Sex Ed Advocates to the Rescue
Originally Published: November 4, 2016
Revised: November 17, 2016
All around the world, young people are going without the sexuality education they deserve. How terrible! Thankfully, there are young heroes like Kayla Clark, Alexa Lesperance, Alex Ross and Vianey Twyford to save the day! They spread their sex ed knowledge and advocate for better sex ed in schools. These real-life heroes are using their talents to make a real difference so more teens are getting the information they need about their bodies, relationships and a whole lot of other sexual health topics. I reached out to each of them to learn how they became advocates for sex ed. And they even offered a few tips on how to advocate for comprehensive sex ed and become a sex ed superhero yourself!
Real Name: Kayla Clark
Hideout:Kansas State University (KSU)
Group Affiliations: Feminists Igniting Resistance and Empowerment (FIRE) of KSU and United for Reproductive and Gender Equity (URGE)
Captain Kayla has advocated for sex education in her state, even though many lawmakers are against it.
Abilities: Captain Kayla’s belief in sex ed that teaches about consent, healthy relationships and self-love has taken her to the nation’s capital to lobby for comprehensive sex ed on behalf of students in the state of Kansas. She also educates her fellow students about how to get cheap or free medical care and tests for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
What Turned Her Into a Hero: “Since I identify as bisexual, I remember sitting in my sex ed class and thinking, how can I be safe if I’m having intercourse with a woman. I remember being taught a lot of things in ninth grade sex ed that I just kind of went along with, and I never really knew these things were wrong. I was young and vulnerable. I remember my health teacher literally saying that if a woman is drunk and gets raped, then it’s her fault. And I went with it! I had no idea that was something outrageous to say to a group of young folks. Looking back at my sex ed experiences has helped me to be an advocate. For Christ’s sake, I thought for the longest time that a condom went inside the penis. Ouch!”
Nemesis: Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas, who is adamantly anti-choice, anti-sex ed and anti-LGBT rights.
Advice for new heroes: “Just try even if it seems like a mountain is in front of you. You are doing a good thing, even if you’re just talking to your friends about how that rape joke wasn’t cool or where the nearest STD testing center is or that they should pee after sex. You have to start small, and then connections will come to you.”
Her Personal Sex Ed Superhero: “Literally anyone who has fought for comprehensive sex ed in Kansas. Even if I haven’t met you, you’re a superhero.”
Alexa the Awesome
Real Name: Alexa Lesperance
Hideout: Naotkamegwanning First Nation reserve in Ontario, Canada, and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine
Group Affiliations: Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN), an organization by and for indigenous youth that works across issues of sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice throughout the United States and Canada
Alexa the Awesome is doing her best to stop cultures of shame around sexuality by refraining from labeling people’s decisions as “risky” or “dangerous.”
Abilities: Alexa the Awesome helped create the Sexy Health Carnival, a traveling carnival that Alexa says offers “tons of fun games, resources and culturally safe materials to get us talking and learning about topics, such as STDs, safer sex, HIV, birth control, healthy relationships, gender, culture, self pleasure, harm reduction and ways to help cope with trauma.” The carnival, which started as a way to help people reclaim knowledge about sexuality, has since been to over 30 indigenous communities!
What Turned Her Into a Hero: “It began as a slow accumulation of the hardships and trauma my family, my community and I were experiencing. The first opportunity I had in the sex ed field was with the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN)—becoming a youth leader on the Taking Action! Art & Aboriginal Youth Leadership for HIV Prevention Project where I and 18 other indigenous youth across Canada where chosen to make digital stories to help mobilize action around HIV/AIDS. I always had a deep sense of love and care for my community, and my aunties and mentors at NYSHN) helped me to more clearly recognize my passion and skills.”
Nemesis: “My greatest nemesis is stigma and shame! We need more support and care in the world.”
Advice for New Heroes: “Whatever your passion is, don’t ever stop pursuing it! Reach out to local supports, build networks and know that you aren’t alone. We have powerful legacies and generations of sexual and reproductive health freedom fighters behind us and young people in front of us rising and leading the way.”
Her Personal Sex Ed Superhero: “The youth leaders and aunties at NYSHN who continue to teach and resurge important knowledge around sex ed and provide opportunities for young people to get involved.”
Vianey the Valiant
Real Name: Vianey Twyford
Hideout: Berkeley City College
Group Affiliations: Youth Tech Health (YTH)
Vianey the Valiant has been a peer educator since high school, educating people about sexuality and sexual health. She is ready to answer her peers’ questions about sexuality and share her stories with others when she knows it can make a huge difference.
Abilities: Vianey the Valiant provides engaging class presentations on sexuality and has recently been working with YTH on teen pregnancy prevention.
What Turned Her Into a Hero: “For me, becoming an advocate was a matter of time—a gradual identity that I grew into. My parents had always been very open with me about health topics and when I noticed that not everyone had this relationship, I became aware that this is something that needs to be talked about. The older I got, the more I realized that sexual and reproductive health is incredibly important to our identities and the way we live. So why wasn’t anyone talking about it? I figured since no one else was stepping up that I would give it a try.”
Nemesis: Abstinence Only Programs
Advice for New Heroes: “If you live in an environment where there’s not a lot of opportunities around sexual and reproductive health advocacy or if people don’t seem too accepting, all you have to do is look online! Organizations are always looking for youth input and volunteers. Definitely check out your local clinics and stay positive! You can always create your own content on blogs and social media too.”
Her Personal Sex Ed Superhero: Carol Queen, Ph. D., activist and expert on reproductive and sexual health
Alex Ross the Advocate Boss
Real Name: Alex Ross
Hideout: The University of Arizona in Tucson
Group Affiliations: Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, the Young Leaders Advisory Council for Planned Parenthood
Powers: Trust and Persistence
Alex Ross the Advocate Boss trusts and believes in the power of young people, knowing that when we’re given the tools, we can make informed decisions about our bodies and futures. His persistence has also helped him accomplish great things, like getting a comprehensive sex education policy passed in the Tucson Unified School District.
Abilities: The Advocate Boss uses education to combat the high numbers of HIV/AIDS and syphilis cases in Arizona. He also uses his skills to get LGBTQ students the sex ed they deserve.
What Turned Him Into a Hero: “The real solidifying moment in my advocacy came when I attended a Planned Parenthood Teen Council Conference in Olympia, WA. It was the January of my senior year of high school, and I travelled three hours with my friends to meet up with other peer educators and lobby our state legislators for more comprehensive sex and consent education. I think that’s the moment that really changed me. I recognized my own power and the power of every person in that room. And I wasn’t even 18 yet! I couldn’t vote, but I still had a voice, and I think that’s one of the most powerful things in the world.”
Nemesis: “My greatest nemesis is ignorance. If I can just sit down with people, communicate with them and help them understand, then I’m not just fighting the opposition, but gaining an ally in the process.”
Advice for New Heroes: “Start talking! Talk to your friends, your teammates, your clubs—even your teachers. Let people know that you care. Then, get in contact with an organization that can help give you the tools to succeed. There are multiple nonprofits out there that want to see comprehensive sex ed implemented nationwide. Do some research and get to work. You have the power to do this!”
His Personal Sex Ed Superhero: “The biggest superhero in my life is Clint Weckerly, who works as part of the education department for Planned Parenthood Mt. Baker. He’s the reason why I’m in this work, and he’s always been there to help me find my voice, even when it seemed hopeless.”
Visit our Action Center to find some ways to get involved!
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