For the past two years, I have been serving as an advisory member of the Boston Connect to Protect® Coalition (C2P Boston), which is our local branch of a national HIV-prevention research initiative, based at The Fenway Institute.
The work of C2P Boston is based on both sexuality and race:
The mission of C2P Boston is to identify, develop, and catalyze prevention strategies that will reduce HIV infection rates among young black men who have sex with men and transgender-identified young people in the City of Boston. Racism (a system of advantage based on race that benefits white people) has a direct impact on these issues. We will ensure these strategies are always deliberate, inclusive, and in pursuit of racial justice through partnerships with organizations and individuals committed to our shared values and goals.
Using a racial justice framework, our goal is to ultimately reduce HIV incidence and prevalence among black youth and young adults in Boston, ages 12-24, through community mobilization and structural change.
I joined C2P planning to remain quiet. I hoped to support the work as an advisory member the best I could, but tried not to volunteer for any specific roles. I sat quietly in monthly meetings. I held back not only because I was (am) a busy grad student, but also because I was (am) a white grad student. I was there to listen to and learn from the queer people of color in the room, and the people there who work with queer youth of color on a daily basis. I wanted to make sure I only took up space if I could actually be helpful to our shared mission. But I’m still not really sure how to judge that, either.
As we identified our structural change priorities, we identified the lack of awesome, relatable sex education providers in Boston Public Schools (BPS) as a root cause of HIV infection among Boston youth. We formed the Sex Ed Subcommittee to work to address the issue. After being asked to help facilitate a couple of the preliminary subcommittee meetings, I was then nominated as co-facilitator at a meeting I missed. I was asked to take up space. I decided to step up, leverage my privilege as a white grad student, and volunteer my time toward planning and facilitating meetings, advocacy and coalition building with the goal of getting LGBTQ-inclusive sexual health education and services in Boston Public Schools. It feels complicated, but it also feels important.
Our current goals/objectives include the following: All people who deliver sexuality education in BPS will demonstrate a set of core competencies in delivering LGBTQ-inclusive, culturally-proficient, trauma-informed, and sex-positive sexuality education within a health equity/racial justice framework.
What does this mean? We want to delve deeper into defining these terms. Here are our working definitions, constantly under revision, so tell me what you think:
- Trauma-informed: All sex educators must present material in a way that is respectful of potential trauma histories, does not add to trauma histories, and is responsive to traumatic responses that may arise.
- Trans-inclusive: All sex educators should choose curriculum and present material in ways that are sensitive to, aware of, and include people whose identity or history falls under the trans umbrella or whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth (i.e. not cis-gendered).
- LGB-inclusive: All sex educators should choose curriculum and present material in ways that are sensitive to, aware of, and include people whose identity, behavior (current/past), or attractions could categorize them as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or questioning or having same-sex sexual desire or activity.
- A racial justice framework: All sex educators structure their classroom dynamics and their relationships with students in order to be real, connected, and aware of the historical and cultural implications of what they say and do. Sex educators facilitate a safe and challenging space for students to learn about health disparities and consider health as “justice for my body.”
How can sex ed be designed and delivered within a racial justice and health equity framework? We believe racial justice to be an essential part of pursuing our mission of HIV-prevention, particularly for LGBTQ youth of color. We are working on integrating racial justice framing into our advocacy work for LGBTQ-inclusivity in schools.
Say hi to our Boston C2P reps at the Massachusetts Youth Pride celebration on Saturday, May 17 (Boston City Hall Plaza, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.). Also, if you have any ideas or suggestions about our work, if you’re interested in joining our coalition, or if you want to talk more about white privilege and queer organizing, please email me at Mimi.Arbeit@gmail.com or tweet @MimiArbeit.