On May 24, 2013, hope had died for me. I had been working for the last six months on a comprehensive sex education bill here in my home state of Nevada only to see it die in the state Senate. After months of sharing my story, revictimization and endless organizing work, it all felt hopeless. But it wasn’t: I let my heart hurt deeply for one day, woke up the next, and got back to work.
I reside in Clark County School District in Las Vegas, the district where I grew up, had my first kiss, went to my first R-rated movie, had my inadequate sex education classes and where I was sexually assaulted. When I was 13, before I ever stepped foot into a sex education class, I was raped. At the time, I didn’t know what had happened to me, nor did I think to use that word to describe it. It was a family friend, someone I had trusted, someone I liked. In my sex education class, I learned that it was wrong to have sex before marriage, period. I learned it was against my teacher’s religion to be gay or to talk about abortion. When students asked questions about LGBTQ health, my teacher refused to answer. There was no room for a Queer rape survivor like me in that space – so I decided to make some room at the local, state and national level.
Today, I attend the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where I act as the co-president for the only LGBTQ undergraduate organization on campus. Through my journey, I was lucky enough to become a youth activist with Advocates for Youth, first on its Young Women of Color Leadership Council and then with its Campus Organizers. In these roles and many others over the last three years, I have provided the education I never received to countless youth across the valley. I have lobbied politicians and campaigned for legislation to bring comprehensive sexual health education to schools. Most importantly, I have learned how to share my story time and time again, as painful as it may be, in hopes that it will change hearts, minds and policy.
I continued this work by organizing other young people to speak at local school board meetings. We organized successful protests that garnered national attention and support, with a climactic moment of being featured on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. Our actions and voices were being heard, and we used this momentum to keep applying pressure, regardless of the opposition, the improbability and the failures we had experienced in the past.
On May 27, 2016, Clark County School District approved and updated its middle and high school curriculum to include medically accurate information on HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), how to obtain contraception, how to set personal limits and statutory rape/the age of consent. After three years of fighting, we saw a tremendous win in the fifth largest school district in the country. This moment was huge. Similar to what I had done three years ago almost to the day, I let my heart sing deeply for one day, woke up the next, and got back to work.
The work is far from over. LGBTQ students are still not receiving sex education that pertains to them, and students all over the country are experiencing real, deep-seated trauma from bigotry, bias and the false information that school districts and teachers can convey. I have had people wonder why I keep doing this work now that I’ve graduated from high school. To that I say, until we all have access to this life-saving information and an education that acknowledges us as human beings deserving of respect, I won’t stop. And as you’ve seen, we WILL win!