The Sexuality Education Alliance of New York City (SEANYC), a broad coalition that advocates for comprehensive, K-12 sexuality education for all New York City youth, is deeply dismayed and alarmed by the election of Donald Trump as president and the subsequent nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. SEANYC advocates for comprehensive, age-appropriate sex ed in NYC schools with the goal of creating safe learning environments where students can access the information and skills they need to make healthy decisions and fulfill meaningful and productive lives.
The violence condoned by President-Elect Trump during the campaign and his subsequent actions since election day are already negatively impacting young people. We are concerned that there will be a long lasting impact on students’ safety and wellbeing. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 90 percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected since Trump’s election, including an upswing in harassment and derogatory slurs, as well as incidents involving swastikas and Nazi salutes. This is completely unacceptable. Now more than ever, students need sex ed to learn about the importance of diversity and inclusivity in all communities.
We are also extremely troubled by the normalization of sexual violence that Trump perpetuated throughout his campaign, and fear it will contribute to an already existent epidemic of sexual violence in schools. According to a report released by Girls for Gender Equity, sexual harassment is widespread with 70.5 percent of New York City public school students observing sexual teasing in their school and 67 percent of students reporting having been sexually harassed. When asked if schools should provide more help for victims of sexual harassment 89 percent females and 76 percent males said yes. These staggering numbers illustrate that it has never been so critical to establish safe classrooms free from the threat of sexual violence. Now more than ever, students need sex ed so that they can learn without the fear of sexual assault or harassment.
Another key issue of concern is the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Trump’s intolerant views are compounded by Devos, whose family has a legacy of opposing marriage equality and has donated millions of dollars to anti-LGBTQ causes, including conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth. We know that anti-LGBTQ policies and curriculum in schools put student lives at risk–studies have shown that LGBT students face disproportionately high rates of harassment and violenceand these students are more likely to drop out or have poor academic performance. Now more than ever, students need sex ed so that students of all genders and sexualities can succeed.
We also are concerned about Trump’s insistence on “law and order”, and his praise for policing methods that are uniformly found to be ineffective and racist, including “stop and frisk.” We are against increased law enforcement in schools, which has resulted in overly punitive school discipline practices that show clear racial and gender disparities, and that put gender non-conforming students at risk. As recommended by the Dignity in Schools’ Counselors Not Cops report, we need to invest in training for counselors and staff to create safe and positive school climates so that students of all identities and races can learn without the fear of undue punishment. Now more than ever, students need trained sex educators, not police officers, to create safe learning environments.
Additionally, Trump’s anti-reproductive rights policy positions will seriously impact the ability for students to access the resources they need to lead healthy lives. Trump has vowed to cut down key parts of the ACA (Obamacare) and limit access to sexual and reproductive health services that are shown to reduce unintended pregnancy and STI rates. According to the NYC Department of Health, approximately 17,000 teens from ages 15-19 become pregnant each year, 90 percent of which are unintended, and many do not know where to go for confidential services or how to access highly effective contraceptive methods. Now more than ever we need sex ed to inform students about their rights to sexual and reproductive health services so that they can access the care they need to make healthy decisions.
With Trump as President and DeVos as Secretary of Education, New York City must implement comprehensive sex education that meets the National Sexuality Education Standards. This education includes lessons on healthy relationships and decision-making; body image and self-esteem; gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; the benefits of delaying sexual activity; prevention methods for unintended pregnancy; local reproductive health care providers; strategies for preventing, recognizing, addressing both bullying and sexual violence; the link between technology and the media with building healthy relationships and more. Donald Trump’s campaign has perpetuated misinformation and hateful rhetoric, and now more than ever we need sex education to provide an evidence-based and medically accurate model for healthy behaviors and lifestyles.
Sex ed has the potential to fundamentally shape young people’s lives and revolutionize the way we relate to our bodies and each other. New York City has a proud legacy as a progressive leader, and is a place where people of all backgrounds and identities are valued. Now more than ever, our city officials must uphold the values that make our city great and enact comprehensive sex education so that students can reach their full potential and become the next generation of leaders.
Stephanie Jimenez is a writer at Planned Parenthood of New York City.