EXCLUSIVES

Asian Americans Aren’t Monolithic; Neither Are Our Sexual Health Needs


Godfrey Santos Plata explains why we need comprehensive health education that applies to people of all genders, bodies, and sexualities.
September 13, 2019
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I’m a gay Filipino immigrant. The totality of my sex ed in twelve years of public school looked like this: two outdated videos provided by two ill-prepared and amused white men teaching predominantly students of color.

In 1995, I was a fifth-grader at an LA Unified magnet school for students identified as gifted and talented. One day, with all other students whose parents permitted us to participate in a sex ed lesson, I watched an old, documentary-style film—its content completely immemorable. Then, anyone identified as a boy was separated from anyone identified as a girl, and one of the fifth-grade teachers—a white man (notable because we were almost all students of color)—debriefed the film with us. I remember him laughing and saying that sex was good; I could tell he was implying pleasure. I still had no idea what he meant by that, though I assumed that he was referring to a relationship with his wife because the only relationships we ever acknowledged were heterosexual and married.

As a gay Filipino immigrant, my sexual health education didn’t prepare me for life.

The next time I had a sex ed lesson was in the ninth grade, in 1999. Again, at a school that served predominantly students of color, we had a teacher, again a white man, who was tasked with teaching one semester of health. At some point, we watched “The Miracle of Life,” another older documentary. My lasting takeaway? How entertained my teacher was in a room of ninth-graders reacting to childbirth. In fact, he rewound the video and played the scene a second time just to laugh at our reactions to a vaginal birth.

As a gay Filipino immigrant, my sexual health education didn’t prepare me for life. For different reasons—some of them possibly cultural—many parents don’t talk about sex with their kids, punting that responsibility to schools.

But not once did my teachers or curriculum disrupt the idea that sexual health had more to do than childbirth between a man and a woman. Not once did my teachers make attempts to discuss how our different ethnic communities approached gender and sexuality. Not once did my teachers talk about safety, consent, and having autonomy over our bodies.

Not having a more intentional sexual health framework in our schools meant that my primary sources for learning were other teenagers, this new thing called the internet, and ultimately, real-life learning in adulthood. I don’t think any of those options were the best first choice for information about sexual health.

Not once did my teachers make attempts to discuss how our different ethnic communities approached gender and sexuality.

Fast forward twenty years later. This past May, California’s State Board of Education finally approved a pioneering health education framework that supports teachers to approach sexual education comprehensively and in ways that are more inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community.

As the framework went through rounds of revisions and approvals, reports emerged of Asian American dissent against sexual education on the basis of “family values.” Some protesters portrayed our community as monolithic, generalizing that “the curriculum didn’t consider points of view of Asian Americans.”

As a member of the Asian American community and a former educator myself, I’m glad that Asian American families are fighting for space in conversations about public education. However, as we advocate to be included in policy-making processes, we also have to remember that we are a huge community of diverse identities, backgrounds, and beliefs.

And for me, a gay Filipino immigrant, representation in education means not only seeing gay people, Filipino people, and immigrants in our history books and literature; it also means growing up with diverse representations of family and having a comprehensive health education that applies to people of all genders, bodies, and sexualities. A one-size-fits-all education that rejects the diversity of our communities will not only perpetuate intolerance; it also poses danger to any of us who vitally need this information before it’s too late.

Godfrey Santos Plata co-founded and organizes with SoCal AANHPI Educators, a collective of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander educators in the LA area. He is also a current candidate for California State Assembly, District 53.

 

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