Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

My name is Avery Echols. I am 17 years old and I am a senior at Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School in Dallas,Texas. Last year, I was making art that represents something that I want to advocate for or something that I believe in. I created a film club at my school and we ended up in Ntarupt’s fifth annual film festival. The prompt for the film was, “what would you want an adult to tell you about sex?” I wanted to talk about the LGBTQ+ experience and how queer students stay confused for much longer than what’s appropriate because they have a lack of sex education. You can watch the video here.

This past summer, I was writing a script and was a improv actor/devisor for a play to be produced by the Metamorphosis Theatre about sex ed. The play was inspired by Spring Awakening.

What is your experience with teen pregnancy or sex education in Texas?

In my school, we have health class. I took it last year, but there was not a lot of talk about sex education. I know that other students are given bags of flour to take care of as their babies. I always see students with them. However, due to COVID-19 and virtually schooling, I didn’t get to experience it myself.

In health class, the teachers mostly told us not to smoke or not to do drugs. We had representatives from The Be Project who came to talk with us about healthy relationships and consent. It made me wonder how many schools The Be Project goes to and how many students they are able to reach because their messaging is so important. I hope every school is getting that messaging about healthy relationships. They came in to speak with us every Tuesday to do a presentation based on topics like gender inequality, healthy relationships, consent, identifying abuse, what “no” looks like, and how to set up boundaries. I wonder if they only come to us because we’re an all girls school and girls are usually the victims.

We never explicitly talked about sex, espeically not LGBTQ sex. Not a lot was taught at all about sex. I learned everything through my peers or online.

What would you want teens who have not lived this experience to know?

I already knew a lot before The Be Project came to our school. It was nice to have that information taught and reinforced to me in a school setting though. The first time I learned about consent was at a school assembly.They showed us the tea and consent video and they taught us about sexual harassment. Again, it made me wonder if they were teaching us these things because we’re an all girls school. Are they teaching these topics at all boys schools?

I wish I had grown up knowing more about the LGBTQ experience. For a long time, I didn’t know that gender and sex were different. I didn’t know sexuality and gender were on a spectrum. I always struggled with gender expression. I didn’t know that you could be non-binary. I didn’t know that the sex you were born with doesn’t necessarily express who you are as a perosn. I wish someone had told me that way earlier. The first time I heard about transitioning was from a show called “The Fosters”. They introduced a new character that didn’t have a lot of development, but was there mostly to be a love interest for the main character and introduce, briefly, what it meant to be transgender. I was 13 and in 7th grade when I watched it was my sister. But the characters in “Pose” really pushed me to understand a lot of facets of transness, given that they were main characters and the story was focused on them.

What would you want to tell your younger self?

I wish someone could have told me that everything I see on the internet about queer people isn’t true or a realistic depiction, especially in porn and those power dynamics. The internet is good for some things, but some things you can’t trust it for. I wish someone would have told me that it’s okay to be queer and express yourself.

What could have been offered to you to make you feel more supported in making decisions about sex and relationships?

I wish I had been offered comprehensive sex education that taught about LGBTQ people or even what the acronym means! I wish I was taught about gender and sexuality and the difference between the two. It’s important for everybody to know, not just people in the queer community. Teaching about LGBTQ people builds tolerance and acceptance. I think it definitely would have helped. I would have rather learned about my identity at school rather than from TV shows. It would have been safer and more accurate.

In middle school, the idea of being trans or gay was very taboo, even at an all girls school. It made me not want to associate with those identies even though I was queer. It could have helped a lot of my peers identify who they were and where they fit in.

Can you share a memory about a person or service who was most helpful to you when you were working through important decisions?

Our school has a Gay Straight Alliance called Rainbow Rangers. I was so curious about it in middle school, but I didn’t join until my junior year of high school. I wanted to know what it means to be a part of something like that group. The club has a faculty sponsor, but it is mainly student led. The group is used as a forum where LGBTQ students can go to talk about their relationships and their issues.

The other members of Rainbow Rangers definitely shaped me. The upperclassmen and board were so confident. I definitely looked to one older and extremely active member as a role model. She was so herself. Seeing queer relationships and people out in the open was very real and important to me.

I think initially I didn’t join the Rainbow Rangers because it seemed really intimate and small. Everyone knew everyone else. I was nervous to feel like an outsider. I was scared to embrace being queer. But eventually I got over it because if people didn’t realize I was a part of the LGBTQ by now, then they weren’t paying attention.

What do you want people to know?

I want people to know that doing nothing is putting a lot of students at risk for being in unhealthy relationships, getting STIs, and for perpetuating cycles of abuse and hurt. Adults and policy makers have the power to change this and inform students. The point of sex education is to prepare youth for when they hahve sex. It doesn’t make sense for sex education to be abstinence only. How will that prepare anyone? School should teach you things that are new, or things that your parents don’t know how to tell you. My mom doesn’t know about LGBTQ sex or relationships. I need to learn from someone who is informed about it. You wouldn’t expect your mom to teach you math, why should I expect her to teach me sex ed? Sex education should be taught the same as other subjects. It’s always adapting and changing based on the way society changes. We need to be able to adapt and teach students at school.