Grantee Profiles

Deb Hauser of Advocates for Youth
  Deb Hauser has been with Advocates for Youth for 25 years, first as Director of the Support Center for School-based Health Care, then as Executive Vice President. In January 2012, Deb became the organization’s fourth President and Executive Director, representing Advocates with the media, funders and colleague organizations and speaking nationally and internationally about young people’s rights to honest sexual health information, confidential sexual health services and equitable social and economic opportunities. She has been at the center of numerous in the field of adolescent sexual health, including: co-founding the Future of Sex Education-an initiative producing the first-ever National Sexuality Education Standards; designing an innovative HIV/AIDS prevention and testing-to-treatment program on Historically Black Colleges and Universities; expanding the Great American Condom Campaign into a ground-breaking effort to normalize condom use on more than 1,000 college campuses across the U.S.; and helping to build the infrastructure of the LGBT youth movement in the Global South. Deb is committed to a cascading style of leadership that promotes youth activists as change agents and leaders in the field.

WestWind Foundation:  Deb, you have been very involved in Women’s Reproductive Health and Rights organizations over the past 25 years. Why is it personally important to you?
Debra Hauser: I believe that sexuality is a healthy, normal part of being human. Youth sexual development is a natural and important task of adolescence. But our society often sees sexuality as something outside of our selves, something negative that needs to be controlled or conquered. This attitude contributes to policies and programs that treat young people, and even at times, grown adults—especially women—as if we have no power over our decisions and actions– that we have no agency. All people deserve honest sexual health information and access to confidential and affordable sexual health services. They also have the right to a level playing field. Sexual health is inextricably linked with economic, educational and social opportunity. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, ageism, etc. contribute to sexual health disparities. As such, Advocates is dedicated to centering the voices, rights, and needs of those most marginalized—particularly youth of color, immigrant youth, LGBT youth and youth living in poverty.

WWF: Advocates for Youth (Advocates) is part of the collaboration creating AMAZE along with Answer and Youth Tech Health, why is this an important resource to your organization?
DH:   Advocates has at its core the belief that young people have the right to honest, age appropriate, culturally reflective and LGBT-inclusive sex education.   AMAZE is a wonderful resource for providing this type of sex education to young people directly. But it is also designed to be used by parents and teachers. We know that parents and educators are essential in helping young people feel connected to family and school and in empowering youth to make good decisions. For these reasons, our collaboration on AMAZE is a pure joy! What more can anyone ask for—to work with good people and do important work!

WWF: AMAZE is focusing on reaching very young adolescents.  Why do you think this is an important demographic for this resource?
DH: Puberty is an essential time in the lives of young people. So much is changing—physically, emotionally and socially. AMAZE provides young people with the reassurance that what they are going through is normal. It helps them navigate the changes and feel more confident and secure in who they are and who they are becoming. Research shows that the attitudes and values these young people establish during this very critical time in their lives can help them to take personal responsibility for their sexual health as they mature and empower them to grow into sexually healthy adults.

WWF: Why is it important that the AMAZE project engage youth animators in this resource?
DH: Who better to understand and reflect the challenges of puberty than young animators?! These young people understand what tweens and teens are going through; they know how to reach them; what will engage them. So the videos they produce are often very powerful. Also, as these young animators grow in their own careers, they will remember the work they did with AMAZE and hopefully look for ways they too can mentor and encourage the next generation of young animators.

WWF:  What’s the most interesting or creative thing you have seen come from one of the Youth Animators?
DH:  My favorite videos by the young animators include: Love is Love: Free to Be Me by Olivia Tassig Moore, Boobs and More, by Rachel Gitlevich and Dress to Express by Dee Boyd. They are very different videos in tone and style from each other, but each is fantastic. Love is Love made me tear up! It is so beautiful and affirming. Boobs and More had me laughing out loud, and I still cannot stop singing the chorus from Dress to Express!

WWF:  Advocates for Youth has worked in the sex education space for many years and recently developed the 3Rs (Rights, Respect, Responsibility) curriculum for sex educators.  It is the first free curriculum that fully meets the National Sexuality Education Standards.  How has this resource been received in the field?DH:  The 3Rs Curriculum is amazing! It includes 80 lesson plans that are all scoped and sequenced. The curriculum is LGBT-inclusive, culturally reflective and meets the National Sex Ed Standards as well as the 16 topics recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as essential components of sexual health education. As of June 2017, more than 5,400 people have downloaded the curriculum and 11 out of 25 of the largest school districts in the country are using some, or all, of its lesson plans. We are thrilled to be able to provide the 3Rs free of charge to help break through one of the barriers we hear from school administrators—that curricula are too expensive—and to encourage the implementation of quality sex education in our nation’s schools.

WWF:  What changes have you seen in the sex education field in the last 5 years?  What are the best ways for funders to support this work?
DH: Over the past ten years, Advocates and our national and state partners have had great success in helping schools to implement more comprehensive approaches to sex education. Yet, education is locally controlled and every school district and at times every school within each district decides whether, when and how to implement sex education. Today many of the gains we made are threatened by the changed political and cultural landscape. We have already seen appointments of Abstinence-only proponents to HHS and severe cuts to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. As a community of advocates, educators, and funders, we need to help school districts remain committed to quality sex education. That means reducing all the barriers we can—providing curricula, conducting teacher training, supporting efforts to fend off controversy—so that we don’t lose the gains we’ve made. Young people deserve honest sex education. We cannot let misguided federal policy or fear of controversy hamper progress.

WWF:  Why is it so important to build youth leaders? What can they contribute that others can’t? Can you give an example of an outstanding youth leader in the last year and what he/she accomplished?
DH:  Cornerstone to the work Advocates does are our efforts to build and support youth activism and youth leadership, particularly among youth most threatened by sexual health disparities—LGBTQ youth, youth of color and youth living in poverty. We champion these efforts because we believe that youth activism helps young people build resiliency while also building their skills to shift culture and policy. Concurrently, through this work, Advocates has been able to nurture a pipeline of diverse, well trained and fierce emerging leaders for the progressive movement.

Today, as in the past, young people are on the forefront of the resistance and they are changing our world. We have had young activists successfully advocate for gender neutral student housing on their campuses; mobilize their peers in support of contraceptive access through college health centers; expose Crisis Pregnancy Centers in their communities; and advocate for enumerated non-discrimination policies at their schools, among myriad other accomplishments. Youth have provided testimony at school boards and in state legislatures about the negative impact of abstinence-only education on their lives and the lives of their peers. They are fighting for safe spaces in their middle and high schools; working with chambers of commerce to establish “no hate zones” and lobbying their city councils for resolutions that recognize National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Days.

One youth leader that stands out for me is Caitlyn from Nevada—she started with Advocates when she was 16 years old and is now in college. Caitlyn fought all through high school to get a comprehensive sex education policy passed in her school district, Clark County (Las Vegas)–the fifth largest school district in the country! She lobbied her school administrators, collected petition signatures from other students, organized protests, testified at school board meetings. During her freshman year at college, she continued the fight even though she was no longer a student in the district. She was rewarded that year when the school board finally made a change to the sex education policy. The curriculum would now finally include information about the health benefits of contraception and condoms and provide more information about sexual assault and the prevention of HIV and unintended pregnancy. Caitlyn then turned her attention to the sex education law at the state level. Again she organized, mobilized and lobbied. She conducted social media campaigns, coordinated other activists to protest, and testified about the dangers of not improving the law. Caitlyn and her peers were successful this year at getting an improved state sex education law passed out of both houses of the Nevada legislature. Unfortunately, the law was vetoed by the governor earlier this summer. There is no doubt that Caitlyn will continue her fight. And as importantly, that Caitlyn will dedicate the rest of her long career to fighting for reproductive and social justice because she has found her voice and her power.

Last updated July 14th, 2017.