KC Miller wants you to talk about sex. Not steamily. Not flirtatiously. Not jokingly. Not guiltily. He wants you to talk about sex the way you talk about other aspects of daily life – like food or music.
No shame or embarrassment; just regular, healthy talk. “What’s most important,” he said, “is that people talk about sex in an informed way.”
Because the nursing student and activist, 19, knows the cost of not talking about sex in an informed way, he started a non-profit organization while he was still in high school. The Keystone Coalition for Advancing Sex Education, was founded, according to its website, “to foster a happier and healthier generation by reforming sexuality education into a comprehensive and inclusive model that helps to prevent sexual violence, reduce sexually transmitted infections, and empowers young people with knowledge.” Keystone CASE works to raise awareness and advocate for comprehensive sex education through political action. According to Miller, sex education in most parts of Pennsylvania is abstinence-based, and students are not getting medically accurate information. While abstinence is an important tool, he said, it’s just one of many tools. “Our society is sexual. We see billboards with half naked models, but in the classroom we are taught about the dangers of sex.” On the other hand, he said, many countries around the world, such as the Netherlands, are now providing comprehensive sex education. On a trip to Amsterdam, Miller learned that they have less sexually transmitted disease and fewer unwanted pregnancies than the U.S.
Educating the community
Back in high school Miller founded a club, Sexual Health Awareness Educators (SHAE), that empowers high school students to teach their peers about sexual health. “It’s really hard for teachers to talk about sex to their students,” he said. “There is a place for that, but also a place for educating leaders in the student community on how to get that information into the student population.” Keystone CASE, said Miller, wants to use SHAE as a template for other schools.
Growing up as a gay teenager in the Philadelphia suburbs and attending boarding school at Westtown in West Chester, Miller saw the effects of what he described as a lack of sex education. “It’s important to me that my community gets the education it needs to keep their bodies healthy and happy.” Noting that he knows many people who have experienced sexual assault, he said that school sex education programs only talk about consent and healthy relationships. But there’s little discussion of sexual assault – and few avenues for survivors to talk about their experience. “We have to respect survivors…and that inspired me,” he said. “I can make a difference in people’s lives just by educating.”
Miller’s early years weren’t easy. His sister is a heroin addict, and his parents divorced when he was young. “I was personally sexually assaulted and that comes with a lot of trauma and a lot of anger,” he said. “That is one of the biggest reasons why I continue to do this work.” His assault happened after starting Keystone CASE and SHAE. “I was talking with other survivors, and then it happened to me. There was a lot of shame and anxiety. How could I have this organization and it happened to me?” He said he channeled the anger and the trauma into his work.
“We talk about… how sexual health, politics, and culture all meld together.”
Miller’s biggest inspiration these days is New York Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “She took her own experiences and her own community’s struggles and packed it into her own passion and activism and hit the ground and made a difference.”
This past summer, Miller continued to make a difference. While managing a restaurant in Media for forty-five hours a week, he assisted University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing lead investigator Dalmacio Dennis Flores, Ph.D., ACRN, on two studies of cis-gendered GBQ males. He also worked on a startup podcast called The Talk. “We talk about what it’s like to be a college student and how sexual health, politics, and culture all meld together,” he said. Future episodes will explore the intersection of the opioid crisis and sex work in Kensington.
In 2017, Miller received the Young Hero Award by the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia. His activism has been covered by media outlets including NBC, Fox, ABC, and Vice News. In 2018 he gave a TEDx talk at Penn State University on the importance of comprehensive sex education.
Nurses make a difference
Nursing may sound like an unlikely major for a young activist. Originally Miller considered pre-law, political science, gender studies, or public administration. After starting at Penn with a dual major in nursing and health management (through the Wharton School) he dropped the business classes and committed himself exclusively to nursing. “Patient relationships are the most profound ways someone can make a difference in someone’s life,” he said. “I love science. I love people. I love everything about nursing. It’s the way to do the most good while following my passions and interests. It also gives me a ton of knowledge about sex education and public health, and how I can advocate for people on the policy side once I understand the clinical side.”
Miller plans to gain professional experience in trauma or ICU nursing. “I really like high pressure and fast paced situations and I really want to dive deep into clinical work for at the least the first five years of my nursing career.” His ultimate goal, however, is working on healthcare polices to assure that everyone in the U.S. gets a medically-accurate, comprehensive sex education. After that, he says, “I’ll be running for public office.”