I suppose. Because people kind of just recognized, like, if there’s something that they need, they can just come to me.

V Spehar  08:10

Is there anything that’s come up for you that surprised you in doing this work?

Aspen Schenker  08:14

Honestly, how many like misconceptions there are, like I’ve had people come up to me fully convinced that you can and will get an STD from a toilet seat like it’s there. And so it’s just from keeping these conversations to a bigger age group, like kids are going to the internet, they’re going to each other. And when there’s nobody there to break down those misconceptions, then those misconceptions will only grow.

V Spehar  08:46

Why does sex ed important to you?

Aspen Schenker  08:49

That is a very heavy question. It’s, it’s important because it’s a human right? It’s important because it’s the only way to guarantee that you are fully safe in your sexual future or even just your future in general. It’s i i don’t really know how to answer other than that, because how can it like, yes, it’s personally important, but it’s also I think, universally important.

V Spehar  09:15

Aspen, thank you so much for being with us today. I appreciate you, helping us get a peek into how the kids are dealing with stuff. And obviously they’re doing a much better job than previous generations. So maybe we don’t speak for them and we let them speak up for themselves and tell us what they need. That’s what I’ve learned from this and I appreciate you being here. Thank you so much.

Aspen Schenker  09:33

Thank you.

V Spehar  09:34

Jen and Brittany, I’d love to get your reaction to what Aspen has just told us maybe let’s start with Brittany.

Britanny McBride  09:40

Yeah, Aspen’s absolutely incredible. And I think Aspen was validating a lot of the things that I get to see professionally, where young people are mandating that this is a health issue and that this is a human right. Every young person is deserving of a complete education. I have yet to come across an adult. I know they’re out there. But I’ve never met an adult who would feel comfortable with their child being ignorant and not receiving a complete education, you know, we’re not going to go to math class and not learn about fractions, unfortunately, because like who likes fractions, we want to make sure that every single person gets access to an education that’s going to allow them to make the decisions that they need to make to kind of build the lives that they create. What really spoke to me most though, about what Aspen said, was how the very first educator for Aspen was the parent. That’s exactly what it is we’re looking to do. So often, we’re looking to partner with parents and caregivers, to make sure that young people are getting the education that they need from different folks throughout their entire lifetime. And so I feel completely honored. And Aspen has really reinvigorated me for this afternoon to keep doing all this hard work, to continue to find these avenues to support schools, parents, community members, aunts, uncles, family, friends, to make sure that we can continue to be trusted adults and provide access to really great education to our young people so that they can make informed decisions about their own bodies.

V Spehar  11:12

Jen is the mom of two elementary school kids talk to me about what this means to you.

Jennifer Coward  11:18

It was really meaningful, I’m really happy to have heard from Aspen today, I hope either or both of my kids isn’t as empowered and educated. And it’s really what I fight for, as a mom, as a physician. And as a community advocate. We sometimes as grownups, we may have different opinions about how things should be. And I may disagree strongly with other people in some of these ways, but, but if we come back to centering the students, and the kids, and the things they need and the scientific information that they need to make the healthiest choices they can, so that they can grow up to be the healthiest adults that they can be. That I think is why all of us are in this and doing what we’re doing. So it was just really, it was an honor to get to hear from Aspen today.

V Spehar  12:10

Brittany, you’ve been in this field for 13 years, and you’ve trained hundreds of teachers, school counselors, school nurses across the country on this topic. You said that offering students comprehensive sex and puberty education helps put them on a quote, path to be autonomous. Can you tell me what you mean by that?

Britanny McBride  12:27

Yeah. So we, as the adults in this equation, we believe that it’s our responsibility to make sure that our young people are equipped and prepared to be able to matriculate through life not only as a young person, but as an adult. And it feels completely unfair to expect them to navigate relationships, how to effectively communicate without actually providing them the skills and the ability to practice those skills in a very low stakes arena. So for us, we want to kind of like work ourselves out of a job. For me, I want to make sure that young people feel like they not only have access to this information, they also have access to the resources to be able to utilize the education that they’re receiving, and that they have the adults around them in society who can then support them, whether that be accessing a really great resource, answering a question for them, or just being a listening ear. So for us, this is about getting out of the way of young people, so that they have a pathway to their future that they get to decide. We don’t get to decide what works best for young people, they’re able to make those decisions for themselves. And it’s about being able to respect them as being able to be those decision makers for their lives. So for us that autonomy is equipping them with the skills, equipping them with the information, allowing them to practice in a safe space. And then being there to kind of serve as support when needed, is exactly what we’re looking for. So that when they become adults in society, they’re able to do so in an effective and confident way. As opposed to just being thrown out there in the wolves and being told to kind of like figure it out. So for us, like I said, it’s really just about providing them with access to a complete education.

V Spehar  14:22

And you’ve said that sex education is more than just what is covered up by a bathing suit. You tell me what you mean about that too.

Britanny McBride  14:30

Often, I go places and they’re just like a sec said we’re going to talk about birth control. We’re going to talk about anatomy. And it’s so much more than that. Sex Education is really focusing more on life skills. We want to talk about what consent looks like we talk about it from a very young age. Aspen touched on this a little bit. We’re providing an access to education from kindergarten up, but highly encouraging parents and caregivers to begin this conversation from infancy so that young people have the ability to kind of like learn and practice this information as they get older. And then it continues to scaffold as they get older, we can kind of apply more of it moving forward in the future. So for us, it’s about talking about healthy relationships. What does it looks like when you’re in an unhealthy relationship? How do you end a relationship? How do I make the decisions that I’m making in life? Like what are the internal versus the external factors that influence how I personally make decisions that can be related to what foods I want to eat for dinner tonight, that could be related to a partner that I might be interested in. We talk about gender, we talk about sexual orientation, we want to make sure that we’re being as affirming of every single young person sitting in every single seat. And so it goes way, way beyond what I think people kind of traditionally think of sex education. And when folks kind of hear and learn about all of the topics that we’re covering, they’re super excited and interested and parents are highly supportive of this work. And they want us to come in and do this work it’s very much wanted. Because as a parent myself, I know I didn’t get really great sex ed just like Aspen mentioned. So the thought of doing it on my own without the support of others who can be a little bit more of the content experts feels daunting at times. So working together to kind of make sure that we’re covering all of these topics so that our young people are ready to kind of take on adult life feels like a really important task for us.

V Spehar  18:38

I’m so hopeful that sex education has come a long way from the 90s when I was taking it because I can remember it just like yesterday, where Mrs. Gardner was like, Okay, girls, you’re gonna sit in this room and the boys are gonna go to Mr. Leno, the football coach, and there sounded a lot more fun than mine. Mine sounded like the end of my innocence or something. I was just like, oh my god, I’m going to be bleeding from where and what am I supposed to do with this? And like I just completely was just out of sorts with what everything was because it was taught by this these people who didn’t really care if I learned that it was just something they had to do, right. They, they were older, they were sort of like had different values. I was very lucky. Like I said that my mom did walk us through this in a different way that made it less scary. But Jen for you as a mom, but also a physician. What do you think of starting, like Brittany said with infancy? Does sex education start? Is there something you can say to a two and three year old? Like, what would you say?

Jennifer Coward  19:41

Yeah, I 100% agree with Brittany’s approach on this and we’ve tried to incorporate some of these methods in our own parenting. You know, of course, there’s always room for improvement but even starting in infancy when you’re touching a baby and you have to clean under their diaper, naming the poor hearts. You know, even then with a child and you know, toddlerhood or small childhood, talking about consent talking about trusted adults at the doctor, the doctor is going to examine you. And it’s okay, we’re all here. We give consent, trying to coach them through some of these things, all the way up to so my children are elementary school now, we talk about things like your friend or another adult should not ask you to keep a secret from your parent, no adult that I trust or friend or anybody should ever ask you to keep a secret from your parents. Maybe a surprise or a gift. That’s fine, but not a secret. We were pretty open and in our house. We watched the Barbie movie this weekend and no spoilers but there is a reference at one point to visiting the gynecologist so the first question we all got when we left from the gaggle of small girls was once a gynecologist, so so just answering that question openly and honestly and talking about things that are normal, but that may seem, you know, scary or unusual. And I’m just trying to bring that up. So I absolutely think it starts with an anatomical body part names. It talks about consent, it talks about friendship and hugs and tickles. And when is no. Okay, and how do we respect someone else’s? No. So bringing those techniques in as a parent has been really important. And if I was working with the school, or if my kids are at school, I would expect them to have the same benefits and the same autonomy given to them, even as they’re very tiny children.

V Spehar  21:41

I work with this coalition of former child actresses who are working on a program to build out better education for young people on anti grooming, and how to have a relationship with an adult and what is the trusted adult? And what’s not? And how to recognize manipulative behavior in adults. Are there any tips that y’all employ in your education right now that we could maybe throw out to the audience for their children?

Britanny McBride  22:05

Yeah, we have a completely free curriculum online called Rights respect responsibility, also known as the three R’s, you can access it completely free kindergarten through 12th grade appropriate lessons age and developmentally appropriate online at www dot three, the number three, the letter R s.org. In that curriculum, we have lessons on trafficking, we have lessons on how to have these conversations, you know, and keep it age and developmentally appropriate. Just like Jennifer was just saying, when we have these conversations at a really young age with our young people, it offers protective factors for them. And so I understand sometimes when parents and folks come to me, they’re like, I feel really uncomfortable. If I have this conversation with my own person, like they have no idea what I’m talking about. It is providing them additional protection in a world that can be really scary sometimes. But if my young person knows, you know, what is appropriate, when it comes to who’s allowed to touch their body, if my young person knows that another person should ask for permission, including health care providers, or other trusted adults, before they you know, check their body during an annual visit or something. And we start to practice that, if my young person knows that I am going to back them up, whenever they decide that they don’t want to hug the relative that just came in for Thanksgiving. And that mom is going to be here to say like, you know what, this is their decision, and I respect it, and you’re going to respect that as well. And that they have that kind of accountability set up for them. It just increases their protective factors. So that in the situation, and we hope that none of our young people experience it. But we know that unfortunately, it is the case for so many people, that if a young person is put in a position where someone is not respecting their body and the choices that they want to make around keeping their bodies safe, that they have the ability to then communicate with another trusted adult to kind of get that taken care of as soon as possible. And so when I talk about comprehensive or complete sex education, that is what I’m working for, you know, I Yes, I want you to know the terminology for your body as well. But I need you to be able to feel comfortable, safe and confident that you get to make the decisions that work best for your body. And that the expectation is is that others need to respect that because you get to decide what happens to your body whenever that may be. And so I love hearing that there are these classes that are happening. We have a completely free curriculum online. So if they want to just go and take those lessons, I’m like, take them please do take them all. Whatever you want to take from them read. We just want to get the information out there because every young person deserves to have that kind of safe space for sure.

V Spehar  24:54

Jen something to add.

Jennifer Coward  24:56

I love that. And I’m gonna go sign up for that class at 3RS at work, we also had an curriculum and our PTA through our school on online safety and digital safety, and trying to open conversations with our kids about what is safer, digital usage. You know, all of us are now living these lives that are online and digital, and our kids are trying to explore those things as well. So how do we give them training wheels in using digital platforms, social media, that may make us very uncomfortable, you may want to say no, absolutely not. And that’s fine, if that’s where you are as a family. But in our family, we decided maybe very minimal social media only communicating with friends whom we know and trust. And we can see their communications was maybe how we wanted to start. But for us, it was around having those boundaries as a family and having ongoing conversations as our kids get older, we’ll want to expand the boundaries a little bit. But it was to us really important that we had tools for having these conversations, how to tell our kids what’s appropriate online, and what’s not appropriate. What’s bullying online or harassment, when they come get us if they’re uncomfortable with an interaction, how to protect themselves if someone presents as a kid online, but maybe they’re not sure, or the things they’re saying don’t make sense to come get their trusted adults so that we can check it out. Because the reality is everyone at some point is going to have a digital profile. And maybe maybe you’re maybe not on social media, but they’re going to have an email, they’re going to have their picture somewhere on the internet. Kids, my children’s age have YouTube accounts, and they’re active on social media. And so my kids don’t but how do we navigate that? And how do we have respectful conversations with our friends when, let’s say our friend has a YouTube account and wants to make a video that has my kid in it? Or my kids avatar in it, et cetera? And how do we negotiate that so that we can keep our boundaries grow our boundaries, as our kids get bigger? Teach them how to use this thing that we all now use and has many benefits, but also has some risks? And so how do we make that interaction safer? So that has been another really important thing that we have added in our house?

V Spehar  27:12

You both have used this term trusted adult a few times and I like want to get it like tattooed on me because I feel like there could be no higher honor than to be considered a trusted adult by other adults, and especially children like what a high honor what a responsibility. But at the same time that I want this trusted adult tattoo, I’m like, Okay, do I actually know how to be one? I think I know how to be one. I’m a good person. So that’s a good start. And I’ve got the basics down. But how can parents or like I’m an auntie, find ways to educate ourselves? Because so many of us are missing this modern style of education, like even some of the terms that you’ve used today. I’m like, Okay, I know what that is. But I was never taught that. Is there a place that adults can be educated on how to be a trusted adult? How to have these conversations? Maybe conversation starters so that like we can practice before we present it to oftentimes very judgmental, short attention span children?

Britanny McBride  28:11

Yes. And the first rule of being a trusted adult is that you should never be a young person’s only trusted adult, I hired my young, my own kids and any other kid, I have a relationship with him, like you need at least 10. I was like, let’s think and that’s our thing. I’m like, what let’s let’s name some of our favorite trusted adults, so that it’s a tag team effort. I do this for a living. I’m a sex education expert. And when I tell you these kids throw me for a loop every other day, I bet is for sure the case. And so it is nice to be able to say like, you know, why don’t you give us a a t about that? Or, you know, why don’t you have this conversation with this person as well and get their perspective. And there’s wonderful ways to do that. But I think that’s the first thing as a trusted adult is to kind of give ourselves a little bit of a grace. Most of us didn’t have really great sex education, or are not residents, sex experts, sex education experts in your own home. And so if you don’t know the answer to the question, that’s your answer. I don’t know. But then you add, but I can find that. And I think we are really good at navigating what are the trusted resources online, there are some really great resources. You know, amaze.org has fantastic videos for young people, as well as parents and caregivers. You know, I love to share those with my daughter’s friend’s parents as well. Because like short little videos, it gives you a ton of great content and a really fun way. They’re made for the young people. But for parents, it can be a really great start to kind of like filling that gap for yourself on the content aspect of it. And then we have some additional videos on like, how to navigate these conversations with your young people. If you have a friend or a family member who seems to be like, well equipped at doing this, my friends love to come and ask me for my advice. How would I handle this? What would I do? As someone who feels a little bit more comfortable with us? You know, I’m always encouraging folks. Unlike have the conversation in the car, you’re driving two hands on the wheel straightforward. You don’t have to make eye contact, eye contact, and you feel a little bit more comfortable navigating that conversation but trying to find that grace to kind of you know, give yourself a little bit of wiggle room. We’re not expecting everyone to be experts. But looking always looking always helping, always willing to continue to kind of like, broaden not only our boundaries, but just the what we feel comfortable with. Or just our our educational information and always looking to be that perpetual learner, I think is a great way to be a trusted adults. Also just being open to it. By always being willing to have those conversations, I’d love to talk about paying attention to the music of my response. I do not have a very good poker face. So I tried to be cognizant of that of like me not completely falling apart facially when my kids friend is asking me a question that I wasn’t expecting to get on a Thursday afternoon. So if I remain calm, and like maybe on the inside, those little feet are paddling underneath the water, like a duck, but on the outside, like I am just chilling on the lake. And I’m like, What a great question. You know, I don’t know. But I’m going to find out. And I’ll get back to you. But inside I’m like having a mini panic attack. And that’s totally okay. Go have your little attack, go Google some things, look it up, maybe watch a video or two, then you can get to come back and you’re cool, calm collected. And I love that question you asked me, this is what I what I learned this is what I found out. And then what a great skill to transfer over to the young people of like, this is a great trusted resource. And this is why this is a great place to go and look for information. Because the internet is just pervasive. At this point. We all have it at our fingertips. So like Jennifer was saying how important be able to navigate that in a safe way. But my biggest advice is give yourself a little bit of grace. And don’t be the only trust.

V Spehar  31:56

That’s good. That’s good. Jen, anything to add on that?

Jennifer Coward  32:00

I love it. I was just learning everything that she was saying. And I think I take that same approach actually, in my life with my kids and education there. But also, as a physician, I have to use that all the time. I don’t know. But I will go look that up for you. Because I’m a millennial, I feel like the world is on the internet. I should not have to memorize everything. I’m much better at saying I don’t have that memorized. Let me look it up. Let me look it in the computer. Let me talk to my colleague, let me look into the trusted resource than I am at trying to, you know, Bs my way through a conversation kids can see through BS they know, when you don’t know. And you know, and I think my adult patients do as well. So I have taken just a different approach in life. I accept that there is an awful lot that I don’t know, all day long. And sometimes you need a little preparation for how you’re going to respond even if you factually know the answer. And so asking a clarifying question, where did you see that? Where did you hear that? In what context did that come from? There’s a famous example of a kid reading the word sex and saying Where does sex and the the parent instead of immediately answering says, Where did you see it? And they said, it says here six and we’re F of course binary? And then the parent has a chance to just answer that question right? Instead of diving into what may have been the wrong question wasn’t the kid was asking.

V Spehar  33:33

Now there are people on the other side, who will say, Now, I’m not doing this, I don’t think they need to learn this, you guys are too welke. You’re You’re too, whatever. It’s not what I want to do. And so I’m just going to preach abstinence, because abstinence, we’ll just wrap all this up, but I won’t have to talk about anything that makes me uncomfortable. And if I just say it’s a hard, no, and it’ll never happened until you get married, everything’s gonna turn out just fine. And they’ll never experience any abuse or any uncomfortability. Because I’ve set the rule of abstinence. So let’s say there’s a high school student that has never taken sex ed, right. And they’ve made it through all of high school, and now they’re transitioning into adulthood, what kind of issues might this person run into?

Britanny McBride  36:07

My goodness, everything. I think it goes back to that whole concept of me saying everyone deserves a complete education. When I talk about a complete sex education, it includes abstinence, but I’m also going to make sure that when you choose to have sex for the first time, that you’re informed so that life does not happen to you. When we don’t equip our young people with tools, how do we expect them to navigate life as an adult, I like to use the analogy of driving. Neither my kids are driving yet, but whenever I do give them the keys to a car, you know, my goal is that they get home safe to me every single day that they leave with that car. And so in that car is going to be every tool they need in order to get home, they need to change the tire, if the battery dies, if they get lost, every tool they need should be inside that car, do I hope they need to use them? No, I hope it just collects dust in the trunk. But if for some reason they ever need to use it, they have it there in their trunk, and they’re ready to use it. And then they get home safely to me. And I think all parents want their kids, you know, should care about their kids health and their well being. I haven’t met a parent who doesn’t agree who don’t agree with me on that one yet. But it’s important to recognize that by keeping our children intentionally ignorant about the things that we then expect them to just magically know, as adults isn’t going to provide them access to a complete education. And that is when we begin to stunt our young people. And don’t equip them with the tools that they need. And for me, I feel like once we become adults, it’s important to remember that we’re never centering our own baggage, our own uncomfortability around whatever the topic might be. That’s no longer the priority. And I have gotten very good at that over the last few years with folks who have this type of argument. I don’t care, I don’t care if you’re uncomfortable, I don’t care. If you think there are no gay kids in your school, I don’t care if you think they need to talk about this content. That’s not the reality. The truth is, is that we’re going to center the education and the well being of young people over the uncomfort of you know, very few adults, I’m not going to allow that to then impact a young person getting their their education, which they have a right to. And so, to those folks, I don’t really have much to say, because I’m very busy, and making sure that we’re educating our young people. And for them, I you know, encourage them to seek out additional help to kind of work through their own baggage on their own personal time, just never going to slow me down with the kids.

V Spehar  38:44

Good. I’m going to tell you of all my friends that I had when I met them in college, and they didn’t have sex education, I was like, Oh, so you don’t know that bad stuffs been happening to you, or you will learn from somebody, some boyfriend or girlfriend is going to tell you what sex is. And it might not be what you agree sexes. Or they may tell you that something isn’t sex to be able to manipulate you into participating in an activity that you would not maybe otherwise want to participate in, because you’re going to learn from somebody. And I would think that you’d much rather be a trusted adult or a parent or school over a potential future partner, for better or for worse. So Jen, from a physician perspective, have you seen this sort of like show up in a clinical setting where people haven’t had education? And then it’s caused them? Maybe greater health impact?

Jennifer Coward  39:33

Oh, completely. So, you know, we see in our own data here in my county that though teaching abstinence is wonderful, it’s got to be abstinence. And because the majority of young of young people are sexually active by, you know, some point shortly after leaving high school, so and we’re seeing the impact of folks perhaps being confused about some of these things. We see early pregnancies we see it sexually transmitted infections, you know, by the 1000s, we have a rising syphilis rate here in my county. And of course, in the state of Florida in general. We don’t talk about syphilis that much. It’s kind of seemed like one of those old timey diseases that you see in in movies, but it’s here, it causes a lot of problems. We have a rising maternal and congenital syphilis rate babies being born with syphilis, I mean, just heartbreaking. And we can do better. We have a maternal mortality crisis in this country, and we have a lot of things that we could do better on. And part of that is knowing how our bodies work. And then what to do, if things are not going according to plan. It’s abstinence, and you’re abstinent up to a point. And we all hope that you made a choice that to change that, but maybe you didn’t. But either way, you need to know what to do to take care of your body. After that, you need to know when to seek help, you need to know what an infection might look like, you need to know what the consequences of an untreated infection might be. You need to know how to deal with, you know, potential for pregnancy, if you’re a person who can become pregnant. If you’re a person who become pregnant, and you have an ectopic pregnancy, what does that look like? All of these things are part of what I consider a health and science based curriculum. So some of the folks in my community who have this more abstinence mindset, they also say school should be about teaching, reading, writing and arithmetic, the the old three R’s. And this is what belongs in school, and everything else is superfluous. It doesn’t belong there. And we try to tell them that that’s not the reality of schools, schools have homeless kids, they have hungry kids, they have kids dealing with health issues. They have kids dealing with mental health and physical health issues. And they have kids who are suffering the consequences, unfortunately, have sex sexual activity that maybe wasn’t as safe and we still need to take care of them. Those students still have rights, they can still develop into healthy adults, and we still need to take care of them. So it can’t, in my opinion, it’s not scientific to stop with abstinence, it’s abstinence. And because we need to acknowledge the reality that most students at some point, choose or don’t choose, but they are no longer abstinent. And there’s still a whole valuable human being that we need to take care of, and they still have rights. And we need to ensure that they know how to access the care that we can give them.

V Spehar  42:31

The other thing that we see a lot in legislation now and in the news, and that I get questions from my niece about is this idea that we should not talk about gay folks in schools, we shouldn’t talk about if children can be queer or transgender, we shouldn’t involve their parents if they’re queer or transgender. Because somehow, everything about the queer experience isn’t entirely and only sex based one and not at all based in love, mutual respect, or otherwise talents or family’s dynamic. So I knew that I was gay when I was eight years old. And I know a lot of my friends who are gay, had a moment around 789, where you were like, I’m gay. I remember sitting in a dentist office, I was wearing a backwards hat. And this woman asked me, Are you a boy or girl? And I was like, you know? That’s a great question, right? But that was the first time but I was eight. And now we hear from these legislators are like, let kids be kids, let’s not talk to them about gay folks, or if they’re potentially trans. And I’m saying like, you are doing such a disservice to children who are trying to figure it out, by not giving them all of the options that you can, because even for myself, I was like, you know, well, I don’t necessarily want to grow up and be a woman, but I don’t want to grow up and be a man, is there anything in the in between, and there was no language or conversation for it now. And so it’s like, I wish so much that there had been this idea of non binary or like that gender and sexuality is a spectrum, like what relief that would be for children like me, who at the time, didn’t have that language and didn’t have that support system. So I wanted to ask you all as the experts, how important is sexual orientation and gender identity education for young people?

Britanny McBride  44:12

It’s absolutely critical. And that is what I have been offering the most in the terms of training educators across the country, who don’t quite even understand because we haven’t done a great job historically, of teaching folks about the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, how one doesn’t influence the other. Like, that’s the kind of like levels of trainings that I’m offering right now across the country to teachers who are eating it up because they want to make sure that their kids feel not only just included in the classroom, but affirmed that they feel valued that they feel wanted, because like I said the statistics have shown that we have not done a great job of making sure that our LGBT students feel wanted valued and appreciate needed in the classroom space. And every young person deserves to feel seen and reflected in their school and in their curriculum, and wanted and appreciated by the educators who get to serve them. And we need to do a better job of that as the adults in this situation. So, for us, this is incredibly important. I do find that a lot of adults feel uncomfortable about this. But the truth of it is, is that we are all sexual beings, we all have gender identity, those are two totally separate things. But it’s important to talk about those things, because we want to once again, make sure that our kids have the tools. Also, when we have these conversations, we create safer spaces all around. When our schools are safer for LGBT students, they are safer for every single student, we see an increase in safety and comfort. For every single person in that school that goes all the way up to adults, I have come in and done trainings where school districts have really committed to wanting to create a safer space for LGBT students. And I’ve come back and the adults, the teachers in those spaces say, I feel better now because my peers aren’t saying things in the hallway, we’re hearing from our young people that a lot of the times it’s the adults in the schools who are doing a lot of the negative commentary who are saying the harmful things who don’t quite understand it. So I feel like it is incredibly critical to my job to make sure that if these adults don’t have the education and the ability to be able to be more affirming of LGBT students that I can go in and kind of help them to navigate that and move them along this spectrum from being, you know, tolerant all the way to being inclusive, because it’s so incredibly important. LGBT students have higher rates of unhoused youth, they have more runaway youth, they have more youth who are more likely to experience violence and intimate partner relationships. So we have to work at creating equitable spaces for our young people, because we see these statistics. So what do I need to do to go above and beyond for this community, not looking for equality, I’m looking for equity, to make sure that my communities who need the additional support are getting that additional help so and in the meantime, therefore creating a safer environment for every young person in that school.

V Spehar  47:27

And I want to super clarify here, when we hear experts say things like LGBTQ kids are more likely to harm themselves or be a victim of a violent, intimate partner. It’s not because they’re gay, it’s because they don’t have the support that they need and the education that they need. We talked about possibility models a couple of weeks back with Trayvon L. Anderson, who was saying, when you don’t see yourself as an adult, it’s hard to imagine yourself growing up. And if we’re not going to teach about all the different possibility models for sexual orientation, gender orientation, showing all different types of people throughout the course of life, even women who choose not to have children, men who choose not to get married, whatever the case may be, then people just see such a narrow version of society and they don’t feel like they fit into it, then they think it’s okay to take themselves out of it because they don’t feel valued and want. And so that is the point that we have here, when we’re saying that LGBTQ kids are at higher risk of harm. It’s because they’re there in some ways outside of what society allows. And so in those ways, they become more vulnerable. It’s why it’s why animals pack up, right? It’s so that they could stay in the pack and stay safe. If you kick somebody out of the pack. They’re vulnerable. And so that’s why we need to protect them. Absolutely. And Jen, I wanted to get from you also, as you’re seeing young people transition into adulthood, who didn’t have any gender or sexual orientation, education, what sorts of issues will they face.

Jennifer Coward  48:45

And this is something that really worries myself and all the community partners that I have right now living in Florida, because we are losing resources that we had relied on right now. So for example, our school district had a very comprehensive what they call their LGBTQ plus support guide that was on the internet, and it was widely available. It was an educational document that taught some of these concepts of what is sexual orientation, what is gender identity? How do you support someone who is being harassed and bullied, why we don’t do that, you know, all those things. And then with state legislation and interpretations of state legislation, that guide was removed last year from our school district and turned into a much more generic kind of Safe Schools document on why all bullying is bad and really lost a lot of this specific education around sexual orientation, gender identity, and things of that nature. Our school district just implemented reverse to their bathroom policies. So you know, maybe less affirming now to to some folks, although I hear that some of our schools have declared any of their Single use bathrooms, as you know, all gender bathrooms, and trying to still have places to affirm students who can have a safe place when all they need to do is just go pee for the day. So, but I’m deeply concerned if we do have students who are vulnerable, who their family may not accept them, they are at risk. Because they’re not supported and who they are. And they’re losing some of those supports. There’s now additional oversight and scrutiny on our GSA clubs, for example, we hear that students, our parents are going to have to sign permission slips for all after school activities. Because of now scrutiny on GSAs. I feel this targeting of folks who are LGBTQ plus, is not going to help the mental health of a group that historically has not been as supported and deserves more support. So you know, these are the things I’m really worried about. One of my friends here in the area is a Trans activist, and tells me pretty regularly about how many of her friends have unfortunately decided to leave that fight. And it’s really heartbreaking every single time, so, so I’m scared, I’m worried, I’m happy to see so many people are trying to fight for our friends. regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. We do have a lot of great organizations here who are trying really hard, so it’s not hopeless. But we have lost a few battles here and there. And, you know, we just have to fight even harder, I think to make sure that all of our community members feel loved and supported.

Britanny McBride  51:29

If I could just add to that, to the young people are demanding it. And so when we’re in these states, like Florida, where we are seeing adults just unravel protection for young people in the school setting, left and right day in and day out. They are fighting back, young people know what they have a right to, and they are demanding it. I have been in meetings with superintendents who were there, because their young people were like, we absolutely demand that you go to a training on this because you have not done a great job. And they’ve been responsive to it. So I just want to commend all of the young activists who are fighting all over the country, from the most progressive to the most conservative areas, to make sure that every young person feels valued and appreciate it.

V Spehar  52:17

I appreciate you all being here so much with me today, I learned a ton I feel invigorated to be a trusted adult, and to make sure that we’re fighting for the things that we need, that are just like if we if we’re going to talk about protecting kids, this is one of the number one ways you could protect kids is education, and giving them bodily autonomy and letting them tell you the truth and be able to go from there and deal with the difficult things that are going to happen. We can’t sterilize their experience. But we can certainly allow them to be confident and speak for themselves and understand. And I think everybody deserves that everybody wants that for themselves also, and it’s never too late for you to learn as an adult either. I’ve learned stuff all the time, we had to do a whole episode on gynecology because I was like, Look, I don’t really know that much about it. And as a 40 year old woman, I am far behind here. So it is never too late to learn. I appreciate you guys being here so much. tell folks where they can find you or your work.

Britanny McBride  53:09

Yeah, so you can find a lot of our work at advocates for youth.org. And then also our completely free curriculum is online at the number three letter r s.org. And anything I can do to help, I’m happy to get an email and jump in and support folks, whoever I can.

V Spehar  53:28

Thank you, Brittany and Jen, where can folks find you?

Jennifer Coward  53:32

Yeah, we are the public school defenders of Duval County. So we’re at publicschooldefenders.com. We also have presence on Facebook, Twitter, email, and Instagram. So please reach out to us in any way if you have questions. Thank you.

V Spehar  53:49

Thank you again to Brittany, Jen and Aspen for joining me today. one more shout out to Advocates for Youth for making today’s conversation possible. Thank you so so much. Also, after we wrapped this conversation, Jen made a great point that I want to share with you. The fight for equality, sex ed is happening all over the country. And you should talk with your local school board and tell them that evidence based comprehensive, inclusive sex ed is important to you. It doesn’t even matter if you have kids or not. I don’t although I take my role as an auntie very seriously. I hope you can hear my voice during this conversation how important I think this issue is. So you got to feel that way too. Right? We have to go out there and make our voices heard. This is how we make sure that the teens and the kids in our communities and our neighborhoods and our cities and towns do get to make it successfully into adulthood. That’s it for today. Be sure to tune in to Friday’s episode where we dig into the headlines you may have missed please leave us a five star rating on whatever platform you’re listening on. Follow me at under the desk news on tick tock Instagram and YouTube and of course the Patreon patreon.com/under the desk news and guess what? There’s even more be interesting with limonada free Medium. Subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content, like New York Times bestselling author Mary Roach telling me if there are topics that are unreachable and what she’s working on next, subscribe now in Apple podcasts.

V Spehar  55:17

V Interesting is a Lemonada Media Original. Our producers are Kryssy Pease, Kathryn Barnes and Martin Macias. Our VP of weekly programming is Steve Nelson. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittles Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Mix and scoring is by James Farber. Music by Seth Applebaum. Please help others find the show by reading and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @VitusSpehar, @underthedesknews and @LemonadaMedia. If you want more V Interesting. Subscribe to Lemonada Premium only on Apple podcasts and follow the show where ever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.

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