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Organizing Your Community

One thing is certain—you can’t go it alone. In order to effectively advocate for comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), you will need to build a broad network of community support. A diverse group of dedicated people working together can move mountains! The following suggestions can help you in this process.

Do Your Homework
Research sexuality education. Delve into questions, such as: What does the research say? Who are the major voices in the debate? What resources are available? What organizations support comprehensive sexuality education? What organizations oppose comprehensive sexuality education and why? What are these opponents’ strategies at the local, state, and/or national level? Knowing this information will help you develop a strategy for moving forward and establish yourself as a source of credible information on sexuality education.

If you are reading this Community Action Kit, chances are you are already doing a great job on your homework. Congratulations!

You also have to know what is going on in your in your state, school district, and local schools and community. Is there a state mandate? Does the state have education standards in place that include sexuality content (typically, but not always, within health education)? Is there a district mandate or policy in place? Does the school provide a course in sexuality education? If so, what is covered? If not, why not? Are there local organizations that provide sexuality education programs in the community or serve as guest speakers in the schools?

Connect with the teachers in your local schools, especially those who are teaching health and/or sexuality education and science courses. Find out exactly what is taught in the schools and encourage teachers who are supportive of comprehensive sexuality education to get involved in speaking out for sexuality education. They often know a great deal about what students need and want from a sexuality education course.

Finding Some Answers
SIECUS’ State Profiles are a great place to start finding the answers to some of these questions such as whether there is a sexuality education mandate in your state. To find local answers, you may want to start by contacting school administrators in your community such as the superintendent or the health curriculum coordinator. Your school district's website will likely have contact information for the school district offices.

Involve a Diverse Group of Community Members
Parents are a particularly effective constituency when working with local school boards since they have a vested interest in their children’s education. There may be other adults who do not have children in the schools but are also concerned with the health and well-being of their community’s young people, such as healthcare providers, business owners, clergy, and social service providers. Try to involve a diverse group in your advocacy efforts.

Contact elected officials. Locate those who are supportive of comprehensive sexuality education and involve them in your organizing efforts. Encourage them to speak out about the issues to their constituents as well as other officials.

Seek out school nurses and community healthcare providers who are actively involved in providing health education and services. Those who are on the front lines of adolescent sexual health have the best understanding of what young people need.

Include students and local youth in your advocacy efforts. Young people can uniquely speak to the reality and needs of their peers. They can tell you which social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, are most likely to help you build support. They can also organize support for comprehensive sexuality education in the student government or general student body.

Once you have involved interested individuals, you might want to consider creating a formal group or coalition. Giving your coalition a name and creating a logo can provide legitimacy and help the group increase visibility in your community.

Additional tips on communicating with elected officials are available in the Community Action Kit: Working with Policymakers

Involve Local Organizations
Find out which local organizations are working with youth or have a strong interest in this issue. Contact them to determine what services they can offer your group and if anyone on staff is willing to join in your efforts. Some ideas for groups to solicit are:

  • Civic organizations such as the Junior League
  • HIV/AIDS organizations
  • Healthcare providers
  • Faith-based organizations
  • Family planning clinics
  • Parent Teacher Association/Organization
  • Student groups
  • Teacher’s Union
  • Youth serving organizations such as the YWCA and recreation centers

Involve Faith Organizations
Reaching out to local faith organizations is very important. Although groups that oppose comprehensive sexuality education often claim to represent all religious parents and organizations, the truth is that many faith organizations are very supportive of comprehensive sexuality education. Including representatives of various faith organizations in your advocacy group can strengthen your efforts. Religious communities are already organized and may offer access to a variety of resources, such as meeting space, volunteer networks, funding, and public relations connections.

Start with the interfaith alliance in your community (if one exists) or the statewide “conference of churches” rather than approaching congregations individually. This will allow you access to many more clergy and congregations in a shorter amount of time. The Religious Institute may be a helpful resource on issues of sexuality education and faith.

Involve National Organizations
National organizations can provide assistance with strategy, resource materials, and referrals. They may also put you in touch with other local allies.   

Get the Media on Your Side
Reach out to local media first. They will be more likely to show interest in a local issue than will statewide or national publications.

Designate a media spokesperson to represent your group and direct all inquiries to that person. Choose someone who is articulate and respected in the community. This can help ensure that your key points are communicated.

Find the reporter at the local newspaper, news website, or local events blog who covers health and/or education issues and “pitch” your story to him or her. Try to appeal to the reporter’s head as well as their heart. Putting a personal spin on your story can often make reporters more interested.

Keep your media contacts informed of your progress and the challenges you encounter. Don’t forget to provide them with relevant resources and press statements. Include both local and national statistics so that they can understand how your community compares to your state and the country.

Be sure to coordinate your local media and social media activity! In other words, be sure that the messages you and your allies post through Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites are consistent with the messages you communicate to local media professionals.

Additional tips on working with traditional and new media are available in the Community Action Kit: Getting Your Message Out section.

A Place to Start
Starting to organize your community can seem very overwhelming. A good way to start is by organizing an educational forum. This will give you an easy opening to the topic when you first contact individuals and an opportunity to meet people face-to-face. Invite community experts in public health, education, family planning, and HIV prevention to serve as speakers. Invite parents, young people, and community members. Consider inviting reporters to cover the event. At the forum, present local teen pregnancy and STD statistics, explain the status of sexuality education in your community, and introduce participants to your advocacy goals. Bring information on your group and how individuals can get involved.

Be Persistent
The old saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” could not be more true than when it comes to advocacy efforts. It may take more than one phone call to convince someone to join your effort, speak at your event, or cover a story about your coalition for the local news outlet or blog. Community organizing is about building ongoing relationships. Be patient and be persistent.