Episode 007: Sex Ed for Gen Z

007: Love & Sex in the Age of Coronavirus – Sex Ed for Gen Z

Published on: May 22, 2020 at 8:00 AM

Are you a parent who’s nervous about navigating “The Talk”? Don’t know how to talk about sexuality and gender with your teen? Join us for our Love & Sex in the Age of Coronavirus series: Sex Ed for Gen Z! We’ll cover inclusive language around sex, sex education and the school system, open communication, consent, valuable resources, and more. This week we feature Julia Ingram (Prevention & Sexual Health), Christine Montero (Prevention & Sexual Health Specialist), and Emma Makdessi (LGBTQ+ Program Specialist) of our METRO team. Originally broadcast via Facebook Live on the Metro Inclusive Health page on May 15th, 2020.


Brian Bailey: This is Brian Bailey, Chief Marketing and Experience Officer with Metro Inclusive Health. You’re listening to Inclusivity & Beyond: subjects that impact the health and wellness of our community.

Christine Montero: Hey everyone! Welcome to Metro Inclusive Health’s podcast, Inclusivity & Beyond. This is one of many conversations that we’re going to be having about overall health and wellness. Today we’re actually talking about Gen Z. So, the youth in our lives and in our communities. Obviously, times have changed, and whether we’re talking about organizations like METRO or public schools, I think there’s a lot of kind of catching up that we have to do as far as affirming our young people and educating them about everything they need to know. So. We’re all kind of social distancing. Many of us are at home right now, so we have plenty of time to dig into these deep topics.

Remember that we’re all in this together, but keep washing your hands, you know, take every precaution that you need to to be safe. And we’ll be right here with you. To introduce myself: I’m Christine Montero. I use, she/her pronouns, and I work at Metro Inclusive Health as a Prevention and Sexual Health Specialist.

I’m on the prevention team and I work with our youth programs. So, me and my colleagues, we go out into the community and we educate and do a lot of outreach and HIV testing to young people ages 13 to 24. So thanks for being here. I’m going to let my co-panelists introduce themselves. Emma, you want to start?

Emma Makdessi: Yeah, sure. I’d love to. Hey everyone. My name is Emma and I use she/her and they/them pronouns, and I’m one of the LGBTQ Program Specialists with Metro Inclusive Health and I work with our youth, running our support programs and our Youth Nights. So I’m in constant interaction with our teens, and I’ve been in youth development or over 10- 12 years now. So it’s kind of the thing I’ve been involved in for a while.

Christine Montero: Sweet.

Julia Ingram: Hi, I’m Julia Ingram. I work with Christine. We’re on the same team with Prevention and Sexual Health. I use pronouns of she/her. I have been in the field for about 10 years now, working with youth as well, talking a lot about sexual health, educating them on how to stay safe, how important it is to stay safe.

Christine Montero: Awesome. Yeah, I think we all have like really good experiences, both professionally and personally. Obviously, we’ve all been children. Ms. Julia, you’ve been a teacher in the public schools, and you have your own children. So I think—and especially with your expertise, Emma, coming from our LGBT programs department— that we can have a really cool, engaging conversation.

So I hope everyone out there watching is ready and excited. I think it’s super important when we’re talking about the present and all of the current events and issues going on in public schools, surrounding Sex Ed and in our communities. Also, it’s important to remember the past and what cultural norms we’ve inherited and what is acceptable, or what has been   typical as far as sex education in the past.

So, what do you all think about that, and do you think we’ve really come a long way since the past?

Emma Makdessi: I think it really depends on what you define as “come a long way.” You know, sex is everywhere, but our education on it isn’t. And maybe it’s further along now than it has been, but I think in many ways with many different folks, it’s kind of also been stunted. How we talk about sex, now…  “Yes and no,” is kind of my answer there.

Christine Montero: Totally. I feel you.

Julia Ingram: Yeah. It’s kind of interesting too, because a lot of times certain cultures talk about sex more so than other cultures. Just for example: When I was coming up in the 80s, nobody really talked about it like that. Pretty much, your parents didn’t really say very much about it. Yeah, they did tell you not to do things, but they never explained why. I think with all of the platforms and social media and things that are coming out, you do get so much more information now than you did then.

So I think, nowadays, parents, they do get a little overwhelmed with the fact of trying to [navigate] what should you explain at what age, and what you shouldn’t explain to your child. And I know on a personal level for me, had I not worked at METRO, I probably wouldn’t be as open to talk about sex with my children just because of the way I was brought up, [which was that] you handed them a book and they read, you know? I was handed a book and I read the book, and that was it. No problem whatsoever. But by working at METRO, I saw the need that, Hey, we really do need to talk to our young people about stuff, and being comfortable, comfortable about talking about sex.

So as I became a parent, I’m like: “Okay, it’s imperative that I talk about it, and that I talk about in a way that they’re comfortable and I am comfortable.” I was very fortunate that my husband was able—once I explained it to him, how we need to have conversations, and started giving statistics and things of that nature— he was able to come in on that conversation. So we kind of tag team; we have two boys, so we kind of tag teamed them as far as talking to them about sex and making it comfortable for them to come to us if they had questions. And I think that’s the biggest thing. Sometimes we don’t allow our kids to ask questions enough.

And you guys can talk a little bit more about that.

Emma Makdessi: Well, it’s funny, I’m surprised you even got a book. I grew up in a middle Eastern household, so my family’s Lebanese, and sex never even… There wasn’t a mention of it. Not even a book. What I learned from social media or what I decided to look up, but it wasn’t until I was older where I came back home and taught my younger brother some of the best practices.

So I think it’s great, right? It’s important to be able to have these conversations. I’m glad you even got a book.

Julia Ingram: My sister worked at the health department. She was an accountant at the health department, so they had books. So, I got a book.

Christine Montero: Wow. And how old were you, Ms. Julia?

Julia Ingram: Probably about eighth grade.

Christine Montero: Yeah. Same. There’s so much there that I want to talk about and unpack, but I really, I agree with the both of you that it’s gotten better as far as, you know, tolerance and acceptance of Sex Ed generally. I think we’ve come a long way, but at the same time, there’s so many spaces in which we can kind of expand because we can be in the schools and we can be in the community, maybe with more tolerance, more open arms. But, I think it’s also important to think about what we’re teaching—whether it’s inclusive to everyone, whether it, you know, reflect everyone’s… I don’t think it can reflect everyone’s experience, but that, like, it validates individuals, you know, regardless of their identities.

And, yeah, I mean, I was thinking about this ‘cause I, I feel like a lot of the reason why we don’t have as much Sex Ed, like part of it obviously is stigma. But I feel like a lot of it also is that people just don’t even realize how important Sex Ed is. And like, it’s not just about a behavior, right? It’s about relationships. It’s about identity. It’s about your relationship with yourself.

So, I think it’s really important in just the general upbringing of young people: talking about consent, talking about, you know, negotiating your boundaries, everything like that. I think that’s really important in a young person’s life.

And I feel like it shows up in our work too. Like that really personal, holistic aspect of it.

Emma Makdessi: Yeah. It’s interesting cause you know, a lot of people ask that question, like, well how young? How young is too young? But Christine, what you mentioned are sex and relationships. So we can start at a younger age—as young as elementary school—to talk about what consent looks like in language that kids understand, or *unintelligible*, and how to set boundaries and giving kids agency over their body the ability to say no, and respecting it. Then that continues to build on the physical aspect of sex. Tying in things like self esteem, self confidence when we’re talking about sex—specifically to our younger kids, right?

They’re all components of sex. And it’s almost like we have those conversations about sex — the emotional, mental part of it— after we talk about the physical part. But we need to flip that. Start talking about the mental, emotional health first before we go into the physical part of it. So we can start young, I just feel like we haven’t quite connected that piece yet.

Julia Ingram: To kind of piggyback on that, Emma, is that what I’ve noticed, like with the younger elementary age, a lot of parents are not teaching their children the proper… I wouldn’t say the proper language, the verbiage. You know, having kids to call their private parts different things. And then, when the child grows up, that’s what they know. And Christine, you can vouch for this. We’ve gone into certain venues to talk to kids and, , they, you know, they’re not using “vagina” and “penis.”

They’re using *unintelligible* terms or they’re using something that’s made up within the household, what they call it.

Christine Montero: Right, yeah, like euphemisms.

Julia Ingram: Right! When they grow up, they don’t really know the proper terms to use. So therefore what happens, too, with the younger kids, they pick up on that. If your brother is calling your vagina your “pocketbook” or your “cookie,” then a lot of times that’s what you’re going to call it.

Christine Montero: Yeah, and really, it’s not even just a concern for when you grow up, right? Like if young kids have the knowledge about their own bodies, and feel like they have autonomy, and know what their body parts are called, then it’s easier to prevent really unfortunate circumstances of sexual assault, and stuff like that.

And obviously it really greatly affects folks down the road as well. But I also really liked what you said, Miss Julia, about how these subjects are different for folks, like culturally, because I think it’s important to mention—I’m actually, I’m a social worker so I want to be nerdy—but I feel like we have to mention the fact that so many communities have been marginalized and, you know, victimized by their sexuality. Whether it’s sexual orientation, gender expression, or just like how you want to live your life.

I feel like, structurally, whether it comes to like, reproductive rights or… You know, a lot of times we tell our young people—specifically our people of color—we’re real about the distrust in the medical establishment, right? Because in the past there have been experiments done on certain communities and like, really, like horrible things done to folks for the sake of different, like… whether it’s the gynecology field, or what have you. And so I think it’s really important to think about that, and think about how different communities deserve different individualized education, I think.

So we talked a lot about culture, history, and really our experiences in our own lives around Sex Ed. But when we’re talking about sex itself, I’m like: What do you think is most important, as far as like content? I mean, I guess we can talk about different things, whether it’s Sex Ed in schools, or parents and guardians having the talk with their young people. What do you all think is age appropriate, or what do you think are the main points that young people need to hear?

Emma Makdessi: If we’re talking about young people, like I said, like elementary age, right? Consent, boundaries… And that conversation continues to when they’re teens/pre-teens. For me, the most important conversation to be had is one that’s inclusive, that isn’t a heterosexual-based conversation about sex. One that talks about body parts, not about bodies as it pertains to somebody’s gender.

So that inclusive aspect, because you also don’t know, probably, what thoughts they’re having and any misinformation or lack of information completely takes away that purpose of the talk. So content wise, just to start off: Making it inclusive and talk about specific body parts, and not making it about gender.

Christine Montero: Yeah.

Julia Ingram: Yeah. I agree with that. I also agree that body parts are very important. Just how we talked about earlier how, a lot of the younger kids don’t know their body parts. And people don’t realize when kids are babies, they’re going to explore with themselves. They’re going to explore their body parts.

And it’s very important that parents and see— as a parent— you have to be comfortable with that. You know? For example, like little boys, they’re gonna touch their penis. It’s there. They’re going to touch it. And you know, some parents are like, “Oh no, no, don’t do that.” I have seen parents like pop their hands or something for doing that.

Christine Montero: Wow!

Julia Ingram: And, that just kinda makes you feel like, “Okay, that parent may not be that comfortable in their own skin,” of what’s going on with that. And they’re not… and they’re just doing something that’s natural, you know, what a normal child would do at that particular age.

Christine Montero: And that’s a message in itself, you know, to slap someone.

Julia Ingram: Right, that it’s bad or, you know, you don’t touch that or things like that. And that’s why it’s important for programs, like the ones that we have at METRO, for people to participate in. As a parent, if you are uncomfortable having the talk or whatever you want to call it, then seek out other people who have expertise in that field to help you. You know, everybody needs help, as far as that’s concerned.

And I really, I always encourage my daughter, well — she now has a teenage son. And when we tried to have the talk with him— “Oh, I already know this, Grandma Julia, I know this, I know that.” “Okay, that’s fine,” I said, but I could just tell his mother wasn’t comfortable. And I’m like, okay, here you’re talking to your grandparents about this. You’re not comfortable talking to your mom about it, you know? Because once she walked out of the room, he opened up and started talking. So, and I think— I empathize. Had I not worked in the field,   knowing statistics, knowing how important it is for us to be able to have conversations,   around sex and sex education and things of that nature.

And I see that for some kids, it’s really helpful to have somebody to even go to, to talk about it. I mean, and I’m sure you know, people will… You know, the younger folks will come to you to ask you questions probably before they’ll come to ask me. And I think it depends on how comfortable people are, you know.

Emma Makdessi: Yeah. Yeah, and I like what you said about our programs, because our LGBTQ teens experience those workshops, and they have those talks. We have safer sex workshops. We have workshops on boundaries and consent and unhealthy relationships, and it’s inclusive, right? And then we also acknowledge our asexual teens, right?

When we’re talking about sex, we’re talking about maybe not having the desire. Right? Because that’s also a sexuality, is not having a sexuality. So, our programs and our youth programs—you can send your LGBTQ+ teens to our programs, and we’ll sit down and we’ll talk to them about it.

Julia Ingram: And that’s good because they need that. They need somebody that’s going to be open and honest and forthright and, and acknowledging how they’re feeling. You know?

Emma Makdessi: They’re not getting in their schools! They’re not getting in school, and they’re getting mixed messages on social media and websites and folks in their life, and so they’re getting inaccurate and not inclusive information.

Christine Montero: Yeah.

Emma Makdessi: Which is very impactful, and not a positive impact.

Christine Montero: I like what you said, Ms. Julia, about, I mean, just generally, there’s like a lot of discomfort—obviously, because like if we don’t have the experience of talking about these things personally, then we don’t have that foundation or experience to know how to talk to our kids about it.

But I think it’s really important ‘cause, we’re talking about like, when kids are younger, obviously in a perfect world, ideally we would start them off young, right? And really start with a foundation of consent, and body parts, and all of that. But I feel like a lot of times parents—not that I know personally—but I feel like usually what is the case is that, you know, maybe they don’t feel comfortable and they don’t think it’s the right time until it’s a little too late, you know? And then maybe they’re scared, and nervous, and uncomfortable. But I feel like one of the most important things is just to be authentic, right?

And to say like—‘Hey,”—the most important thing if I’m a parent or I’m a guardian to a kid, I think the most important thing is to say: “Hey, I’m there for you, and we’re going to work together to learn about this stuff. And I may not know everything, but I will seek out resources. I will at least be there for you to answer any questions or talk, and to just be real.” ’Cause I feel like, you know, having it be just about behaviors or just about “don’t get pregnant, don’t get an STD,” it’s, I don’t know… It’s really alienating!

I’m really curious ‘cause Julia and I work on our youth programs more in the community,   doing Sex Ed in schools and stuff—Emma, you work firsthand with our METRO youth who are in our LGBTQ+ programs. Do you ever come across any barriers when it comes to like parents of the youth that you work with?

Emma Makdessi: If we get a question from a parent, we always remind them and we just let them know — as we remind our teams and let them know — that participation is voluntary.

If they don’t feel comfortable with their teen, maybe going through a safer sex at workshop with us, they can always go hang out on the porch with the other teens and a facilitator for our Youth Nights program. And then when they’re ready to have that conversation, they can join us. ‘Cause we don’t only have the conversation once a year, you know, we have it often.

So it’s almost like, when they’re ready. But after we talk to parents and explain that it’s inclusive, it’s not safe sex practices, it kind of changes their mind, too, about what we’re talking about. And I think like, as we had mentioned, it also takes away the pressure from them to have that conversation with their LGBTQ+ teen, because now it’s probably a world that they’ve never thought about having to talk about sex in. So now they’re like, okay, I may not have any information, but these folks are willing and able to give our teen information that I just don’t know anything about.

So we haven’t really hit resistance from parents *unintelligible*. And when it comes to our teens, it also depends on when they’re ready, right?

For a lot of our teens who maybe identify as ace or asexual, they’re like “This conversation isn’t for me.” And we encourage them to be part of the conversation, to understand if you’re not there— for any of our teens— it’s okay. We will be there when you’re ready. Yeah. We don’t talk about it any less or we don’t remind them any less about, again, the emotional and mental safety part of sex, which is the consent and the boundaries and the confidence and the self esteem—those components of sex in relationships.

So they may not hear about SEX, but they’ll hear about healthy relationships.

Christine Montero: For sure. Yeah.

Emma Makdessi: So there’s always a way to incorporate aspects of sex without… When they’re ready.

Christine Montero: For sure. For sure. And offer the resources, right?

Emma Makdessi: Absolutely. And talk about testing. We’ve brought prevention out to do testing at Youth Nights and we talk to them about that, about HIV. So we’re giving them access to resources and we’re also making ourselves open for those questions that they may have. They see the Safer Sex Kits that we have, and they’ll ask questions and we answer. And if we don’t have an answer, we give them our safer sex guide — and if that doesn’t provide them enough information, that will lead them to another place, right?

So we help with the resources, but also the openness for them to come to us and have those awkward, sometimes, shouldn’t-be-awkward conversations about sex.

Julia Ingram: And that’s really good. Then my, because for a lot of parents, they don’t know where to go for resources, and I tell parents all the time, I’m like: if you want them resources when you’re getting ready to have “The Talk,” come to METRO. That’s what we do! That’s who we’re here for! And you can see it takes a lot off the load for them. Like, “Oh my God, is there somebody out there that can do this?” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to take that extra pressure off of you.”

I think for we, as parents, we want to have the right info. We want to have the right information, you know, we want to be correct in what we’re telling our kids. So, a lot of times, we shy away from asking other people and getting resources because we feel like, “Well, I’m the parent and I’m supposed to know.”

And I’m very upfront with all of my own kids, ‘cause I don’t have all the answers, but what I can do is seek out the resources for you. You know, because I’m going to be honest, I don’t have all the answers. If you come to me with a question—and that’s another thing. Parents, we have to start opening the doors, open that door so that your child can come to you with any type of question.

You know, I always tell my kids: There is no dumb question. That one question that somebody else is scared to ask? You go ahead and ask that question. So I think it’s just important for us as parents to open our doors and to be open minded so that I kids can come to us and tell us, you know, “Hey, I’m feeling this way,” or, “Somebody came to school and they were talking about this subject matter. I didn’t understand.” So, hey. You know, to me, I just always feel like that your first ground of information should be coming from your family, from your parents or whoever their guardian is. That should be your first line of information.

Christine Montero: As opposed to what?

[00:27:00] Julia Ingram: Versus the streets!

James Keane (Interlude): This is James Keane, Director of Development at Metro Inclusive Health. Here we’re listening to one of the many ways that support from our donors and sponsors help enable us to deliver important programming and information to our community. Help us, if you can, to keep our programming live. You could buy this spot and share YOUR message with our community.

Emma Makdessi: I have a question for you, Ms. Julia. Do you think that parents and guardians are nervous to talk to other parents and guardians about sex and resources because they maybe don’t want to admit that their child is thinking, or talking, or wanting to have sex?

Julia Ingram: I think that’s what it is! Because a lot of times if you’re talking to another parent and they’re sharing that information, they’re not like, “Ooh. They’re talking about sex! Oh, they’re having sex!” A lot of the time, there’s not that. It’s like you’re bouncing out information trying to say, “Well, you know, my child was at this age when they were asking me questions about how they feel about that.” But it’s good to have, I think it’s good to have other people. I like other people’s opinions.

So then you just take that and you just kinda go with it. Whatever you’re telling your child,   the resources that you’ve found for your child, and you just kinda move from there. I think it’s interesting though, but like I said, sometimes as a parent, you don’t want anybody else to know or have the upper hand on you.

You’re kinda like, “Oh yeah, she can’t know more than I know cause I’m the parent, you know, about that kind of thing.” So yeah, it’s pretty interesting. Parenting is interesting. Wait, ‘til you guys do it. Yeah. [Laughter]

Emma Makdessi: Yeah, I’m good. I’m gonna pass on that one!

Christine Montero: Same! I know Ms. Julia, you love hearing about folks’ prospects as far as babies and stuff. [Laughs] But yeah, so it’s like, obviously, like you said, we want young folks to feel comfortable in there with their parents, with their guardians, as far as talking about this stuff and you said —

Julia Ingram: A close tie, a friend, or something. Someone who can give you good information.

Christine Montero: Of course. You know, like, not everyone is close with their family, right? And so some people have chosen family that they rely on. And that’s just as important and valuable. But yeah, so like “the streets.”

But also, I think we mentioned way before, we mentioned how one way, as a society, I feel like we’ve really advanced is how there’s a lot of information out there because of technology, right? And like, everything there is online, whether it’s information or entertainment, and I feel like it is probably daunting to parents of young people as far as how to approach them about like, what they see online or maybe how to access resources online.

I don’t know what you have all seen, or… What has your experience been like when you’re engaging with parents? Or what do you think is good practice as far as integrating media literacy in Sex Ed?

[Silence from Emma and Julia]

That was a lot. I mean, I was kind of like… like young people are sexting, right? And young people are sending—they might be sending or receiving— pictures, right?

Emma Makdessi: Yeah, they definitely are!

Christine Montero: Yeah, exactly. Or accessing porn, right? So, you know, what is our role? You know, as community members, educators. And then what do you think is the role for parents?

Julia Ingram: I think here again, it comes to the point where education is the key. I mean, the parent has to educate themselves as well and then pass that on to their children or to their child, as far as educating them.   I think sometimes as parents we’re so quick to say things are bad. We don’t know if it’s bad, we just know that we didn’t do it, so it’s bad. And for the generation that’s coming up now? It’s kind of like a free for all. Nothing’s bad anymore!

It’s like, “Hey, you know, we can do this. You can see this.” And I think things are so accessible, you know, that you can get stuff online and on television and *unintelligible*.

Christine Montero: And online dating.

Julia Ingram: Yeah. Well the parents are online dating, now, too! [Laughs]

But yeah, it is very interesting, to see how all of this evolves. I think it’s going to be even more interesting ‘cause even with the social distance thing that we’re doing now with the pandemic, I think the whole dating scene is going to change how people are dating and connecting.

Christine Montero: Even long term.

Julia Ingram: Yeah!

Emma Makdessi: Okay. So I want to say yes on educating yourself as a parent or guardian. But I think the other part of it is reflecting, if you are a parent or a guardian, on why you’re still stigmatizing sex. Before you even go to resources, right? Why is the conversation so hard for you to have? What is your relationship to sex? Why? What is your hangup? Because that when you’re closed off, you can do all the research that you want on sex. But if you can’t be open enough to understand your relationship to sex, that’s not going to come across to your young person, if you’re not comfortable or open yourself. And part of that openness is also saying, “Hey, I grew up thinking this way about sex,” or “This is what I was taught growing up.”

For example, for me, I can tell my teens, “No one talked to me about sex and my family and no one talked to me about being gay and having sex.” Right? I’ve had to relearn stuff for myself, or reflect on what my relationship was with sex. And it’s why I can have this conversation with you so openly.

So I think even before the education piece comes in, as a parent or a guardian or even adult that’s having a conversation with the young person about sex, you need to understand what your relationship is to it and what that openness looks like to you, to engage in that conversation in the first place.

Julia Ingram: I agree.

Christine Montero: Yeah. And maybe just, you know, having that understanding that, “Okay, I have maybe, identities and behaviors that I identify with, but you know, everyone’s going to be different and everyone has different experiences, right? And so, yeah, I think that’s totally foundational to actually getting to the knowledge and the resources and stuff.

Julia Ingram: I think a very good point that you hit on, Emma, is that everybody’s experience is different. So if a person, and to be honest, if a person didn’t have a good experience, then they’re going to put that off on their children or on their child who are whomever else. If they didn’t have a good experience with it, or, , in that case, maybe, a situation happened to them that wasn’t pleasant, they’re going to put that negativity or attack that when they’re having that conversation.

Christine Montero: Yeah. I mean, not to be, like, technical, but what I hear you saying is like a generational trauma, right? And it’s important to break that chain, which is… It’s really hard.

I mean, I know like you and I, Ms. Julia, I love what we do. I love the young people that we engage with, and it’s just so rewarding. Because really, you see how dire the situation is, you know, cause we’re talking predominantly about HIV prevention and how to protect yourself and it truly is so foundational to your health, your wellness, your relationships, mental health, stuff like that. We go out to the local jails, you know, group homes, homeless shelters, communities like that. You see what a powerful effect these conversations have. Cause it’s not just about sex, it’s about your humanity, really.

Ahh. So, we’ve talked about having “The Talk” as a parent. I want to round out our conversation as far as like, sex education, you know, as an institution, by debriefing about the state of public schools. Right? So, we talked about elementary school, how it’s like, mainly we’re talking about puberty, right? And the very basics. But I know you work a lot in the schools, Ms. Julia. What has your experience been? And, really on a school level, on a district level, what’s the climate like?

Julia Ingram: Well, basically in here in Pinellas County, their stance is basically that: “I’m not going to give you all the—I’m not going to give any—information, because if I give you that information, you may go out here and DO something with that information that I give you.”

So they kind of go, you know, “I’m not giving you any information.”

So you see, you know, teens that are pregnant, or young ladies come to you and say, “I’m 13 and I’m having sex with my 16 year old boyfriend.” You know, that kind of thing. I think the school system is still a little antiquated with that, and they’re not in reality of what really is going on out there and what kids are really doing.

Because Christine, you as you and I see the statistics, even though they’ve gone down—the STD and HIV rates have gone down a little—but teens are having sex. And the schools seem to have a stance where, “if we don’t talk about it, they won’t do it.” And it’s just, it’s just a combination of different things with the school system.

They have the battle with those parents who don’t want the school to teach ANY Sex Ed in the school. But THEY’RE not doing it. And then, so it’s just dynamics going on there. I think when you and I go into the schools, Christine, we do really good job of letting the kids know that, “Hey, if you’re having some issues or you have questions, this is where you can come.”

METRO is the place to come to get that. It’s to get some information. And whether it’s getting the information, whether it’s getting condoms—all of that. So I think you and I do a really good job of letting them know that this is where you can come. If a situation arises and you are having sex, you know, you need to protect yourself.

Christine Montero: Totally. And I like METRO and I really feel really good about what we do because I know everyone on our team, like regardless of what our goals are, we will adapt our services and we will work to make, to serve the client whatever they need. Right? And I like, I feel really proud of that personally. Because I know, even though you and I, Ms. Julia, we’re not technically doing clinical social work or anything like that, or even though we don’t necessarily do that kind of one-on-one work, we’re always willing to help parents, willing to help teachers individually, and all that.

And I definitely know that you all practice that kind of work ethic and mantra over in your department, Emma.

Emma Makdessi: Yes. I want to address the comment that just came through. That cultural knowledge can also be a barrier, and that being sexually literate is different for immigrating parents, as now their teen is growing in an American culture.

Yes, we absolutely see that. I know growing up it was like, you’re Lebanese, but you’re growing up with American culture and American culture is teaching you this, but our culture isn’t. And the speed to which a Lebanese (living in Lebanon) person would get this information would be much different than the speed of a Lebanese-American person getting this information.

Julia Ingram: I’m sure.

Christine Montero: Totally, and it’s hard for young people to kind of like, just deal, not deal with… but like process both of those identities at once. I mean, I’m already second generation, but my grandparents were all immigrants and you know, they came from Cuba, but you can really still feel the differences in culture and attitudes around sexuality, whether it comes to sex itself, or especially gender identity and orientation.

‘Cause I know for me— I feel like, I mean, I always say this when I like tell my own story— I feel like when I was growing up, I had blinders on, cause you know, you just learn the norm and you know, heteronormativity and straight culture. And you kind of don’t even realize, you can’t really tap into yourself when the world messages you a certain way.

Yeah, so lots of resources. And I like, Ms. Julia, I think you mentioned something about how like things are different now because we are in a pandemic. We are all collectively dealing with the Coronavirus. So like, yeah, sex is gonna look differently. Relationships are gonna look differently. And I wanted to mention that at METRO, we not only have Prevention and Sexual Health services, we not only have LGBTQ+ programming, but we have a lot of other programs that just talk about, generally, sex and relationships. I know we’ve been doing a lot of groups, or my colleagues have been leading a lot of groups on healthy sexuality during a pandemic, what’s okay and what’s not okay as far as behaviors in order to stay safe and healthy, but also like how to cope because this is all super isolating. Personally, I’m struggling, you know, we’re all in this together.

Anything else you all want to mention or share before we start wrapping up?

Emma Makdessi: We’re all struggling?

Christine Montero: Struggling from social isolation. I do. So obviously METRO is like the end-all be-all resource, but I do want to mention some other resources that I think are really good.

So for parents, there’s this group/organization called Sex Positive Families that I think is really awesome. So they have a website, sexpositivefamilies.com, and then Instagram and Facebook. And they have a ton of   resources on how to talk to your kids about, you know, puberty, sexual health, identity, all of that. And a lot of good resources.

You know, when we’re talking about media literacy, obviously we want to talk to young people about porn and maybe the more negative consequences of being online or whatever. But we also want to equip young people with resources.

One really good website I know specifically for young people is called Scarlet Teen. They have a lot of really cool tools and resources for teenagers and young people around sex and sexuality. Emma, do you have anything, like any good resources that you want to advocate or shout out?

Emma Makdessi: Absolutely. So, our youth programs at METRO. We have a Peer Support group that runs on Tuesday and Thursday for LGBTQ youth. And then our Youth Nights runs on Friday and Saturday. And then coming up this summer is our first-ever Stay-in Summer Camp, which I’m really excited about! [Enthusiastic sounds from Julia and Christine]

Actually, you know what? We have to think about accessibility and resources for camps. So, for every camper, we will be sending them a camp care package. And that package will have — it’s super cool— it’s going to have all the [materials] they need for their workshops, along with snacks, and a whole bunch of rainbow gear. It’s something to really just make them feel like camp is home with them, and so they get that experience. We’re also having our Safer Sex Workshop, which we have at just about every major youth event, because our LGBTQ+ teens need to hear about safer sex practices that are inclusive.

So it is happening at our summer camp. We’re really excited about it. Actually, we’re full.

Christine Montero: Oh my gosh!

Julia Ingram: That’s pretty awesome!

Emma Makdessi: We have teens from Port Charlotte, we have a teen from Ohio. Making it work and making it accessible has really kind of opened the doors for, you know, who we can reach and the involvement of our teens. We’re really excited about summer camp and all our virtual youth programming because there is a need, because we’re all struggling. And it’s a space for them to get inclusive information that they’re not getting anywhere else.

Christine Montero: Brilliant. Ms Julie, you want to talk a little bit about CTG [Closing the Gap] and testing?

Julia Ingram: Yeah, I was going to mention the fact that we have a CTG program, which talks about HIV and other STIs. And we also have our Young Minds program. We have two: One is from 18 to 24 year old, and we have another group that is for 13 to 17. So, both groups are very helpful. We talk a lot about safer sex practices. Of course we talk about HIV and other STIs. We do have a portion that talks about mental health, and we do have a mental health program at METRO.

Christine Montero: Which is Telehealth now, right?

Julia Ingram: Oh, right, it’s Telehealth now. Is there anything else?

Christine Montero: Yeah. Cool. Thanks Ms. Julia. Yeah, I mean, so much. So much else. Thank you for mentioning mental health. We do have mental health services for young people, so hit us up! We also offer PrEP, which is preexposure prophylaxis, basically a medication that folks take to greatly, greatly reduce the risk of getting HIV. It’s pretty great. So if y’all are interested, hit us up, email us, or reach out to us via Facebook.

One last thing actually: in our department in Prevention and Sexual Health, we have a program called TOPWA, which is for pregnant [people] in Hillsborough County. So basically we work with folks who are expecting, not always women. But to folks who are pregnant, we basically offer services, offer HIV testing. We throw them baby showers, give them bus passes, give them diapers, and like, basically are, you know, caseworkers for them. It really helps reduce the rate of babies that are born with HIV and are in our communities.

My kitty’s making noise. I’m sorry. But yeah, that’s really exciting. Emma, about your summer camp! You’re already at capacity, so I guess next year it’ll have to be bigger.

Emma Makdessi: We are hoping to have a second session this summer. Whether or not it’s virtual, stay tuned. We’ll keep you updated. There are ways to support, there are ways to really just provide these resources for our LGBTQ+ teens who really also need it during this time.

Christine Montero: Totally. Me too, I need support too.

Emma Makdessi: Want a care package? [Laughing]

Oh my gosh. Don’t even get me started—that would be awesome. But yeah, I mean I feel like there’s so much more I want to talk about and I’m really excited cause maybe we can have another one of these!

[Reading comment] “Hey Ms. Julia. Thanks for all you do for the AA community. Waiting for the next WoW event!”

Ms. Julia, what is WoW?

Julia Ingram: WoW is our program that we do for, well, for women every month. When we have it, we have a different topic that we talk about. So it’s really, really cool and truly interesting, you’re saying, and it gets people engaged. And, for a lot of people and for a lot of women who have questions, health questions, that they want answered. We normally have a healthcare provider there, so if anyone has any questions, and especially regarding PrEP, we always have a person there to discuss [it]. So, yeah.

Christine Montero: Awesome. Thanks, Morgan for your comment. I love all of the feedback. It’s amazing.

So I’m going to wrap this up soon, but I want to mention: make sure you follow us on social media. We’re on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, maybe coming soon on Tik Tok, soon, to appeal to the young’uns. Wait for that—that’ll be potentially oncoming. But thank you so, so, so, so much, Emma, and thank you, Julia for sharing your wisdom. Thank you. Super awesome. Thank you audience for joining us. Again, stay tuned for more events like this.

And actually, we have a campaign going on. If you want to keep seeing programs like this and help us continue to reach our young people and educate our young people, then use the Text-to-Give number. It’s texting: METRO to #44321. We’ll be here at home for a long time, so hopefully you’ll see us soon.

Next Friday [May 22nd, 2020], actually, we’re going to have another one of these. Inclusivity & Beyond LIVE, but it’s going to be on medical marijuana, with our guest speakers, Dr. Karen Monroe and Trulieve. So we’re gonna sign off, but I hope to see you next time. Bye.

Brian Bailey: You’ve been listening to Inclusivity & Beyond with Metro Inclusive Health: subjects that impact the health and wellness of our community. Want to hear us cover a subject in the future? Email us at LGBT@MetroTampaBay.org, or for sponsorship information, contact JamesK@MetroTampaBay.org.

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