Missoula sex-ed program to offer inclusive LGBTQ curricula for youth

By Martin Kidston

Citing the need for an inclusive sexual education program, a group of local nonprofits is launching a new curricula that covers both heterosexual and LGBTQ issues for youth.

Chris Coburn, one of the program’s educators, said that while sex-ed programs already exist in Missoula schools, they often exclude education for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth.

The new program looks to include all identities.

“We’re able to go more in-depth and cover different topics and concepts, like gender identity and how sexuality intersects with all the different parts of people’s lives,” Coburn said Friday. “Sometimes in school, youth are learning important but biased sex-ed things, like pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. There’s a lot that’s missed that the Our Whole Lives curricula goes into.”

Our Whole Lives, or OWL, was initially developed by the Unitarian Church and the United Church of Christ to offer a holistic sexuality program that addresses the values, attitudes and feelings young people have about themselves.

The local program, directed toward seventh- and eighth-grade youth, will adapt the OWL curricula to offer nonsecular education that addresses the entire spectrum of sexuality. That, Coburn said, includes gay and lesbian issues, which he believes are often excluded from traditional sex-ed programs.

“Sometimes in school, sex ed is taught in a very hetero way, and some kids aren’t being educated,” he said. “It has a profound impact on their life.”

When compared to their heterosexual peers, Coburn said, LGBTQ youth experience higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies. They also suffer higher rates of depression.

“There’s quite a few reasons for that,” he said. “But one of the main ones we’re finding is that they aren’t being spoken to or educated in the fundamental way.”

The new program represents a collaboration between Planned Parenthood of Montana, Missoula City-County Relationship Violence Services and EmpowerMT – a local nonprofit that performs social justice work aimed at ending biases.

Jesse Jaeger, who works for EmpowerMT, plans to enroll his son.

“My wife and I want our 8th-grade son to have a full and healthy life,” said Jaeger. “Healthy sexuality is a big part of that, so we’re excited to see a comprehensive and inclusive sex-ed program like Our Whole Lives getting started here in Missoula.”

While some families many not agree with teaching LGBTQ perspectives, Coburn said, research has shown that inclusive sex-ed programs don’t change one’s sexual identity.

He also believes that today’s youth are well aware of alternative identities and are more open to diversity than previous generations.

“You have this fundamental truth that you’re not going to make a heterosexual youth LGBTQ by offering an inclusive education,” Coburn said. “What we know, going through puberty, some of those identities become more accepted or more pronounced as one matures. Youth are not going to change their identity based on an inclusive sex-ed curricula.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com