By Andrés Bautista
Tucson Unified School District recently held a series of public hearings about approving the Family Life Curriculum, an LGBTQ+ inclusive sexual education curriculum. However, what was intended to be a space for students, parents, and administrators living in the school district to provide feedback turned into an oddly racialized debate when “Hispanic-Latino” ministry leaders—backed by a documented hate group Family Watch International—began to weaponize their ethnic identity to defend and spew anti-trans rhetoric. In response to this opposition, trans, queer, and allied community members formed a coalition to address the anti-trans messages being spread.
The coalition has made it a point to uplift Latinx voices, which is a major step in moving forward considering that LGBTQ+ Latinx folks know what it is like to grow up as queer youth affected by white supremacy and homophobia; so it is also important to create an environment where Latinx folks feel supported and empowered when engaging in this movement work.
I did not attend the Tucson Unified School District, but I do know what it’s like to grow up as a trans Mexican-American trying to navigate Arizona’s education system. I attended the Tolleson Unified School District, which also taught sexual education curriculum rooted in cisheteronormativity and abstinence. My mom, who had grown up in rural Mexico where sexual education was obsolete, could not fill in the gaps for me. Growing up, both the school district and my parents struggled to comprehend my queerness and support me in the ways I needed, which led to me engaging in risky sexual behaviors and toxic relationships. Had I been given a holistic sexual education, I would have made healthier and safer choices.
As I reflect on statistics that show how Latinx millennials were more likely than any other ethnic group to identify as LGBTQ+, and that Latinx gay men, bisexual men, and transgender women are greatly affected by HIV, I think about the trans and queer Latinx students in Tucson Unified who, like my teenage and current self, are struggling to survive in this world. This proposed curriculum could be a life saver for them and the generation of LGBTQ+ youth to follow. And yet members of their own community are trying to prevent them from making healthy and safe choices. It is instances like these that demonstrate how important it is for trans and queer organizers to uplift Latinx LGBTQ+ identified folks, especially centering the voices of students who can dismantle homophobia within their community.
I know that my experience, and the experiences of other queer and trans Latinx folks, does not exist in vacuum. There are other people who will continue to experience what we have felt. Yet, the opposition would rather erase our voices and keep us silent. Trans and queer organizers in Tucson need to acknowledge this dynamic, center LGBTQ+ voices, and learn how to be an ally to students trying to access holistic and comprehensive sexual education.