Last night, approximately 600 people packed the auditorium of the Inter-American primary school in Lakeview for the  monthly CAPS meeting. This particular meeting focused on a handful of instances of violence in the neighborhood in the past few months. The audience was comprised primarily of cis-gender white men (I’d say at least 75%), and the atmosphere was charged and unsettling. The organizers of the meeting handed out fliers at the start of the event that proclaimed, “Diversity is Welcome, Crime is Not.”

Bigotry made its appearance with the first speaker, who took it upon himself to read the audience the definition of a gang. After doing so, he insisted that youth (i.e.  youth of color) on the streets of Lakeview are members of gangs that are attempting to intimidate and terrorize (parenthetically: white) residents. After the close of his long-winded and offensive rant, a police officer called for speeches that were briefer. To this I responded, “And less racist!”

As soon as I spoke, I realized that I was surrounded by a sea of white gay men who were clearly on the ‘other side’ of the issue. About a dozen men (seriously) immediately began slinging insults and demands at me like, ‘You’re just uneducated!’, ‘Shut your Mouth!’, and ‘You’re the problem!’ As they yelled and shook their programs in my face, I turned around to catch the man screeching from behind me on camera. When he saw my camera, he slapped my arm and grabbed my wrist in an attempt to knock my camera to the ground. I have since been informed that this man’s name is Mark Nagel, and that he is farily well-known in the gay community. Nagel, along with other residents, was clearly extremely defensive and poised to attack anyone who suggested that race was a central part of their concerns.

The more that white residents insisted, time and again, that this issue was NOT about race, the more they seemed out of touch and frankly, racist. One after another approached the microphone and spoke about how dangerous the neighborhood has become and how more police are needed on their streets. Many also posed calls to action for community members to fill the gaps that police can’t. These requests for action were extremely troubling, and seemed to be an invitation for white residents to use violence against youth of color if ‘necessary’.

Most of the comments made by residents involved the assumption that the police are effective at creating safe neighborhoods or that the law addresses everyone in an equal and just way. This is clearly not the case. The police have historically targeted people of color, queers, trans folks, the poor and homeless, and many other groups, and people of color are vastly overrepresented in prisons across the country. More policing is not the answer and vigilantism is even more dangerous.

Those on the side of racial and class justice also addressed the crowd, some telling their personal stories of struggle and describing what the neighborhood has meant for them as an identity-affirming space. Some addressed the need for resources, support and safe spaces for queer youth on the south and west sides, some spoke about the lack of shelter or supportive housing for homeless youth, and some discussed issues of race and class explicitly. Many of these speakers were articulate and genuine, and brave enough to share deeply personal experiences of hardship and homelessness. Instead of receiving respect for their openness, residents shouted things like, ‘Get a job!’ or ‘That’s not our problem!’ This lack of compassion and understanding was the most painful and disappointing part of the meeting for me.

As I mentioned when I addressed the group, what youth and the folks who Lakeview residents call ‘criminals’  need are meaningful structural interventions that begin to address violence and discrimination. The issues of homelessness, unemployment and substance abuse are not all about ‘individual behavioral problems’ as someone suggested, but are the result of institutional violence and profound inequality in access to many resources including healthcare, housing, education, and employment. If the residents of Lakeview  want to stop violence in the neighborhood, (which is notably one of the lowest-crime areas in the city) they should get involved in creating positive change, and should join the struggles against racism and classism.

This meeting barely scraped the surface of the issues that underly the ‘wave of violence’ in Lakeview. I believe that there were people who came to the meeting genuinely wanting to engage and work toward solutions, but the meeting and its tone did not welcome productive conversation or strategizing. It is my hope that  the folks interested in finding meaningful solutions to issues of homeless and violence in Lakeview stay engaged. I also hope that the next meeting is better organized (say, with an agenda perhaps) and controlled to create a safe and respectful space.

School-based sexuality education is a fundamental force in the construction of adolescent sexuality. Sexuality instruction presents ideas about what is considered ‘normal’ in youth sex and relationships, and is designed not only to reduce teen sexual behavior, disease and pregnancy, but also to instruct young people to adopt specific normative relationships to their sexuality.

I believe that sexuality education has the potential to challenge ideas about normative sexuality and gender, and to facilitate critical discussions about inequality, power and privilege.  Unfortunately, current sexuality education in the U.S. is not fulfilling this potential. Eighty-six percent of public schools in the U.S. employ Abstinence-Only Until Marriage or abstinence-based models of sexual health education. These models promotes the idea of sex as heterosexual, coital and procreative, and places sexual choices made by many youth outside of the limits of ‘appropriate’ behavior.

This is particularly true for LGBTQ youth. Abstinence-based education places LGBTQ youth in the margins by promoting marriage, ignoring the existence of queer sexualities, and failing to address the health needs of LGBTQ youth. This model does not allow for the possibility of differently configured relationships, and does not provide information regarding safer-sex practices for queer youth. Abstinence-only education denies queer youth legitimacy and suggests that they do not deserve sexuality education.

In addition to marginalizing queer sexuality, most sexuality education fails to address the intersections of race, class and gender with sexuality. Even though sexuality is often racialized and considered differently in relation to gender and class, sexuality education does not include instruction on the ways in which social, economic, and political power shape sexual identities and behaviors. Additionally, most sexuality positions adolescent women as objects of desire that must ward off sexual advances, but does not explicitly address the subordinated status of girls and women.

I believe that principles of social justice education should be applied to sexuality education in schools. This kind of critical education could have positive outcomes for youth related to attitudes and behaviors toward sexual and gender minority students. Additionally, social justice-focused sexuality education has the potential to deepen youth understanding of the relationship between race, class, gender, ability and sexuality, and to increase feelings of sexual agency. Educators need to address the diversity of experiences of youth, be affirming of youth identities, and acknowledge the inequities that exist in society.

There are many challenges to the implementation of anti-oppressive, inclusive sexuality education. A great deal of funding and political effort has been invested in abstinence-based programs in the United States, despite the fact that there is no empirical evidence to support its efficacy. Additionally,  social justice-focused education presents a threat to current power structures, and demands that people examine their own privilege.

Despite the obstacles, groups are challenging Bush-era sexual health programs in a number of states. The Illinois Senate recently passed the PREP Act, and if it is passed by the House, schools offering sexual health education will be required to provide information that is medically accurate, age appropriate and evidence-based. The introduction of comprehensive sexuality education in more schools is an important step forward, but curricula still needs to go further, and should be radically inclusive and focused on social justice.