My name is Claire and I work in rural counties in Virginia. Much of my work is with students who identify as LGBTQ+, as well as working to educate teachers and partner agencies on best practices in supporting LGBTQ+ students.
In most of our counties it has been a slow build up to creating safe spaces for and even acknowledging students who identify as LGBTQ+. Often these students are othered and made to feel less than by their peers and sometimes teachers. Often times in the media I've seen people who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community viewed as hyper sexual and/or predators, when statistically LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be victims of crime and have higher rates of suicide. Many people are surprised to learn that using a students preferred name and pronouns is an act of suicide prevention and these small steps go a long way in creating a safe, inclusive environment for students, as well as teaching open-mindedness and tolerance.
To hear Governor Younkin has signed into law a bill aimed at eliminating materials from schools that are deemed "sexually explicit" by the state feels like a dangerous step in allowing the state to start deeming which sexual orientations are appropriate and which are not. When we try to block or oppose open dialogue on subjects that are considered taboo or make us uncomfortable, there is no opportunity for education or understanding.
I am not advocating in any way to teach children sexually explicit material and isn't the purpose of school to educate children (in an age appropriate way) in the many hard subjects they will come across in the world and provide them the tools to do their own research and form their own opinions on these topics?
Studies show we do a great disservice to children by avoiding teaching them or talking with them about hard subjects, where as other counties are surpassing us in health and happiness by opening up these conversations with their children and keeping them safer by providing them a safe space to ask questions and be supported in making good choices for themselves.
Our time and energy would be much better spent in working towards providing teachers and parents the tools on how to navigate hard conversations with their children, as well as teaching and supporting children in learning compassion, empathy, and tolerance so they are better equipped to show these values to themselves and others in the face of hardship.