Thursday, January 6, 2011

LGBTQ Resources: Classroom Use

Recently the website Sex, Etc. updated their LGBTQ resources section of their website. I started drafting a post about Sex, Etc. this week but want to focus on how their updated LGBTQ section could be used in any health education classroom. Sex, Etc. is run by an orgnization out of Rutgers University called AnswerAnswer believes that, "Sexuality should be understood, respected, and celebrated." Answer is a fantastic resource for teenagers, health educators, and others working with teenagers. The website is perfectly geared towards teenagers, with information that is accurate, up to date, and definitely important for their lives. Sexuality education is so much more than sex, sex, sex. Sex, Etc. highlights this important fact, and covers everything a comprehensive sexuality curriculum should cover.

The updated LGBTQ resources are intended for teenagers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning and to help them understand who they are. The resources are also great for family members, friends, and other allies of LGBTQ teenagers. Let's face it, if you're a teacher there are going to be LGBTQ students in your classes. Middle school by itself is a tough experience, and the burden of trying to figure out who they are puts an additional burden on teenagers. The information contained below could very easily be used to help lessen that burden and also help teenagers become more comfortable with who they are.

Books. A list of over one hundred and fifty books are listed on the Sex, Etc. website. Ranging from fiction to nonfiction, and geared towards LGBTQ youth as well as allies, educators, and parents, this list has a little of something for everyone. As a high school track coach, one book about a gay track athlete has peaked my interest. In my classroom, I have a sign saying, "What Is Mr. Bartlett Reading?" with the cover of whatever book I'm reading scanned in color underneath. I collaborate with the middle school librarian, who provides me with young adult novels to read, with the hope that I can engage middle school students in discussions about reading. I've had some great discussions with kids about the books I'm reading (they've read some of them after I have!), and reading a book from this list could allow me to have important sexuality conversations that might not initially come up during class. Ideally, students would also realize that I am promoting discussion about these types of issues, while being accepting of students no matter what their sexual orientation happens to be. I would be more cautious about discussing this with sixth grade than I would with my eighth graders, however. Also, June is Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, and middle school librarians could have a display in their library focusing on LGBTQ literature geared towards youth, allies, and educators. This might be a hot button issue in many communities, but it's an issue people have to stop hiding from and start talking about!

FAQs & Stories. Stories from staff writers and contributors fill a list of stories highlighting a myriad of topics relating to LGBTQ youth: coming out to your parents, being harassed at school, even information about professional athletes dealing with harassment about their sexuality. Making students aware of these stories can help them understand that they are not alone and their experiences are normal. The FAQ section also provides a great starting points for students who are curious and seeking extra information on what they are feeling and going through. This information could be shared in a variety of classroom activities, depending on the content of the story. A post-reading classroom discussion about the stories would be crucial in order to make sure students understand the knowledge and attitudes you want them to learn.

Web Sites and Hotlines. Sex, Etc. provides teenagers with twenty two websites and nine hotlines, such as PFLAG, The Trevor Project, and outLoud Radio. Teenagers can connect with students going through similar experiences, find support, and learn something from all of the listed web sites and hotlines. These organizations are easily made available to all students through a classroom display (it can be as small as one piece of paper on a bulletin board, or a larger display) or even through a classroom project asking students to research the different organizations and what they offer to teenagers.

Forums. The Sex, Etc. forums offer a way for teenagers to connect with others through discussion. It appears that the LGBTQ specific forums don't get too much activity compared to the other sections, but hopefully with the attention around these new resources activity will increase! The other forums are packed with information, with questions answered by an on-site expert. This is a great resource for teenagers who don't want to ask their parents or doctors the "tough" questions. Many teachers would not be able to share the content of these forums in their own classroom due to school policies or parental issues (which is a whole other topic!) but the forums are definitely a "go-to" outside of school resource.

As of right now, my curriculum relating to sexuality includes puberty in sixth grade and HIV/AIDS and other STDs in eighth grade. If I had my way, I would be able to teach everything! I'm hoping to work to improve that in my district, but because I can't right now, Sex, Etc. is a resource that I am comfortable passing along to students if they so inquire when I am teaching the units I mentioned above. So many websites on the Internet contain information that is false, and Sex, Etc. is the type of websites teenagers need to see!

All in all, the LGBTC section of Sex, Etc. provides valuable, must-see information for teenagers, educators, parents, and allies. I can only imagine what it would have been like if teenagers in my parent's generation would have had access to resources like these. It is vital to spread this information so we can prevent more tragedies, promote tolerance and acceptance, and finally be able to accept everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation is, simply for who they are.

As always, please e-mail me with any questions, comments, or concerns.

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