Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - On Wednesday, Taylor Stewart and Taralynn Chesley, both high school seniors on the Planned Parenthood Anchorage Teen Council, spoke on the Senate floor at the Capitol advocating for Senate Bill 43.
After the teens presented, they interviewed with News of the North about their experience speaking on the Senate floor.
Stewart first explained SB 43 to those unfamiliar with it.
"Senate Bill 43 is a comprehensive medically accurate sex education bill that would have Alaska accept the national sex education standard and this would require sex education to be medically accurate, comprehensive, and age-appropriate which is currently not required in the state," they said.
Although school districts are encouraged to adopt sex ed standards, the only mandatory sexual health education training children receive is on domestic violence and abuse.
Some districts like Juneau have standards that approach the standards set by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States while others provide only what is required by statute.
The teens said why this bill is important.
"Sex education is vital for youth and adults. If we don't give our youth sex education, then the adults of tomorrow won't be able to teach the youth of the next generation, what they should be doing with their body and how their body works. That's why I really believe that this bill is necessary and it needs to be passed," Stewart said. "I think the biggest one for me is that people need to know about themselves to be able to advocate for themselves and make their own decisions, which we expect people to do even as young as 16 when you're able to drive a car. If people don't know about themselves and about their bodies, they can't make those informed decisions. Being able to properly refer to yourself and know what's occurring in your own body is so empowering and important in everyday life and everyday activities. And it often gets overlooked, especially when there are no requirements to be taught that."
"This bill is vital. Not only do our children not have this education, but it's also on a grand scale like so many people have not received this education," Chesley said. "It's generational trauma. It's a generational wound, that a lot of people haven't been able to have this education. And you can see time and time again. They either carry on that perspective or if they can find one, this will be a great gateway to having children learn. And if we get this bill passed, it would be amazing for our generation and the generations to come."
She added that not only will this bill help empower individuals, but it will also extend a worldview for how people approach situations.
"Maybe someone comes to you with a personal problem, you can give advice and be a shoulder to them," she said. "Or if you're trying to figure out more about yourself, if you have this education, you can learn about that, rather than having to question and perhaps not getting accurate information."
Chesley added how the Planned Parenthood Teen Council provided a platform for her voice.
"I would say it felt really good to be heard on a big platform space, especially as an Alaska Native person. You don't see that much in media for a place of representation. So having heard what other people's input is on the bill but also putting our own input felt super refreshing and empowering to get that information."
Her native name is Agluryaq Calista.
The teens said being on Teen Council is the biggest advocacy they can take advantage of outside of the rare opportunities to advocate on the state level.
Chesley said how she'll continue advocating.
"I think just us as teen council members is advocating really well already. Although it may not be like on a state level, on a local level, we are hearing from our community and listening and providing education for other kids our age and younger to get this education if they request it," she said. "Although I'm not going to be advocating for this, again, like on a big scale probably for a while, I will be updated for other bills coming up soon in the Capitol building. So that's another way of advocacy that I'll be stepping foot for them."
Stewart agreed, "as a young person it's not always easy to use your voice."
Both Stewart and Chesley have been on the Anchorage Teen Council for two years.
Stewart spoke on how this bill would expand resources and include the LGBTQ community.
"As an LGBTQ person, there is absolutely nothing in the curriculum that I was taught that tells me that who I am is even a thing that people are. There is nothing that educated me on the different options and the different sexualities or genders, I got absolutely no preparation. And for years, I believed that being straight was the only option and the only way to have a successful life," they said. "This education talks about those different sexualities and different gender identities and just talking about the fact that they exist makes a huge impact and opens the doors for people to look inside themselves and learn about themselves. Then, in addition, it includes everyone in the education."
More information about sex education in Alaska can be found here.
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