The conservative leadership in this state is clearly not invested in proactive policies to address reproductive and sexual health for anyone, let alone for teenagers. So concerned parents, educators and students in Gwinnett County are taking matters into their own hands.
Young people are sexually active, that is just reality and it has been the reality for generations. Arming young people with medically accurate information about sex and sexuality gives them the tools they need to make healthier choices to protect their sexual and reproductive health.
However, as per usual, leaders in this state would rather stick their heads in the sand than deal with reality. So, in Gwinnett County, folks are starting to push back, creating a coalition called Gwinnett Citizens for Comprehensive Sex Education.
The CDC just released data that, nationally, teenagers are waiting longer to have sex. But, despite the fact that Georgia has higher than average rates of teen pregnancy and teen STIs, Georgia has not wanted to collect this information for more than a decade.
Language in a grant the state received forced them to collect this data last year, and it will be available in the spring. This will give education officials, parents, students and other concerned folks a chance to actually get real data on teen sexual behaviors for the first time in over a decade.
Right now, we don’t have data not only on what percentage of high schoolers are having sex, but the role that birth control, drugs and alcohol, intimate partner violence, and sexual violence play in their lives and their decisions.
In Gwinnett County, the rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea among teenagers ages 13 to 19 has increased by over 100 percent since 1998. Yes, that’s right, the rate of two of the most common STIs has doubled among young people in Gwinnett County over the past nearly two decades. This is according to data available from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
At the same time, Gwinnett County has relied on an abstinence-based sex ed course called Choosing The Best, taught by a local crisis pregnancy center. Crisis pregnancy centers are fake “clinics” established by anti-choice groups solely for the purpose of bullying pregnant people into not having an abortion. They outright lie to the women that come in with questions about a pregnancy in order to promote their anti-abortion agendas, without regards to the needs of the person who is pregnant. These are the folks in charge of teaching sex ed to students in Gwinnett and many other counties that rely on the Choosing the Best curriculum.
“Currently the curriculum that Gwinnett County has been using for their sex education for the last 17 years, and that is used in most of Georgia, it’s called Choosing the Best. And it gets a failing grade on the CDC’s assessment of quality of sex education information,” said Roula AbiSamra, the Georgia Organizer with NAPAWF, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. NAPAWF is one of the coalition partners involved with Gwinnett Citizens for Comprehensive Sex Education.
AbiSamra shared that her local NAPAWF chapter got involved with Gwinnett Citizens for Comprehensive Sex Education, in part because Gwinnett County has the largest concentration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students of all counties in Georgia. NAPAWF members here object to stigma being part of sex education, which many of their members experienced growing up in Georgia and elsewhere.
“The messages that we get in some sex education can be stigmatizing — messages that are shaming, inaccurate, or just nonexistent. And [the silence and stigma around these issues can contribute to negative experiences, rather than protecting us from those experiences. And it makes it hard to discern accurate information and find support in times of need,” she added.
Gwinnett Citizens for Comprehensive Sex Education will be active at the upcoming Gwinnett Board of Education meeting on Thursday, January 18 in order to highlight the importance of addressing teen sexual health with medically accurate, shame-free information. You can find their Facebook event here.
Meanwhile, AbiSamra encourages anyone interested in getting involved to reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or to Shireen Nori at email@example.com.