As Battle Ground School officials are poised to vote on the new health curriculum, I feel that I have a unique point of view on the subject that may help others reflect on the importance of its adoption. I’m a graduate of BGHS. I have two children in the district. And I’m a psychotherapist who specializes in working with LGBTQ+ children, adolescents and their families. I have witnessed the heartbreak and sadness students from this district have experienced as they share stories of being bullied and feeling valueless as students. It makes it impossible for them to do their job: learn.
LGBTQ+ students are overwhelmingly victimized in schools. BGPS has the worst reputation in the county for this type of experience. Transgender students, specifically, are the most likely target of violence in schools. They are also the most likely to commit suicide, and that has nothing to do with being transgender and everything to do with family and community support. When families are supportive, suicide rates cut in half. When communities are supportive, they are cut in half again. Whenever I hear a parent say, “I don’t want my child to be taught about this,” I hear fear. And fear will not protect you from the pain of learning that your LGBTQ+ child felt unsafe to come out to you. Pretending like LGBTQ+ people do not exist and refusing to educate young people about all aspects of health only puts them at risk for health problems, as well as bigotry, and being perpetrators of hate.
I’m not sure when/how, but questions and curiosity have become scary to many of the adults in our community. What is it we want students to be able to do when they graduate from BGPS? I’d like to see graduates that can think critically, ask questions, hear ideas that are different than their own and engage in thoughtful conversations. I want them to know that they themselves, and their peers, are worthy of being educated, loved, and accepted just as they are.
The fact of the matter is, a comprehensive curriculum will help our students be smarter and safer. It will not make them gayer (it doesn’t work that way). It will, however, acknowledge that they exist. All of them. It will create a pathway for students to ask questions about topics they should have answers to. Not giving them the answer won’t keep them from having the questions. Perhaps if more of us who went to these schools had gotten this education, we wouldn’t be so scared and misinformed.
BGPS has a lot of work to do to make their schools truly safe, inclusive environments for the LGBTQ+ students. Any student that is diverse at BGPS sticks out, and they feel the emotional burden of “otherness.” BGPS has to find the courage to look at the toxicity and culture of disconnection when it comes to students who break the mold. Comprehensive health education needs to be the first of many steps for our students.