This Thursday, Representative Barbara Lee (California) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (New Jersey) reintroduced the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act. This legislation would create the first federal standards for sexual health education and require youth receive comprehensive, medically-accurate, and unbiased information on sexuality and sexual health.
In Alabama, schools are not mandated to provide sex education to students. When sex education is provided, the state’s policy requires educators to primarily emphasize abstinence until heterosexual marriage though information on contraceptives must be included. However, teen sex, premarital sex, and not-heterosexual sex must always be associated with negative outcomes.
HIV education is mandatory in Alabama schools and includes information on condom use as a means of HIV avoidance. Nevertheless, the state’s policy requires education materials to be “age-appropriate” and emphasize abstinence as the primary method of avoiding HIV. Parents are also allowed to refuse permission for their student to receive information on HIV.
These kinds of policies did little to prevent the 28, 640 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis that occurred in youth ages 15-24 in 2011; [i] the 11,430 pregnancies of Alabama teens aged 15-19 in 2005;[ii] or increasingly high-rates of HIV transmission among Alabama youth ages 13-24.[iii] Nationally, 48% of newly-diagnosed sexually transmitted infections occur in people ages 15-24 and 39% of new HIV infections in 2007 occurred among people ages 13-29.[iv] Instead of shaming sexually-active youth, schools need to be teaching students the information they need to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and unintended pregnancies.
This February, Alabama state legislator Patricia Todd (Birmingham) introduced HB 22 – a bill that would revise Alabama’s current standards for sex education. It would remove requirements to discuss premarital and adolescent sex, non-heterosexual sex, and teenage pregnancy and parenting negatively. It would also require schools to discontinue the practice of primarily emphasizing abstinence as a means of avoiding unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV. However, the bill will not mandate sex education or guarantee that sex and HIV education provided to students is comprehensive and medically-accurate.
If you would like to support the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, you can sign a petition in 104 Manly Hall from 8:00am-4:45pm every weekday.
If you would like to be part of reproductive justice organizing on campus, visit the Alabama Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice Facebook Group and follow us on Twitter @AlabamaASRJ. Our next meeting is Thursday, February 21 at 7:00pm in 107 Manly Hall.
Amanda Reyes is a second-year Master’s student in Women’s Studies at the University of Alabama. Her academic interests lie in the area of feminist film and visual studies. She particularly enjoys science fiction, horror, and blaxploitation films, Quentin Tarantino, cinedance, Law & Order: SVU, experimental filmmaking, performance art, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and political art-making practices. She is also involved in organizing around reproductive and sexual justice issues as the President of the Alabama Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice at the University of Alabama and a member of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health’s Latina Action Network.