In Grade 10, I began a club that promotes understanding between the heterosexual community and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans community. Our goal was to organize events to make people think positively about gays and trans people. These clubs may not have been around when you were in school, but there are a bunch of them in Ottawa now: they’re called gay-straight alliances (GSAs).
This has been quite a task, because we need to get approval from school council to plan events. However, my school is censoring and restricting us on a subject that has much to do with everyone in every community: safe sex.
Last year, our gay-straight alliance attended a World AIDS Day conference at City Hall. We enjoyed the trip because we got to see and hear things that we normally never would. From then on, I wanted to volunteer and help Youth Services Bureau (YSB) in their work on HIV prevention and support. I wanted to learn as much as possible on the subject of HIV and AIDS, so that I could bring that information to my school and educate other people.
That involves condoms.
Safe sex is something that all high schools need to deal with seriously. Students are normally taught about sex in their Grade 9 health classes. However, these classes do not provide information in a way that we can use it. I don’t remember much about the classes — I’m in my final year of school now — but nothing was good enough to really stick in my brain.
This year, our GSA decided to put together a booth for September 19 — the day before the AIDS Walk for Life. We were advertising for new members and we also wanted to have a section dedicated to our new goal of educating students about safer sex. YSB kindly gave us condoms that we could distribute (and I cannot thank them enough for that), but we weren’t allowed to have them on display.
I am a very sex-positive person (too positive, I’ve been told) and I feel that we should be allowed to have condoms and other contraceptives out for people to see and take if they wish.
When we went to put our booth, we were told we couldn’t distribute the condoms. I followed up with the vice principal to ask why not. She said it would be disrespectful to the cultures and religions in our school.
That doesn’t make any sense to me. By being respectful of religions that don’t approve of condoms, the school is being disrespectful to people who do need them. Even if a religion objects to their members using condoms, I’m sure that they don’t say anything about seeing or walking past them.
My principal said that we would have to get school council’s approval to have them in the hallway and student services. School council is dominated by parents, and it should be students who decide whether or not condoms should be allowed in schools.
I don’t know many students who aren’t already having some kind of sex. So, should we not have access to free condoms?
Some female students are on the pill. Sure, taking the pill will reduce pregnancy, but condoms can help protect people from spreading sexually transmitted infections and HIV, something that the pill cannot do. Not to mention that I have just been informed that there is an outbreak of Chlamydia between Grade 11s and 12s in Ottawa. That’s a good enough reason to have condoms, I think!
Giving out condoms at our booth would have attracted many students to our booth. Who knows, maybe we would get half the school as members. Anyway, I defied the rule and quietly gave out condoms to those who asked.
I also decided that my GSA would work with all students and outside groups to advocate for condoms in every school so that permission is not needed to help people have safe sex.
I wanted to write something to get the word out, but honestly, the story changed when I informed my principal I was preparing this article for Capital Xtra. I think that, in part, he really did misunderstand what we were hoping for. He was not aware of AIDS Walk for Life, nor was he aware that some of the condoms had sexual health facts stuck onto them. Don’t get me wrong, our principal is a really nice person, but it seemed like he was changing his story so that I would not be angry and ruin the school’s reputation. I was offered a job helping a nurse come in and teach about sexual health, which I am more than glad to do because, quite honestly, I like talking about sex.
What is now happening is that we have to get school council’s permission to have condoms and info readily available for World AIDS Day. There is no guarantee that we will be allowed to have condoms out, and it does not solve anything for me. We still have to get permission.
Worst of all, to have condoms in student services — also requiring approval — the condoms aren’t going into bowls for people to walk in and take; they’d have to go to a guidance counselor and ask for them.
No person would want to go up to a teacher and ask for latex sheaths so that they don’t get their partners pregnant or transmit something harmful. I intend on negotiating with my school to not have it be discreet, but I don’t think it will be of much use. I need help, and I want people to put some sort of pressure on schools to allow access to contraceptives.
I know that my school is going to get permission to have them discreetly distributed in student services and we can’t have much on display about them. Our GSA can distribute them at meetings, but not advertise that we do.
I wonder about other schools. Teens’ sexual freedoms are being brushed off, causing us harm, and I think that it’s about time that we stand up and make it mandatory to have safer sex items available to everyone, everywhere!