Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Everything They Always Wanted to Know about Sex: Because Their Health Class Doesn't Always Include the Safe-Sex Lessons That They Need, Some Chicago Teens Have Taken Matters (and the Lessons) into Their Own Hands-By Staging a New Show

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Everything They Always Wanted to Know about Sex: Because Their Health Class Doesn't Always Include the Safe-Sex Lessons That They Need, Some Chicago Teens Have Taken Matters (and the Lessons) into Their Own Hands-By Staging a New Show

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

GROWING UP THE DAUGHTER of a conservative Chicago pastor, Pookie, a 16-year-old lesbian, learned little about sex at home, where "it's all about God," she says. A student at a high school on the city's north side, Pookie says she isn't out to her family because, if she were, "my dad would blow up. He'd try to get the lesbian spirit out of me."

School hasn't been any more enlightening: There, Pookie says in her rapid-fire way of speaking, sex education is "all about heterosexual sex and heterosexual diseases ... all about a penis and vagina coming together to make a baby, or a penis and vagina coming together with a condom to not make a baby." The only nod to LGBT students is typically a five-minute explanation of what the acronym stands for--a lesson that benefited her straight classmates more than her, she says.

Whether they're being preached to about abstinence until marriage, with nary a reference to HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, or being taught safe heterosexual sex, chances are many gay kids aren't getting the basic facts about their health needs in high school. If they speak out--like Pookie did, once challenging her sex-ed teacher on the lack of gay-specific info--they're often told such content isn't in the curriculum. "It was pointless to try," Pookie says.

But that doesn't mean she gave up. She joined the cast of Fast Forward, the latest production from Chicago's About Face Youth Theatre, which addresses the dearth by staging the stories of real gay teens. With a set designed to resemble a classroom, the show features an ensemble of 19 teens and a script based on their experiences and those of their friends. The stories often deal with HIV, says About Face's education programs director and Fast Forward director-cowriter Paula Gilovich, because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of new infections in the U.S. occur in people under the age of 25. Among the tales: a virgin who moves to the big city to become a dancer, only to discover his new boyfriend is HIV-positive; a young woman born with HIV who's stigmatized by her high school peers; another woman in love with her best girlfriend, who's straight and contracts HIV from a guy.

"Not only is current sex education not working, 'no sex till marriage' is blatantly homophobic," Gilovich says. …

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