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Washtenaw United: Helping Local Transgender And Nonbinary Youth In 2020

Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health

COVID-19 and issues surrounding law enforcement and policing are impacting us all.  Stay-at-home orders and bias can impact some portions of our community even more.  The Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health (MOASH) has received a grant from the United Way of Washtenaw County to assist transgender and nonbinary youth better deal with those issues.  In this week's "Washtenaw United," WEMU's David Fair and MOASH executive director Taryn Gal will explore the intersection of adolescent sexual health and the circumstances we find ourselves living in today. 

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area.  And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services.  It is a community voice.  It is 'Washtenaw United.'


Taryn Gal, MPH, CPH, CHES is the Executive Director at the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health (MOASH), where she has held various roles since 2011.  During her time at MOASH, she has worked alongside youth to break down the siloed approach to adolescent sexual health issues, in order to effectively address all that overlaps with sexual and reproductive health among young people in Michigan.  Taryn has worked in the field of sexual health for over 20 years and, prior to her work at MOASH, worked as a sexuality educator, HIV test counselor, and research assistant in HIV-prevention curriculum development.  Currently, she is a board member for GLSEN Southeast Michigan Chapterand is the co-chair of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Sexual Health Education Advisory Committee.  Contact Taryn at: taryn.gal@moash.org.


Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health (MOASH)

MOASH COVID-19 Advocacy Principles

MOASH COVID-19 Reproductive Health Priorities

MOASH Action Statement on Police Brutality and Racial Justice

"Michigan Group Says Reproductive Justice, Racism Not Mutually Exclusive"


UWWC has invested in MOASH through its Opportunity Fund for two projects to support the health and wellbeing of Washtenaw County Youth. 

Project 1 FY18: Washtenaw County (WC) Power Sex Education Advisory Boards (SEABs).  The Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health (MOASH) worked alongside the Lincoln Consolidated Schools and Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS) to develop informed and coordinated sex ed advisory boards (SEABs) to address the social determinants of adolescent sexual health in these communities as part of the Washtenaw County (WC) Power Sex Education Advisory Boards (SEABs) initiative. 

Background: In Michigan, by law, no school district is allowed to offer sex education instruction unless a sex education advisory board (SEAB) is established by the district school board.  If a district does not have a SEAB, students do not receive sexual health education, including human development, disease prevention, contraception, abstinence, healthy relationships, consent, and other topics related to sexuality.  Even with an established SEAB, there are few legal requirements for the SEAB to function and little oversight to ensure they are abiding by requirements that do exist.  SEABs are charged with 1) establishing program goals and objectives for pupil knowledge and skills; 2) reviewing curricula and methods of instruction and recommend of program goals and objectives, yet SEAB members receive no training or guidance on how to meet these requirements according to best practice.  For example, SEAB members do not learn how to establish goals and objectives based on identified needs in their district, not informed of best practice on teaching methods (e.g., do not divide sexual health education classes by gender) or curricula (e.g., comprehensive, developmentally appropriate, medically-accurate, research informed), or how to most effectively and accurately evaluate their sex education goals and objectives.  In to the school district board of education for approval; and 3) evaluating, measuring, and reporting attainment. 

Project 2 FY19: Michigan Youth (MY) Trans Voice - Washtenaw County MOASH proposes to work alongside the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD), Livingston and Washtenaw Counties Transgender Task Force (TTF), Michigan Department of Education (MDE), and Stand with Trans (SwT) to develop an informed and coordinated effort to improve inclusion and affirmation and, thereby, health and educational outcomes, of transgender youth in Washtenaw County.  Over the course of the Michigan Youth (MY) Trans* Voice - Washtenaw County (WC) program period, MOASH will 1) work alongside the TTF to determine and implement strategies to increase representation of marginalized voices serving on the TTF; 2) develop and coordinate the MY Trans Voice - WC youth advisory council, which will inform all the work of the TTF; and 3) develop and implement a parent version of Michigan Department of Education's Silent Crisis workshop for parents of trans youth in Washtenaw County.  Through MY Trans Voice - WC, MOASH and its partners will institute a comprehensive program in order to strengthen awareness and voice of trans youth in the short term and establish trans leadership and awareness in order to interrupt systemic oppression these youth face in the long term.  *Trans is an umbrella term for the purpose of this project, which includes transgender, and anyone who is not cisgender, including non-binary, genderqueer, gender nonconforming, gender creative, gender fluid, and others. 

Background: Michigan, including Washtenaw County, is oftentimes not a safe or healthy place for trans people.  According to the 2015 National Center for Transgender Equality US Transgender Survey (USTS), 30% of transgender people in Michigan are living in poverty (compared to national rate of 14%) and 43% reported psychological distress (compared to 5% of US population).  Additional findings show staggering disparities in the areas of income and employment status; education, housing, and shelter access; public accommodations; restrooms; police interactions; health; and identity documents. 

For transgender youth, who are at the intersection of two (gender identity and age) or more marginalized identities (e.g., race, religion, citizenship status, ability, homelessness, pregnancy/parenting), the disparities become even greater.  Unfortunately, little data has been collected in Michigan about transgender youth.  Two surveying instruments with greatest reach (Michigan Youth Risk Behavior Survey and Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth) have only very recently begun to ask about gender identity and do so in a limited way.  According to the USTS survey, 79% of respondents who were out or perceived as transgender at some point in K-12 school experienced some form of mistreatment, including verbal harassment, prohibited from dressing according to gender identity, disciplined more harshly, or physically or sexually assaulted because they were transgender. 

According to GLSEN’s 2017 Michigan School Climate Survey, 58% of LGBT students were harassed or assaulted based on their gender expression, 73% heard negative remarks about transgender people, 26% were prevented from using their chosen name or gender pronoun, 31% were prevented from using the bathroom or locker room that aligns with gender, 20% prevented from wearing clothes considered inappropriate for their gender, and only 8% attended a school with an enumerated anti-bullying/harassment policy that included specific protections for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. 

Trans youth are at greater risk for engaging in multiple risky behaviors, including attempted suicide, skipping school, early substance/drug use, unprotected sex, and forced sex.  Engagement in these risky behaviors is associated with increased risk for negative health and educational outcomes.  Research shows that supportive parents/families and supportive policies can negate many of these negative experiences and outcomes, however, many trans youth are not getting adequate support from their social settings. 

At least 1.9% of K-12 students in Washtenaw County identify as trans.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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