Monday, February 28, 2005

Previewing the New Video

Last week some of us got a chance to see the new condom video that will be shown in Montgomery County sex-education classes. The health teachers at Einstein High School came out Wednesday night and explained the curriculum to us, showed us some of the stuff they use in class, and showed us the video, called "Protect Yourself."

The video, as the kids in the schools where it was piloted told the Gazette, was no big deal. A lady discusses how to buy condoms -- she uses the word "abstinence" ten times in a 7-minute program -- and eventually she shows how to put one on, using a cucumber as a proxy penis. It was really not very exciting.

The video had lots of good advice -- don't open the package with your teeth, don't use oil-based lubricants, if you start to put it on inside out you have to throw it away, use rubber not lambskin, stuff like that.

One thing that surprised me was learning that the current video, the one that has been shown since 1992, is actually more realistic than this one. Apparently, "Hope Is Not a Method" uses a computer-generated graphic of a realistic penis, and shows how to put the condom on that. You got the feeling the teachers actually kind of liked the old video better. But, y'know, kids start to giggle when they see people in bellbottoms talking about how "groovy" things are. So eventually you have to update the materials.

So, again, you wonder -- what's the big deal? It's not new to have a video showing how to put on a condom, it's only a new video. And, OK, it's a cucumber, is that somehow more salacious, more immoral, than showing a ... penis?

I don't get it.

Those health teachers are something else. They are great. This is just matter-of-fact stuff to them, and they take it seriously. One teacher mentioned that one of her students got pregnant. "Well, you just flunked my health class," the teacher said.

I know people would like to make teenage sex into a big moral crusade, but the fact is, a lot of girls in high school are getting pregnant, and a lot of nasty infectious stuff is going around. The point of this health class is to put a dent in that. The health teachers constantly urge the kids to abstain from sex, and they give them lots and lots of reasons not to do it. But the fact is, sex is bigger than any health teacher, and a lot of teenagers are doing it anyway. We all hope that students choose abstinence in their private lives, but as citizens, as a community, we need to address the consequences that arise when they don't.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Sex, Gender, Sexuality: A Primer

We noticed that some people have a little trouble keeping some of these sex-and-gender things straight. So we went to a nice, succinct document, a professor's notes for a class on Gender and Language at Indiana University.

Sex is biologically founded.

A human female has 2 X chromosomes
A human male has 1 X and 1 Y chromosome
All embryos are identical for the first 8 weeks of gestation
Prenatal production of male hormones produces the male pattern

Absence of these male hormones produces the female pattern.

OK, that's easy, we can all go home now. Male and female, and never the twain shall meet.

Oh -- but wait, there's more:
Hermaphroditism or intersexuality

Definition: state of a person or animal whose sex is neither male nor female or both at the same time

Cause of intersexuality can be chromosomal or hormonal:
  • Some infants have a “mosaic” chromosome pattern: XY/XO
  • Some infants have XY cells but cannot process testosterone
  • Hormonal imbalances can masculinize the genitals of XX children
  • An inherited condition called 5-alpha-reductase deficiency triggers an apparent female-to-male sex change at puberty
[There's more in this section]

("Concerned" parents might note that the MCPS curriculum doesn't say anything about hermaphroditism.)

Definition: a socially-constructed notion of what is feminine and what is masculine

"One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman" (Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1952, p. 267)

Sex is typically considered to be a binary category

Gender is a continuous category: a person can be more or less feminine or masculine
  • feminine
  • more feminine
  • most feminine
  • less feminine
  • least feminine
In our western societies, we tend/try to impose a binary categorization of gender

Now it seems to have gotten a little complicated. You are either a man or a woman, or in rare cases, a hermaphrodite of one or another sort. But whether you're a man or a woman, boy or girl, you can be more or less masculine, or more or less feminine. Really, it didn't take a professor to tell us that.

That last line might sound like one of those liberal-academic things, but it seems true, we tend to try to encourage boys to be more snips and snails, and girls to be more sugar and spice [stupid error edited out: JK], we do encourage the correlation of sex and gender. No big deal, not passing judgment on it, but, yeah, we do that here.

It's probably also worthwhile to note the "socially constructed" wording. In our society, it is feminine to wear make-up and carry purses, but there have been other societies where that was the masculine thing to do. They're saying these are not innate behaviors, but are taken from social norms and cues.

Definition: sexual attraction toward and activity with other human beings

Homosexuality: attraction toward members of the same sex

Heterosexuality: attraction toward members of the other sex

Bisexuality: attraction toward members of both sexes

All right, we can handle that. Three things. Even people who don't "believe in it" can understand that these things exist.

Finally, put 'em all together and whaddya got?
Sex, gender, and sexuality are 3 independent dimensions

All combinations are possible:
  • gays: effeminate vs. macho
  • lesbians: butch vs. femme (or lipstick)
  • heterosexual women and men can be more or less feminine, more or less masculine
  • how masculine or feminine a male or a female depends on which groups they belong to (e.g., working class vs. middle class, age)

It's not the only way in the world to look at these things, but really, it makes sense. I don't see any big gaps in it. Straight guys can be more masculine or less, and so can gay guys. Same thing for women, more or less feminine, straight or gay. It's all independent.

But look, according to this scheme, it's still impossible for a guy to be a lesbian.

(I don't know where this professor is going with that last part, maybe you have to take the class to find out.)

Some people find these three dimensions just totally mind-boggling, too much to understand.

What can hard about this?

Taboo Words Allowed in Suicide Conference Session

A few weeks ago we noted that the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) had ordered a session at one of their conferences to change its name, taking the words "gay", "lesbian", "bisexual", and "transgender" out of the title of a session on suicide. There had been dark hints that if the presenters did not comply their funding could be affected.

Well, this morning's Washington Post has a little paragraph on page A-10, stating that the words had been put back in. Not much in the way of explanation.

But the Washington Blade has this story:
A federal official this week denied claims that a division of the Department of Health & Human Services pressured organizers of an upcoming workshop on suicide prevention to omit references to gays from the program.

News reports surfaced last week that officials from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration had asked the Suicide Prevention Resource Center — the organizer of the conference — to change a workshop title for a regional conference beginning Feb. 28 in Portland, Oregon.

SAMHSA officials reportedly asked workshop coordinators to omit the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" from the workshop’s title, "Suicide Prevention Among Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals," and use "sexual orientation" instead.

"There was no policy," said Mark Weber, director of communications for SAMHSA, a unit of HHS responsible for facilitating recovery among those with substance abuse problems or mental illness. "There wasn’t even an issue. As a result, [SPRC] asked if they could restore the original title and it got a bit of attention. It was merely a suggestion."

So it sounds like they are making a distinction between a "suggestion" and an "order."

This same guy, Weber, was interviewed about this same distinction, suggestion versus order, a couple of weeks ago, reported in the February 16th San Francisco Chronicle. He said:
Asked how strong a suggestion, Weber replied: "Well, they do need to consider their funding source." Federal agency balks at word 'gay'

People, if your research in funded by a government agency, you know ... that is a v-e-r-y strong "suggestion."

And why would the federal government want to take those words -- gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender -- out of the title of a session on suicide by exactly those groups of people? If you dig into this debate, even at the level of a county's sex-education curriculum, you'll see that they don't want you to know that the suicide rates for gay and transgendered people are extraordinarily high.

In our county, the conservative group opposing the curriculum flat-out lies to their readers, telling them that the Surgeon General has "discredited" research to that effect, when in fact the Surgeon General said "there is growing concern about an association between suicide risk and bisexuality or homosexuality for youth, especially males." They don't want you to dwell on it, because you might feel a pang of sympathy for those poor kids who are killing themselves.

Imbalance -- It's Even Worse at Stanford

Some complain that the MCPS curriculum is unbalanced, since it doesn't contain anything about "ex-gays."

But just take a look at how unbalanced a curriculum can get. Aaron Swartz,, of Aaron Swarz: The Weblog has uncovered imbalance of massive proportion on the campus of Stanford University.
... [M]y preliminary research has discovered some even more shocking facts. I have found that only 1% of Stanford professors believe in telepathy (defined as "communication between minds without using the traditional five senses"), compared with 36% of the general population. And less than half a percent believe "people on this earth are sometimes possessed by the devil", compared with 49% of those outside the ivory tower. And while 25% of Americans believe in astrology ("the position of the stars and planets can affect people’s lives"), I could only find one Stanford professor who would agree.

Watch for a web site,, real soon.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Evolution: Theory of the Year

Just came across this from No More Mister Nice Blog. He posted a link to this fun page: New Mexicans for Science and Reason -- Best and Worst of the Year Awards. It's kind of fun all the way down, go read their awards...

But this one was especially noteworthy:
The "Don't Stop Now - It's Getting Good" Award goes to the Theory of Evolution, which still struggles for popular acceptance while finding stupendous experimental support and utility in science. In 2004, the evolution of irreducibly complex features was documented for flagellum motors and colorful coral proteins; more transitions were found between fish and amphibians (nostrils and fins-to-legs), the handedness of primordial amino acids was better understood, a single gene was found to be capable of giving mice long, bat-like fingers (explaining rapid evolution of bats), the natural history of the Uterus was developed, a gene common in Tibetans was found to improve oxygen intake, and a possible common ancestor of all the great apes, including humans, was found. Not a bad year, except for that "popular" thing. National Geographic gets a commendation for helping in that regard.

God survived Copernicus, I imagine he'll survive Darwin, too.

They Think You're Too Stupid to Notice

We usually try to ignore these guys, well, actually, usually we can't even figure out what they're trying to say, but a recent blog post at the Ex-Recall web site makes a statement:
The sophists at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a major influencer of the new MCPS sex-ed curriculum and the politics of education in our country, have produced a pamphlet entitled The Language of Gender to discuss the "proper vocabulary list for educators on gender identity". Ex-Recall Blog

They then go into this pamphlet and criticize it. In case anyone has seen this silly blog post, let me point out that the pamphlet they criticize is not part of the MCPS curriculum. So comments like:
Do the citizens of Montgomery County REALLY understand what the MCPS Board of Education and their Sex-ed Committee is trying to do to our children?

are really a kind of irrelevant noise, the old "Hey! Look over there" technique they often employ when they're pretty sure you won't check their sources. Whatever is in this pamphlet, the Board of Education has probably never seen it ... and what in the world is this "Sex-ed Committee?" Is that the citizen's advisory committee that their president is a member of? Mmm, how does that work? How do you say something like that without the word "hypocrite" popping into your head at some point?

Anyway, I want to go back.

Remember how they said that GLSEN was "major influencer of the new MCPS sex-ed curriculum"? Did you buy that? I did at first. I'm gullible, I guess, I trust people when they say something. Do you know how GLSEN influenced the new MCPS sex-ed curriculum?

As far as anybody knows, they didn't influence the curriculum at all. GLSEN had no members on the citizens committee, for instance, no advisory role, no input at all.

The Ex-Recall group is lying to you.

GLSEN is a powerful advocacy group, no doubt. There are chapters all over the country. Their mission:
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) envisions a future in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

Cool, I'm OK with that, are you?

Q: But did GLSEN have anything to do with the curriculum that is being implemented in Montgomery County?
A: No.

Q: So why is Ex-Recall criticizing their pamphlet?
A: Because they think you're an idiot, and they don't think you'll realize that neither the pamphlet nor the organization have anything to do with the MCPS curriculum.

Look at it this way. Who were some "major influencers of the new MCPS sex-ed curriculum?" Well, how about the Daughters of the American Revolution? They had a member on the committee that proposed these things. True, she wasn't a very effective member, and nobody agreed with her gay-bashing materials, but ... the Daughters of the American Revolution were right there, making policy.

Who else? How about PFOX, the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays? They were right there, sitting in the committee meetings, presenting their bizarre point of view, trying to get the schools to teach their ... idiosyncratic ... interpretation of the capriciousness of human sexual orientation, which they believe can and should be switched toward whatever direction the community prefers. They weren't just "influencers," they were participants in the curriculum development process. I'll guarantee you they wouldn't have been there if I'd been picking the teams. But they were.

GLSEN wasn't, PFOX was. DAR was. Parents Against Ex-Rated and R-Rated Books and Maryland Coalition Against Pornography were "influencers" of the curriculum.

GLSEN wasn't.

GLSEN didn't have anything to do with this curriculum.

The Ex-Recall group thinks you're too dumb to know that.

The Ex-Recall Group itself, or the Recall Group, we're not sure who's in which one at this point, had more people on the citizens advisory committee that proposed the curriculum than GLSEN did!

They're think you're too stupid to notice.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Letter from the Montgomery County School Health Council

February 7, 2005

Dr. Jerry D. Weast
Superintendent of School
Carver Educational Services Center
850 Hungerford Drive, Room 113
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Dr. Ulder J. Tillman, MD, MPH
Health Officer
Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services
Public Health Services
401 Hungerford Drive, 5th Floor
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Patricia O'Neill
President, Board of Education
Carver Educational Services Center, Room 123
850 Hungerford Drive
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Dear Drs. Weast and Tillman and Mrs. O'Neill:

As an advisory and advocacy group dedicated to promoting the health and well-being of Montgomery County school age youth, the Montgomery County School Health Council (SHC) would like to express our endorsement for the Board of Education's decision to adopt the two health education curriculum changes recommended by the Citizens' Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development.

As you are aware, these changes include:
  1. The MCPS produced video, Protect Yourself, a condom demonstration video to be shown in Grade 10 Comprehensive Health Education with parental consent.

  2. Pilot testing a revision of the Grade 8 and 10 Health Education Curricula to include information on Sexual Variation.
We understand that there are community members who oppose the new curriculum implementation. Significant public health research strongly supports these changes and the School Health Council believes that implementing these curricular revisions will provide important information to the students of Montgomery County.

We appreciate your continuing efforts and attention to these important health issues. We look forward to continuing to promote the health and well-being of our Montgomery County school-aged youth together.

Giorgio Kulp, MD, FAAP
Montgomery County School Health Council

Tracy A. Fox, MPH, RD
Montgomery County School Health Council

cc: Board of Education

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Abstinence and Irony

Quickly, to follow up on the previous post, right below this one (probably a good idea to read it first). Here is an excerpt from the Heritage Foundation report, The White House Initiative to Combat AIDS: Learning from Uganda.
The Bush Administration is basing its AIDS initiative on the success of Uganda, which has experienced the greatest decline in HIV prevalence of any country in the world.2 Studies show that from 1991 to 2001, HIV infection rates in Uganda declined from about 15 percent to 5 percent. Among pregnant women in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, HIV prevalence dropped from a high of approximately 30 percent to 10 percent over the same period.3 How did Uganda do it?

The best evidence suggests that the crucial factor was a national campaign to discourage risky sexual behaviors that contribute to the spread of the disease. Beginning in the mid-1980s, the Ugandan government, working closely with community and faith-based organizations, delivered a consistent AIDS prevention message: Abstain from sex until marriage, Be faithful to your partner, or use Condoms if abstinence and fidelity are not practiced.

The link between Uganda's "ABC" approach and the dramatic reduction in the country's HIV/AIDS rate is now widely acknowledged. Based on research data collected over the past decade, several lessons can be drawn from the success of Uganda's strategy:

  • High-risk sexual behaviors can be discouraged and replaced by healthier lifestyles.
  • Abstinence and marital fidelity appear to be the most important factors in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.
  • Condoms do not play the primary role in reducing HIV/AIDS transmission.
  • Religious organizations are crucial participants in the fight against AIDS.

The White House correctly insists on basing U.S. AIDS policy on these lessons and the best available research about effective prevention and treatment programs ...

Click on the link above to read ... more of the same ...

Abstinence and AIDS in Africa

The AIDS epidemic in Africa is unbelievable. Millions and millions of people infected, more than two million per year dying from AIDS. As you know, the big thing is for missionary-types to go over there and teach the locals to practice sexual abstinence and sexual fidelity, good old-fashioned family values.

And, wow, since they've been doing that, the number of Ugandans with AIDS has dropped drastically. The Family Whatever groups are happy to take the credit for this, as it proves that their values are most excellent.

Then, yesterday, The Post had this: Uganda's AIDS Decline Attributed to Deaths:
Abstinence and sexual fidelity have played virtually no role in the much-heralded decline of AIDS rates in the most closely studied region of Uganda, two researchers told a gathering of AIDS scientists here.

It is the deaths of previously infected people, not dramatic change in human behavior, that is the main engine behind the ebbing of the overall rate, or prevalence, of AIDS in southern Uganda over the last decade, they reported.

The findings, not yet published, contradict earlier evidence that attributed Uganda's success in AIDS prevention largely to campaigns promoting abstinence and faithfulness to sex partners. Much of the prevention work in the Bush administration's $15 billion global AIDS plan is built around those two themes, and Uganda is frequently cited as evidence that the strategy works.

If the report here stands up to scrutiny -- and, more important, is borne out by surveys elsewhere in Uganda -- it will deflate one of the few supposed triumphs to come out of AIDS-battered Africa in the last decade. The success of Uganda's ABC strategy -- the letters stand for "abstinence," "be faithful" and "(use) condoms" -- has been widely touted and is on the verge of being exported to neighboring countries with the help of American money.

I admit, it surprised me. I hadn't thought of that. I'd seen that the rates were dropping, and I thought, well, we do know that abstinence is the only sure method to avoid sexually transmitted infection, maybe a liberal dose of that Olde Thyme Religion actually changed their behavior enough to stop the epidemic. Uh, I didn't mean "liberal," really.
"There is an urgent need to assess abstinence and monogamy in other parts of Uganda," said Maria J. Wawer, a physician at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health who presented the data at the 12th Conference on Retroviruses, the annual mid-winter AIDS meeting in the United States.

Ironically, she and her colleagues found that the one prevention technique whose use did increase between 1994 and 2003 was condoms -- the part of the ABC triad that has been relatively de-emphasized in the Bush plan.

"Abstinence and monogamy are very good behaviors," she said in a press briefing after her presentation. "On the other hand, the data support that in this setting, the behavior that seems to have been the easiest to increase over time is condom use."

It wouldn't be right to gloat over the failure of ABC in Uganda, it's not a good thing, and this news is actually terrible, people are dying so fast that the proportion with the virus is decreasing.

But there is a lesson to learn here. Mmm, several lessons.

First of all, don't let anybody interpret the statistics for you. The rates went down after this program was started, and so the people running the program -- the Bush administration, basically -- attributed the decline to their work. It doesn't not appear that that was the cause; at the least, there is good reason to look at other explanations.

Second, this does, in fact, greatly diminish the credibility of abstinence education. Telling people to abstain did not result in abstention, even when sex was likely to kill them. Look:
In the Rakai district, the percentage of women infected with HIV fell from 20 percent in 1994 to 13 percent in 2003. For men, the rate of infection declined from 15 percent to 9 percent, a decline of roughly one-third.

Over that same period, however, the fraction of men reporting two or more sexual partners in the previous year rose from 28 percent to 35 percent. The fraction of young men ages 15 to 19 who were not sexually active fell from about 60 percent to just under 50 percent. For women that age, the proportion not having sex remained at about 30 percent through the decade.

The median age of first intercourse for men fell from 17.1 to 16.2 years, and for women from 15.9 to 15.5 years.

Telling people not to have sex, even when it's literally a life-or-death decision for them, just plain doesn't work. These Ugandans started having sex earlier, and had more partners, after being taught to practice abstinence ... exactly what you don't want in Uganda, and what we don't want in Montgomery County.

Gay Marriage -- On the Simpsons

Sometimes I'm almost sorry I don't watch the Simpsons. Well, I got out of the habit of sitting in front of the TV around about 1972, and just never got back into it. I see the news online, though, and this looks pretty funny.

One of the characters on the Simpsons has come out as a lesbian, and is getting married.
In an episode titled "There's Something About Marrying," a longtime character on Fox's 15-year hit -- Patty Bouvier, Marge Simpson's sister -- came out of the closet while Homer Simpson conducted dozens of same-sex weddings after small-town Springfield legalized the unions in a bid to increase tourism. Gay marriage, 'Simpsons' style

Hey, just a minute -- isn't this on Fox???

What, people sit there, molded into their Laz-E-Boys, and watch Bill O'Reilly, and then they chuckle over gay marriages on the Simpsons? Aren't they horrified? Alarmed, at least?
L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Parents Television Council, criticized "The Simpsons" for addressing the issue of gay marriage, although he said that he had not seen the episode.

"At a time when the public mood is overwhelmingly against gay marriage, any show that promotes gay marriage is deliberately bucking the public mood," he said.

"I'd rather them not do it at all," he said. "You've got a show watched by millions of children. Do children need to have gay marriage thrust in their faces as an issue? Why can't we just entertain them?"

Ah, there we are.

You gotta love this logic. The "public mood is overwhelmingly against gay marriage" -- and so it shouldn't be on TV.

Like, television is such a radically thought-provoking, intellectually adventurous, challenging medium, always pushing people to consider new perspectives, new philosophies ... not pandering enough to the middle.

Seriously, this is a perfect example of something. For some crazy reason, in this modern day and age, there are people who think that everybody ought to be just like them. I like this kind of TV show, therefore that's what the networks should show. They really feel their case is made if there are a lot of people who agree with them. We like this kind of show, so that's what should be on.

And it's not just that. If something is on that they don't like, these people somehow feel that, rather than changing the channel, they should write letters and issue statements opposing whatever it is.

And of course it's more than television, like, if a guy marries a girl, he thinks all guys should marry girls. And if they don't, there must be something wrong with them.

See ... I just don't get that.

This Parents Blah-blah guy thinks, since he wouldn't like to see this episode of the Simpsons, nobody should see it. I mean, look, he didn't watch it. Why isn't that enough? Here's why: it's not about him, it's about him controlling other people. He knows what to do, he just won't flip to that channel ... but you might.

And what's that about "gay marriage thrust in their faces?" Isn't that a little ... graphic?

Some Observations on This Morning's The Washington Times Article

By David Fishback

Response to Signatures collected against sex curriculum.

At the outset, I should note that Mike Caruso, the
Archdiocese's representative on the Citizens Advisory Committee, has
been a responsible member of the Committee. He has not spoken often,
but when he has, he has made thoughtful presentations.

Mike is quoted as saying that the "curriculum is obviously
not reflective of [the Catholic Church's] values." Some elaboration
is necessary. The proposed revised curriculum simply states the
facts as understood by all mainstream American medical and mental
health organizations. My understanding, from my earlier discussions
with Mike and from some reading, is that the Catholic Church's
formal position is NOT that homosexuality is a disease or a choice,
but, rather, that those who happen to be homosexual should be life-
long celibates. Indeed, that is the position taken in the statement
from the Archdiocese quoted in the Times article. The fact that the
curriculum does not urge that homosexuals be life-long celibates is,
certainly, "not reflective" of the Catholic Church's position. But
I respectfully suggest that nothing stated in the revised curriculum
conflicts with that position, either. While some may object to the
statement of the fact that there are families in our community headed
by same-sex adult couples, that is a statement of fact, not of "value

Essentially, the Catholic position as set forth by Times
reporter Jon Ward seems to me to be a concern that statements of the
basic facts might lead people to conclusions other than that reached
by the Catholic Church -- i.e., that intimate relationships between
committed adult couples need not be limited to heterosexuals. My
view is that the issue of whether homosexuals should remain celibate
is a theological one and therefore should be left to churches,
synagogues, mosques, etc., rather than being injected into health
education classes. The curriculum simply mentions that "different
religions take different stands on sexual behaviors and there are
even different views among people of the same religion" in the
context of a broader section dealing with relationships and
marriage. I believe that that is as far as such discussion should go.

At the end of the article, Jon Ward states that Mike
Caruso "said the committee has a bias in favor of homosexuality. The
committee chairman has denied this charge." In my experience, Jon
does not misquote, but his articles often mischaracterize. The
phrase "bias in favor of homosexuality" is, of course, a loaded term,
and I would be surprised if Mike used it. Indeed, if he had, Jon
would have used quotation marks.

I think most members of the Citizens Advisory Committee,
based on their experience in the world and their reading of the
experts in the field (and including materials from a variety of
sources in the course of the Committee's deliberations) are of the
view that homosexuality is not a disease and not a choice (something,
again, which does not conflict with the position of the Catholic
Church), and believe that adult homosexuals should be able to have
satisfying intimate relationships just as heterosexuals may do.

Is that a "bias in favor of homosexuality"? No. A "bias"
would be a conclusion reached without consideration of the facts.
I, for one, do not see myself as having a "bias in favor of
homosexuality." I believe, with Dr. King, that things that "uplift
human personality" are worthwhile. Based on that premise, I have
concluded from the facts that the joys and responsibilities of
committed monogamous intimate relationships need not be limited to
heterosexuals. I suggest that people who conclude otherwise ought to
be able to support their conclusions with something other than
conclusory statements that all homosexual activity is sinful.

A devout adherent of Religion X might well believe that
adherents of Religion Y are sinful because they do not believe in
Religion X. Indeed, there have been times and places in our world
when and where those differences led to bloodshed and even genocide.
Contemplation of this tragic history always leads me to a passage
from Jewish tradition: "What is required of thee? To do justice,
love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God."

Part of the genius of America has been that most of us are
humble enough in our beliefs that we do not assume that those who
have different views of the Almighty or of the nature of the universe
from ours are, because they disagree, sinful. If we ever lose that
humility, I fear for our future.

David Fishback

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Student perspective: Useful education in health classes is essential to raise awareness

From Silver Chips Online, Montgomery Blair High School's newspaper:
Clair Briggs, Page Editor

After years of having the same, repetitive, common knowledge taught in health classes, the Board of Education (BOE) has finally realized that times have changed, and health education needs to catch up.

On Nov. 9, the BOE made two much-needed improvements to the sex education curriculum that will raise teen awareness about sexuality. The BOE approved a video, "Protect Yourself," showing a University of Maryland peer educator demonstrating how to apply a condom to a cucumber. In addition, a pilot program about homosexuality was also approved for inclusion in the Family Life and Human Development Unit. These additions are essential because they give teens the opportunity to receive an unbiased education on safe sex that will help prevent the spread of sexual disease and diminish stereotypes regarding homosexuals. Without them, the curriculum fails to address these important issues.

Unfortunately, both the video and the pilot program have sparked great hostility, much of which is unjustified. Many of the new curriculum's opponents disagree with the changes because of religious beliefs and conflicting views on what is acceptable, due in large part to generational differences. They also believe that this education should be left only to the parents.

On, parent Keith White writes that all members of the school board who supported and voted for homosexuality to be included in the curriculum should be recalled. "What good can come out of teaching our children gross lies about homosexuality?" he asks.

However, what White and his supporters fail to realize is that the point of the curriculum is not to teach "lies" it is to discuss stereotypes and misconceptions on sexual orientation in an effort to diminish discrimination. Homosexuality is avoided and rarely accepted in a majority of homes in the U.S. Religion is the main reason for this. The teachings of the Church are that homosexuality is a sin since it cannot naturally generate new life.

However, no matter what an individual's views are concerning homosexuality, homosexuals do exist. More than six hundred thousand homosexual families exist in the U.S. alone, according to a 2000 survey by the Census Bureau.

Steps like this new curriculum are vital to work toward a more tolerant America. Just as religion is an argument against including homosexuality in the curriculum, it is also an argument against including the condom video.

Premarital sex is condemned in many religions. According to health teacher Susan Soulé, parents argue that the video will promote premarital sex in their children. However, a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that young teens rank entertainment media as their top source of information regarding sexual activities and sexual health. According to Planned Parenthood, factors like gender, age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion and individual life experience all influence when teenagers decide to become sexually active. Many adolescents also resort to sex to increase their self-image or because of social expectations, or even to escape from anger or boredom.

Throughout the unit, abstinence is mentioned as the safest method of preventing pregnancy and STDs. Not all children will chose to abstain from sex, however. The video was not developed to promote sex, it was developed to educate students who decide to have sex on an effective way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), according to the Montgomery County School Health Council. In the U.S., one in four sexually active teens becomes infected with an STD each year, according to a study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Statistics this high should cry out to parents to educate their children on means of prevention.

Parents also argue that schools are overstepping their boundaries with the new health curriculum and that it should remain a parent's responsibility to teach his or her child about sexuality and homosexuality. However, sexuality is rarely a comfortable topic of discussion in households. Having this instruction in the classroom dissolves these barriers.

Students need to learn how to protect themselves. "What parent would want to sentence their child to death by not doing everything possible to prevent them from getting HIV?" Soulé asks. Parents and children have different perspectives on what is acceptable sexually, and students often talk about sex very openly compared to their generally conservative parents. Kids today do not even understand the controversy surrounding the condom video, according to Soulé. "Everything was different. In their parents' youth, condoms were behind the counter hidden in a drawer. Now you can just walk right in a store and condoms are sitting down the aisle," she says.

Another difference between the generations is that today teenagers are much more likely to engage in oral sex because they believe it to be safer than intercourse, says Soulé. Although girls can only become pregnant vaginal intercourse, all partners who engage in oral sex or anal sex are susceptible to infection. According to Planned Parenthood, 25 percent of virgin boys and 15 percent of virgin girls have engaged in oral sex. Every hour, two adolescents under the age of 21 become infected with HIV, according to a study by the Office of National AIDS Policy. The same study also showed that adolescents between the ages of 13 and 21 now account for 25 percent of newly reported HIV infections.

Health class will not be the deciding factor in students' minds regarding whether they will have sex or accept homosexuality; they will simply discuss the facts. Sex and homosexuality are real issues, affecting teenagers throughout the world, and the repercussions of uneducated decisions can be deadly.

On Silver Chips' web site:

Monday, February 21, 2005

Is It That Bad?

From the school board's report on changes to the sex education curriculum:
The Grade 8 changes include definitions of sexual identity and sexual orientation. Notably, the recommended curriculum includes the following information: that one's sexual orientation is the "persistent pattern" of attraction to "members of the same or opposite sex" (FLHS Content Outline I.B.3); that homosexuality is not a mental disorder; that "[m]ost experts . . . have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice; it's a natural response;" that having some homosexual feelings does not necessarily mean that one is homosexual; and that "[h]aving homosexual parents/guardians does not predispose you to being homosexual."

Woo! That's a bunch of stuff.

In talking to someone recently, I got an interesting response to this. I think some people are reading a lot into this section of text. Let me go through this dense paragraph for a second.

definitions of sexual identity and sexual orientation. Well, that seems appropriate for eighth graders, who will have developed the sophistication to go beyond the "snips and snails" stereotypes of their nursery-school days. By eighth grade, they will have noticed that some girls still play ball with the boys, and some boys are more interested in cooking than fighting, and they will have fretted about these things if it's themselves, or gossiped about them if it's somebody else. This is the stuff that consumes eighth graders' time.

The person I was talking to seemed to think that "sexual identity" meant that the curriculum would go into issues of people who felt they were the opposite sex "from their physical equipment," was, I think, they way he put it. He seemed to assume that this was going to be about transgender issues, and stuff like that. But look, that's not in there, I don't think that's what they're talking about here. The curriculum gives teachers a definition, as auxilliary information, for transgender, but it's not something they get hit over the head with in eighth grade. The teacher's prepared if a student asks about it, that's all.

Sexual orientation. Eighth graders know that some people are straight and some are gay. Some eighth graders are wondering about themselves. It's the perfect time to tell them what's what. So the schools will give them a definition.

And here it is:
one's sexual orientation is the "persistent pattern" of attraction to "members of the same or opposite sex" OK, by eighth grade, a kid knows some people are straight and some are gay. Now they learn that that difference is called "sexual orientation." It's a vocabulary word, and a pretty good one, really. The definition is not overly prurient, it doesn't encourage people to try things, it's just a definition. They get lots of 'em. They're getting ready for the SAT, you know.

that homosexuality is not a mental disorder This just comes from the pros, the shrinks. No mental health, psychotherapy, or counseling organization considers homosexuality a disease. In fact, almost all of them have issued statements to that effect.

I should note here that there are some people who make a living trying to "convert" people who are gay. This is unethical and almost never succeeds. It appears to me that these "therapists" are simply pandering to some hardline religious groups; I don't think there are any who are not strongly associated with some religious sect. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association is the official source for mental health diagnoses. Homosexuality is not in there. Gay people can function just as well as straight ones, there's nothing wrong with them. It's not a disease.

that "[m]ost experts . . . have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice; it's a natural response;" Yes, again, "most experts" have concluded that. You can dig up a couple of guys who make a living telling gay people they can choose to be straight, but if that ever happens it is very rare. It is an ideological argument, not well supported by evidence. Somebody might say that if you could change from gay to straight, you weren't gay in the first place. Anyway, given that some people try to argue it's a choice -- and in fact, you can choose to engage in homosexual behaviors, no problem there, prisoners for example do it all the time, it doesn't make them gay -- we can note that this sentence in the BOE report only says that "most experts ... have concluded" it. And that part is definitely accurate.

Ah, "natural response." Hard one, eh? The conservatives argue that there's no gay gene. OK, there's no single gene for most human traits, big deal. The fact is, nobody really understands why some people are gay. But given that it doesn't seem to impair their ability to function in the world, and that it's found in every society on the earth, and in fact that homosexuality is commonplace among most species of animals, it does not seem especially incorrect to call it "natural." Natural doesn't mean "we can explain it," or "there's a known gene for it," it means, "it occurs in nature."

Some people think that calling it natural means you are encouraging people to try it. You think about the pressure that eighth grade kids are under. You think that hearing in a class that homosexuality -- the main thing that anybody in eighth grade gets teased about -- is natural is going to make them go out and try it? Wow, you don't know kids, do you?

Tell ya what, I'll play along, it normalizes it: so what? It's normal. Get over it. If you think otherwise, explain it to your kid yourself. Values should be taught in the home and the church, not in the schools.

that having some homosexual feelings does not necessarily mean that one is homosexual; Is there a problem there? A girl thinks another girl is cute -- does that make her gay? Of course not. This should actually be a point in the conservatives' favor, isn't it? I mean, if everybody who ever was attracted to someone of their own sex was gay, there wouldn't be anyone left to say how evil it was.

and that "[h]aving homosexual parents/guardians does not predispose you to being homosexual." I direct the reader to this report at the American Psychological Association's website: Lesbian and Gay Parenting. This article reviews lots and lots of research on the effects of gay and lesbian couples raising children. Everybody will find something here to support their views. The summary of the section about sexual identity:
In summary, the research suggests that children of lesbian mothers develop patterns of gender-role behavior that are much like those of other children.

No data are available as yet in this area for children of gay fathers.

Further, in discussing sexual orientation:
A number of investigators have also studied a third component of sexual identity: sexual orientation [references deleted for brevity]. In all studies, the great majority of offspring of both gay fathers and lesbian mothers described themselves as heterosexual. Taken together, the data do not suggest elevated rates of homosexuality among the offspring of lesbian or gay parents.

So it does not look there'd be any big controversy there. Doesn't happen, the research says it doesn't happen, the sex education curriculum says it doesn't happen.

When I first learned that some parents were shocked and indignant about this curriculum, I went and read it. And I could not for the life of me figure out what was so shocking. I want to protect my children's innocence. I don't want them exposed to filth and perversion in the schools. I sincerely hope they abstain from sex until the right moment sometime in the distant future. I want them to learn what's what, because frankly, I don't know all this stuff, and also, kids are more likely to listen to somebody other than the parents who are constantly lecturing them about the importance of doing their homework.

This curriculum is very moderate, very informational. Please support your Montgomery School Board with letters, and join the Yahoo group: .

Quotable Quotes

"As long as two people love each other, I don't care if they have the same hoo-hoo or ha-ha."
Marge Simpson

"Kids must be taught that to be completely safe from STDs and teen pregnancy, the only way to do that is to abstain," she says. "However, kids know they can make that decision, and they need to make informed decisions. If they are going to have sex, they need to know the consequences. And they need to know how to protect themselves."


"Christians in general are not like what the religious right portrays," she says. "That is just a very vocal side of it. I believe most Christians are loving, caring and tolerant. They believe in civil liberties and civil rights. It's very sad and detrimental to the Christian faith that some people have decided to use it for political advantage."
Shelby Knox, Southern Baptist

"This crowd uses gays as the enemy. It's hard to distinguish between fear of the homosexual political agenda and fear of homosexuality, however."

"This is an issue I have been trying to downplay," Mr. Bush said. "I think it is bad for Republicans to be kicking gays."
George Bush

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Warning: Facts Ahead

A Prefatory Comment
This post was originally written last April for another blog site. The MCPS sex education curriculum was shaping up, and the conservative minority who are now the core of the recall group were realizing that their anti-gay materials were not going to be included. They wrote a letter to the Board of Education, complaining about the curriculum.

This has become somewhat relevant again. The recall group's blog has been publishing pieces of the letter in sections -- if you read their stuff, this is what the "APPROVED!!!" series is about. The parts I have looked at have have been cut and pasted from last year's letter -- there might be something new, I don't know.

Several commentors at this site have referred to those documents, as if the information being posted there was very persuasive. So I guess it's time to dust off the old post. I apologize for its length.

I'll tell you from the start, I am not one who believes that everyone should live the kind of life I choose for myself. I also do not appreciate when others decide how I should live, as long as I am not hurting anyone. I consider tolerance to be a core American value. Call it a "bias" on my part, a "prejudice," but I believe in personal freedom -- my own and others'.

So it was with some interest that I read the fourteen-page letter sent to the school board by some members of the Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development, which approves materials for Montgomery County health classes. Recall group president Michelle Turner is listed in the newspaper as a signer of this letter, though her name does not appear on the copy I received. Only Henrietta J. Brown's signature appeared on the letter. Turner was quoted in the Montgomery Gazette as supporting the views expressed in the letter.

The letter was really long, and somewhat repetitious. I cannot address every detail here, though I will go into it more than perhaps most readers can stand. The gist of it is, as they say on the first page:
Reluctantly, I and others on the Committee, have concluded that the majority on the Committee, including the Chairman, are driven more by their own intolerance for differing viewpoints and a desire to promote a specific agenda than by any reasonable concern for the health and safety of the children in our school system.

'Course, them's fightin' words.

The Letter
The letter is in three parts. Section I lists the 15 materials approved and several that were rejected,with comments; Section II lists other materials that were rejected -- it's not said so, but the letter's authors clearly feel these things should have been included; and Section III argues that proper policies were not followed in the decision-making process. Here I will only comment on Section I. As you will see, that is more than enough.

Two Resources Not Accepted
It is noted that of 18 materials considered, 15 were approved. Materials not approved include two documents from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Sexual Stereotypes and Sexual Orientation, and When Gender Identities Become Confused. This latter paper recommends that a child who prefers to play with kids of the opposite sex, or "refuses to accept his or her biological sex" should be treated by a psychiatrist. Gender-neutral childrearing, this article says, "can deny inherent differences among youngsters." This gives us a glimpse of the viewpoint that the letter's authors would prefer to promote, that homosexuality is an aberration or a form of mental illness that can and should be treated.

Suicide Rates and the Surgeon General's Refutation
One particular point is repeated throughout this letter. Referring to an article that was selected for inclusion in the curriculum, the letter says, "This reference relies in part on a 1989 paper by Paul Gibson which incorrectly refers to suicide rates of homosexuals versus homosexuals. Gibson's paper was later refuted by the Surgeon General in 1999."

Now, it does not appear that Gibson's paper is available online (it was part of a report on youth suicide published the US Department of Health and Human Services), but the letter includes a footnote that quotes the Surgeon General's comments: "It has been widely reported that gay and lesbian youth are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than other youth and that 30 percent of all attempted or completed youth suicides are related to issues of sexual identity. There are no empirical data on completed suicides to support such assertions, but there is growing concern about an association between suicide risk and bisexuality or homosexuality for youth, especially males." (The Surgeon General's comments can be found HERE.)

This same point is reiterated at least five times in this letter, so let me emphasize, the Surgeon General did not deny that homosexuals' suicide rate was higher than that of heterosexuals. He did not refute Gibson's paper or say it was incorrect. In fact, he never mentioned it. Gibson's 1989 research was based on the best evidence of its time, and the Surgeon General's message is that there is growing concern about the topic -- not that it doesn't exist -- and that there needs to be more research to find out the true extent of the problem. The issue is that it is very difficult to get good empirical data on homosexual behavior, not that Gibson's paper was incorrect. The statement that Gibson's research was refuted by the Surgeon General, as this letter asserts many times (and as the recall group still does on their web site), is a falsehood.

Repeatedly in this letter, the minority group refers to Gibson's paper having been "refuted by the Surgeon General," "incorrect information with respect to the suicide issue," etc. This is a very thin string to hang an important argument on. Granted, there is not, to my knowledge, extremely sound scientific evidence for the actual suicide rate for young gays compared to other young people, but the phenomenon is a widely accepted, and is supported by data as good as can be found, with no evidence that it is false.

[Added 2/05] We note that the same game is being played by the Bush administration. A conference on suicide later this month in Portland had scheduled a talk titled "Suicide Prevention Among Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals." Officials of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an important funding agency for mental health reseachers, suggested that the words gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender be removed from the title of the talk. Asked how strong a suggestion, [SAMHSA spokesman] Weber replied: "Well, they do need to consider their funding source." Federal agency balks at word 'gay'. Conservative elements consider it important not to report a link between sexual orientation and identity and suicide.

Another point emphasized by the letter is that homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to engage in pedophilia. But the question is not so simple, and the research does not support this conclusion. One researcher, named Paul Cameron, has published some studies showing that homosexuals are more likely that heterosexuals to engage in pedophilic acts. His research has been highly contested, for instance in this site at the University of California, Davis, Psychology Department: Facts About Homosexuality and Child Molestation (Note: PDF file). Pedophilia is a complex subject in itself, and it seems that most of the research evidence suggests that most same-sex child molestations are performed by adults who would not be regarded as "homosexuals."

According to Department of Justice statistics, Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics,

Nearly all of the offenders in sexual assaults reported to law enforcement were male (96%). Female offenders were most common in assaults against victims under age 6. For these youngest victims, 12% of offenders were females, compared with 6% for victims ages 6 through 12, and 3% for victims ages 12 through 17. Overall, 6% of the offenders who sexually assaulted juveniles were female, compared with just 1% of the female offenders who sexually assaulted adults.

Females were more than six times as likely as males to be the victims of sexual assaults known to law enforcement agencies. More specifically, 86% of all victims of sexual assault were female. The relative proportion of female victims generally increased with age. Sixty-nine percent of victims under age 6 were female, compared with 73% of victims under age 12, and 82% of all juvenile (under age 18) victims. The female proportion of sexual assault victims reached 90% at age 13 and 95% at age 19 (figure 3).

The report notes that 39-40 percent of victims under twelve years old were assaulted by offenders who were also juveniles. Thus somewhat more than half of attacks on young children are perpetrated by adults. Means are not given for teenage victims, but from the graph it appears that the modal age of the offender for victims 12-17 is about 16 years old.

The Committee minority's letter makes the comment "Note, however, that it is omitted that a disproportionate number of pedophiles are homosexual considering their small percentage in the population," with a footnote to The American Psychiatric Association Fact Sheet on Pedophilia. The reader would then trust that that "fact sheet" did in fact note the disproportion. But the fact sheet does not mention homosexuals at all -- it is simply a layman's guide to the DSM diagnosis of "pedophilia." The authors obviously did not expect any reader to look this up.

This is a hot topic, with a lot of literature being generated by "family values" religious groups, which makes the subject very hard to research. The assertion that homosexuals are more likely to molest children is, to put it generously, not a well-accepted scientific finding.

Hate Crimes
The letter criticizes one article by saying, "The resource also relies on a 1987 U.S. Dept. of Justice study that stated, "gays and lesbians are the most frequent victims of hate crimes in the United States. This information is outdated and no longer correct according to the 2002 Hate Crime Statistics."

The 2002 Hate Crime Statistics can be found HERE (Note: big, slow-loading PDF file). According to that document, nearly half of reported "hate crimes" (4,393) were racially motivated; 1,576 were motivated by religious reasons against various groups; and 1,464 were against homosexuals.

I find one 1987 Justice Department study quoted as saying:
The most frequent victims of hate violence today are blacks, Hispanics, Southeast Asians, Jews, and gays and lesbians. Homosexuals are probably the most frequent victims. Verbal intimidation, assault, and vandalism are the most commonly reported forms of hate violence. hate crime statistics

Unfortunately, the report itself does not seem to be available online, so one cannot find the context of this paragraph. The statement, "Homosexuals are probably the most frequent victims," though, does not sound like an authoritative pronouncement.

Homosexual Advocates ... Not
The letter complains about an article called "Questions and answers about homosexuality," which is, according to the author of the letter, "written by Advocates for Youth, Washington, DC. Advocates for Youth is a non-medical homosexual advocacy group that on its website, advises kids to go to gay bars for information."

Well! That is a shocking development!

If one checks the web site of Advocates for Youth, one finds that -- far from being a "non-medical homosexual advocacy group" -- it is a well-balanced site (from their web site) "dedicated to creating programs and advocating for policies that help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health," that promotes teaching information about contraception as well as sexual abstinence. The organization has been in existence since 1980, and a focus of its work is in developing countries around the world. The letter's comment that it "advises kids to go to gay bars for information" must be a reference to this, from the section entitled I Think I Might Be Lesbian, Now What Do I Do? Part of the answer to the question, "How Can I Find Other Women Like Me?" was: Look for a local gay and lesbian newspaper. Check with local bookstores, health food stores, and gay bars for copies.

That seems a far cry from what is implied by this letter. Put fairly, the advice is to "find a gay newspaper," not "go to gay bars for information." This sort of rhetorical device is successful only as far as readers fail to follow up. I admit I have spent too much time on this, but it is fascinating to see how those who seek to polarize a discussion will distort the facts to do so. This site is not a "homosexual advocacy site," and the advice it gives is sadly misrepresented by the authors of this letter.

Biological Differences
The letter challenges a resource that stated that "Biological differences between male hetereosexuals and gay men have been found to exist in certain areas of the brain." The authors continue, in parentheses, "Dr. Simon LeVay, whose work was incorrectly the basis for the 'Gay-gene theory' stated, 'It's important to stress what I didn't find. I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn't show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work. Nor did I locate a gay center in the brain ... Since I looked at adult brains, we don't know if the differences I found were there at birth or if they appeared later.'"

I must note that it is even more important to stress what Dr. LeVay did find, which was that "Biological differences between male hetereosexuals and gay men have been found to exist in certain areas of the brain." Just as the article says. This kind of "hey! look over there!" argument might work well on stupid people. The refutation though does not address the point being argued. You might be interested to read Dr. LeVay's discussion of The Biology of Sexual Orientation online. Yes, there are biological differences.

Incidence: Bad Math
Throughout this letter, the authors argue that the incidence of homosexuality is only three percent, compared to higher numbers that are sometimes given. Of course the actual incidence is not known, for two good reasons: first, homosexual behavior is a sensitive topic, and is bound to be underreported in surveys, and secondly, it is not clear where one draws the line between "being gay" and engaging in occasional homosexual acts, or in having homosexual fantasies that are not acted upon. Measurement and definition, two problems here.

The authors of this letter challenge the statement in one accepted resource, that "one out of four families has a lesbian, gay, or bisexual in the immediate family." In parentheses they state, "however less than 3% of the population is gay." I say, do the math. If a typical family has two parents and two children, which is pretty close to the US average, and one in four families has a gay -- or bisexual, that should double the chances -- member, then we would expect one in sixteen Americans to be gay or bisexual. That's about six percent, not far from estimates that the letter writers would accept, especially given the "or bisexual" component. It is a shame that these people are advising the school board -- at least it's not the Math Committee!

Hate Crimes
And again, they argue against an article that says "Hate crimes are prevalent [among gays and lesbians]." The authors say, "This statement is refuted in 2002 FBI Fact Sheet for Hate Crime Statistics." As we have already noted, above, that document reports 1,464 hate crimes against homosexuals. Most people would say that counts as "prevalent." (For instance, "only" 1,064 hate crimes against Jews were reported. But I doubt the Committee members would argue that hate crimes against Jews are not prevalent.) Again, they assume no one will go to the sources of information.

Change in HIV Rates
Complaining about another resource, they wrote this: "This is listed as a fact: 'Infection with HIV, the virus that causes Aids, is increasing more rapidly among heterosexuals than among homosexuals.' Many resources from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control refute this statement."

No, they're wrong. "Many resources from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control" support the statement. I admit I didn't read every single document at CDC's vast web site, but I looked at a lot of them, and they all say the same thing. Look at the graph. It shows very clearly that AIDS is increasing for heterosexuals and declining markedly among homosexuals ("MSM" is "men having sex with men" in the graph). Just what the resource says.

Why lie about it?

Changing from Straight to Gay and Vice Versa
In criticizing another resource that was accepted by the majority of the Committee, the minority letter states: "A number of unsupported and inaccurate statements and critical ommissions are found which reflect the doctrinal bias of the Committee. For example, under 'Myths': Myth #2 states: 'If you are 'straight,' you can become homosexual. As a 'fact' it is stated: 'Most experts in the field have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice.'"

But the truth is, most experts in the field have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice. The statement is perfectly true. Experts in the field are in widespread agreement, just as biologists are in agreement that species evolve according to Darwinian principles. Religious devotees outside the field may not understand the research findings, and to tell the truth, not everything is known yet, but most researchers in the field agree it's not a choice.

One study, mentioned in the letter, is widely cited by conservatives as showing that homosexuals can successfully change their orientation. The paper, by psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, was based on interviews with a special sample of individuals who had claimed that they did change their sexual orientation. The anti-gay movement latched onto this study as "proof" that homosexuality is a choice. Later that same year, when Finnish lawmakers began considering a law that would grant gay couples the same privileges as straight married couples, Spitzer's research was cited by those opposed to the proposal. Spitzer himself wrote to the Finnish legislature, noting that (quoted from Psychiatric News, December 21, 2001):
he was "disturbed" that his study results were being "misused by those who are against antidiscrimination laws and civil unions for gays and lesbians."

Spitzer explained that while his study results run counter "to the current view of most mental health professionals," who maintain that homosexuals cannot change their sexual orientation, his report was "based on a very unique sample." Such results "are probably quite rare, even for highly motivated homosexuals," he said.

He added in his letter to the parliament member that "it would be a serious mistake to conclude" from his research that homosexuality is a "choice." Finland's Parliament Assesses U.S. Reparative-Therapy Study

I don't think there has ever been any other study claiming to show that gays "choose" their lifestyle.

In Conclusion
It appears that a small subset of individuals, including former members of the citizens advisory committee, has an oddball set of beliefs which they would want to propagate to our children through the public schools. They seem to believe that homosexuality is inherently bad, that people who find themselves confused about their sexual orientation should do everything they can to be heterosexual, that homosexuality is a kind of ideology that can be spread through teachings. This group wrote a poorly-crafted letter; they did not make their point well, and the critical reader can easily discover that their arguments are built on a foundation of deceits.

It appears to me that the alternative proposed by the committee minority -- falsehood, innuendo, distortions, intolerance -- is no better, in any way, than the well-rounded resources that the Committee has recommended. It is an appalling move for these Committee minority members to try to force their own life-choices on other members of the community.

Morons' Comments Will Be Deleted

We use a simple comment system on this blog, nothing fancy, but it seems worthwhile to provide a chance for people to discuss the topics that are posted. Note that not all of us are always in the mood for discussion, and not all of the posts have comments enabled. But most do.

I don't always have time to go through all the comments, but today I looked at some that were very creepy.

We all remember when the web site had its message board out where people could see it. The comments there were barbaric, to put it flatteringly. The level of discourse was so low, the intellectual standard so lax, that it was an embarrassment to that community. Quickly they put a password on it, put it away in secret so the rest of the world couldn't see how they talk among themselves. That was a smart thing, I think, because it was obvious even to their leaders that the discussants there were ... a bunch of lunatics. Their president ended up apologizing to the school board about people threatening board members, the newspapers wrote about it (though they got a sort of half retraction, not that the threats didn't exist but that they weren't the reason a meeting was cancelled), and I know of at least one web site that regularly published quotes from those repulsive message boards as a joke.

So now it appears some of those guys are coming over here and trying to talk like that. Calling names, accusing people of lying, one nice quote was "YOU ADVOCATE THE DESTRUCTION OF THE HEALTH AND WELLBEING OF OUR CHILDREN!" All in caps, of course, like my hearing is going or something.

Listen, we're not going to put up with that kind of idiocy. If you want to talk that way, go sign up with the recall group, and say those things where the public can't see it. Be a laughingstock over there, and do not stink up our site.

I am leaving that particular set of comments up for now, as an example. But from now on, it will go like this: morons' comments will be deleted.

You can criticize our arguments, point out inconsistencies, question our motives, point out flaws in our reasoning, challenge our characterizations of the facts, boast about the superiority of your own views ... that's cool. It keeps us sharp. We're not here to make statements of nonsense, and if you think you can convince us that there's a better way to see things, well, great, tell us what it is. I personally do not get a commission for winning arguments, am not affiliated with any political party or advocacy group or anything else who I owe loyalty to. Make a good point, convince me, hey, I'll switch sides. (Yeah, that would have to be a p-r-e-t-t-y good argument ...)

But don't come over here calling names and recycling old election cliches, OK? (The guy called me a "flip-flopper" -- woo-hoo, can you imagine bringing that one back?)

So, again, I'm going to remain cheerful about this. If people come here and say stupid things, I am an administrator of the blog and will simply delete the comments.

PS So far the only comments I've deleted have been my own, when a troll elicited a little stronger language from me than I really wanted to use here.

Deciphering the message of the exgay movement

Now let me get this straight. According to the Gazette, Executive Director of PFOX Regina Griggs, is fine with people who are gay and are "happy living a homosexual lifestyle." No, she's more than fine with that—she actually supports that. Now in fairness to her, she doesn't claim to speak for the entire exgay movement, but apparently, this is how she feels.

Hearing that was interesting to me because from everything I've read about the "exgay" movement (read: recloseted gay movement) I never, ever had the impression that there was any acceptance whatsoever of gay people who are happy and proud being exactly as they are. But that makes sense to me—if you believe that homosexuality is an abomination to God...why would you accept or support people who are gay and have no desire or intention to try to change themselves? Now that wouldn't make sense to me. But, that's what Regina Griggs said. According to her, "All we want is children to know that change is possible."

Much of the rhetoric of exgays is taken from communities of marginalized minorities. They want to end "discrimination" against exgays. They want exgays to have equal access. They deserve "tolerance and equal treatment."

But if that's truly the focus of the exgay movement, and if Ms. Griggs truly does believe in the right to self-determination for gay people who are living in accordance with their true selves, that outlook does not extend to the greater exgay movement.

According to Florida's News-Journalonline, Exodus International, the largest exgay group in the country, is actively working with Florida4marriage to write "a ban on gay marriage into Florida's constitution." So, for Exodus, the focus is not just ministering to those who want to change, or fighting for "tolerance" for exgays, but fighting against the rights of those who are fine with who they are.

In this country, we all have the right to work for political change. Well, except for 501(c)(3)s like Exodus—but I'm not touching that one. But, I'm trying to get clear on exactly what the exgay movement is saying. Are you victims fighting for equality? (Since you refer to PFOX member Estella Salvatierra as a "civil rights" attorney.) Or are you really trying to keep other people from having the equality you yourselves say you want? Which is it? I'm confused.

Whatever. I'm giving myself a headache trying to figure out these forked-tongues.

But back to Exodus, and the reason for their involvement with Florida4marriage's attack on marriage for same-sex couples. Here's what Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International had to say:
"We know homosexual marriage isn't the only threat to marriage today, but rather one of many"

and later...

"However, the imminent threat before us is here, and therefore action is required."

So for Chambers, the big bad boogeyman threatening to destroy marriage forever, is the specter of same-sex couples who want to commit their lives to each other. But that isn't what voters in the last election thought.

The religious right loves to talk about the exit polls that showed that 22 percent of voters said the most important issue was "moral values." But I don't suspect they'll be too forthcoming about what voters really meant by "moral values."
Media pundits declared that the "moral values" meant gay marriage and abortion, and that the Religious Right had won the election.

No doubt those issues played an important role. Yet, if the specific issues in the exit poll are grouped together, "war/peace values" led with 34 percent and "economic values" received 33 percent. A post-election poll conducted by Zogby International confirmed that when a list of specific issues was asked, the results were quite different. When asked which "moral issue most influenced your vote," 42 percent chose war in Iraq, while 13 percent said abortion and 9 percent same-sex marriage. When asked to name the "most urgent moral problem in American culture," 33 percent selected "greed and materialism," 31 percent chose "poverty and economic justice," 16 percent picked abortion, and 12 percent named same-sex marriage. The "greatest threat to marriage" was identified as "infidelity" by 31 percent, "rising financial burdens" by 25 percent, and "same-sex marriage" by 22 percent.

But back to Exodus, and what their real message is.
...Chambers said the proposed amendment is not exclusionary, nor does the coalition hate gays.

"I was a homosexual, I lived among the gay community. I have many friends still there today. I know the pain of being taunted, I know what it's like to listen to those who are ignorant of the complex issues surrounding homosexual development," Chambers said. "I would never lend my name or my organization's name to something that was hateful or homophobic."

Okay, you "know the pain of being taunted", and you're just looking out for those children of God who happen to be that right?
But moments later, another speaker lambasted gays for carrying a "social evil" and attempting to "destroy marriage."

Ahh, these forked-tongues. I'm getting a headache.

Sex Ed Is Not Porn

Spotted on the Channel 7 web site: Seventh Grader on Sex Education Panel.

The Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development advises the Montgomery County Board of Education on matters involving the health curriculum. They were the ones, in fact, who proposed the new sex-ed curriculum that some people are in such an uproar about. And now an 11-year-old kid has been appointed to the committee.

Not surprisingly, there is a little controversy about this.
Sex education is something seventh graders are usually taught. But in Montgomery County, one student is on a panel that will recommend changes to the sex education curriculum.

WMAL Radio reports an 11-year-old girl from Takoma Park Middle School was appointed to the panel back in June by the county school board. The pre-teen is now one of four students on the Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development.

Montgomery County's coordinator of health education, Russell Henke, tells the station it's not the first time they've had a middle schooler on the committee. Henke also says all students must get a parent's approval to join the panel.

However, not everyone is happy. The leader of one citizens group says he's concerned about young children being exposed to what he calls "extremely adult themes in sex education."

OK, we don't know what "leader of one citizen's group" they interviewed about this ... but we could guess if pressured.

And the quote is revealing.

See, MCPS is a public school system. Students learn about math, science, history, English and foreign languages, and health, among other things. One part of learning about health is learning about sexuality. The idea that schools would teach sex-ed was controversial decades ago, but people have accepted the idea, and it has turned out to be a pretty good thing for public health as well as parental sanity.

But listen: sex education is not porn.

This leader of blah-blah-blah does not seem to make that distinction. Yes, sex is an "adult" thing. We expect people who engage in sexual behaviors to have passed puberty, physically, and to have exceeded that threshold cognitively in order to make good, informed choices about their sexual behavior. Kids should not have sex, and generally, they don't.

But given the fact that all of our parents did it, (this is an example of a rare thing, a statistical certainty) we can be confident that a lot of today's children, even eleven-year-olds, will eventually have sexual intercourse. Maybe in ten years, maybe twenty, whatever. They're going to do it, if the species is to survive.

So you start talking to them about it. The guppy has little-guppies, and you talk about where they came from. People you know marry, and divorce, and you talk with your kids about it. They see stuff on TV, and on the Internet, and you talk about it. It isn't like, you wait till they get married, then ... boom, the lights come on.

The sex education curriculum is not porn. Teaching objectively and honestly about sex is a family value.

This eleven-year-old will be faced with some tough decisions. How can she know whether all ex-gays are phonies, or only most of them? You think it's hard for us to judge, it's going to be even harder for a kid. Are gay people evil? You and I, as adults, have known some gay people, and have heard shreds of the debate, and have opinions about it -- an eleven-year-old? Probably not.

So this is going to be hard. It's a bold move, letting a kid participate in the grown-up process of choosing what is appropriate for the classroom.

But it isn't porn.

There isn't anything in the curriculum that is adult in the sense that "adult book stores" are adult. We assume that this kid's parents have agreed she can handle it, so they must know there will be discussion of condoms and their use, of sexual orientation and identity. They're OK with it. So why does this leader of the blah-blah-blah complain about "extremely adult themes?"

I can only conclude that the poor guy confuses instruction in safe sex methods with pornography. He confuses discussion about sexual orientation and identity with pornography.

Nope. It's just stuff people do. And kids need to learn about it.

An Open Letter to Religious Leaders About Sex Education

From Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing May 16, 2002:
As religious leaders, we have a continuing commitment to the spiritual, emotional, and physical health of the nation’s young people. Now we are called to join in the public discussion about the nature of sexuality education for the country’s youth. Strong public health arguments support comprehensive sexuality education. Here we invite you to consider the religious foundations for supporting sexuality education — education that respects the whole person, honors the truth and diverse values, and promotes the highest ethical values in human relationships.

Religious traditions affirm that sexuality is a divinely bestowed blessing for expressing love and generating life, for mutual companionship and pleasure. It is also capable of misuse, leading to exploitation, abuse, and suffering. Sexuality, from a religious point of view, needs to be celebrated with joy, holiness, and integrity, but it also demands understanding, respect, and self-discipline. Our traditions affirm the goodness of creation, our bodies, and our sexuality; we are called to stewardship of these gifts.

Our religious ancestors created rites of passage to recognize the transition to sexual maturity and adulthood. God created us as sexual beings from birth to death; but it is in childhood and adolescence, that we begin to develop the sexual wisdom, values, and morality that will determine whether we will become sexually healthy adults. As religious leaders, we want young people to learn about their sexuality, not primarily from the entertainment media or their peers, but from their parents, faith communities, and school-based programs that address the biological, psychological, cultural, ethical, and spiritual dimensions of sexuality.

Religions have a venerable tradition supporting healing, health care, disease prevention, and health promotion. They also express commitment to the most marginalized, the most vulnerable, those most likely to be excluded. Sexuality education programs must benefit all young people regardless of income, class, ethnicity, and gender. Programs must also be inclusive of those who are heterosexual and those who are sexual minorities, those who are abstinent and those who have had sexual relationships, and those who have experienced brokenness and oppression about their sexuality.

Religions value education, including education about our sexuality. We have learned from our commitment to religious education that programs must be age-appropriate, accurate, and truthful, and have both immediate relevance and applicability for later life. Young people need help in order to develop their capacity for moral discernment and a freely informed conscience. Education that respects and empowers young people has more integrity than education based on incomplete information, fear, and shame. Programs that teach abstinence exclusively and withhold information about pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease prevention fail our young people.

Scriptural and theological commitment to telling the truth calls for full and honest education about sexual and reproductive health. Young people need to know "there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing” but they also require the skills to make moral and healthy decisions about relationships for themselves now and in their future adult lives. They need help to develop the capacity for personal relationships that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent, and pleasure. Our culture too often models sexuality without responsibility, and many adolescents are left on their own to struggle through conflicting sexual messages. It is with adult guidance and comprehensive information and education about sexuality—education that includes abstinence, contraception, and STD prevention — that young people will be able to make responsible decisions.

As religious leaders, we call on policy makers, school officials, and educators to provide comprehensive sexuality education that honors truth telling and the diversity of religious and moral values represented in the community. Such education:
  • Emphasizes responsibility, rights, ethics, and justice.

  • Affirms the dignity and worth of all persons.

  • Teaches that sexuality includes physical, ethical, social, psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions.

  • Complements the education provided by parents and faith communities.

  • Publicly identifies the values that underline the program.

  • Teaches that decisions about sexual behaviors should be based on moral and ethical values, as well as considerations of physical and emotional health.

  • Affirms the goodness of sexuality while acknowledging its risks and dangers.

  • Introduces with respect the differing sides of controversial sexual issues.

People of faith must speak out for comprehensive sexuality education. We know that there are people of good faith who differ with us on what young people need. We seek to reach out to those from whom we may be divided to seek what is best for our nation's youth. We all must be truth seeking, courageous, and just in our efforts to provide all young people with the sexuality education they so urgently need.

The Open Letter was developed at a colloquium of theologians sponsored by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. Participants included Rev. Mark Bigelow, Congregational Church of Huntington, L.I.; Rev. Dr. John Buehrens, Unitarian Universalist Association; Rev. Dr. Ignacio Casuera, Pacific Palisades United Methodist Church; Rev. Steve Clapp, Christian Community; Rev. Dr. Mark Ellison, Bangor Theological Seminary; Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, Union of American Hebrew Congregations; Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield, Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing; Debra W. Haffner, M.Div., Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing; Ann Hanson, Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ; Rev. Dr. Sheron Patterson, St. Paul United Methodist Church, Dallas; and Rev. Carlton Veazey, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

If It's Good Enough for Hillary

We don't know if Hillary Clinton is going to make a run for President next time around, but she has been making some ground-breaking speeches. Here's a brief excerpt from one she made last month... Some of it you may have heard before, some of it, maybe didn't get quoted:
Research shows that the primary reason that teenage girls abstain is because of their religious and moral values. We should embrace this -- and support programs that reinforce the idea that abstinence at a young age is not just the smart thing to do, it is the right thing to do. But we should also recognize what works and what doesn't work, and to be fair, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs. I don't think this debate should be about ideology, it should be about facts and evidence -- we have to deal with the choices young people make not just the choice we wish they would make. We should use all the resources at our disposal to ensure that teens are getting the information they need to make the right decision. Remarks by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to the NYS Family Planning Providers

That does sound pretty reasonable, doesn't it? facts and evidence... getting the information they need ... I'd support that.

This is about our kids, it's about the public health issues of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, it's about suicide rates among young gays, it's about Americans having fulfillment and love in their lives -- it shouldn't be about ideology.

Parents Learning to Teach Their Children

The Gazette has an article this morning about some parents who are learning how to talk to their kids about sex: Gaithersburg Middle PTA takes sex-ed message to parents.

It's not exactly easy to see the reason for this meeting. But from some comments that are made, it appears that the idea of the meeting was to promote parents talking to the children about sex, so the schools won't have to.
Amid new debate over sex education issues in public schools, Gaithersburg Middle parents are stepping up efforts to teach their children about condoms and sexually transmitted diseases.

At a PTA meeting last week, a dozen parents practiced unrolling the latex sheaths onto a partner's fingers while dissecting the best route for talking to their kids about sex.

"Everybody wants to think that it isn't an issue at this point [in their children's lives]," said PTA president Connie Mulloy, who set up the meeting. "But it's here. And parents need to be prepared to talk about it."

The PTA invited health teacher Frieda Cooney, whose abstinence-based program touches sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Gaithersburg Middle, to give the PTA a refresher course on sexual-health issue.

The goal, Mulloy said, was to present parents with the information they need to discuss sex with their kids.

"What I do in the classroom only supports what happens at home," said Cooney, who also writes health curriculum for the county.

That's all positive. Teach parents how to do it so they can teach their kids.

Parents need to talk with their children: this is like a politician speaking out against crime. It's obvious, and easy, to say that parents should teach their own children about sex.

But look at that story: a dozen parents. You know how many kids go to that middle school? This would be, like, one per cent of the parents.

Oh, and they interview one guy who we know, from the last school board meeting, sends his kids to private schools. He's a ringer. That means "a dozen parents" is more like "eleven parents" of MCPS students.

It is tempting to hold a personal opinion here: I could say, I don't need any school to teach my little angels about sex. We talk about it at home. We grown-ups tell the kids what we know, and they have questions sometimes.

But there's more to it. My wife and I don't know everything about sexual behavior and contraception and what diseases are out there and how they're spread. We don't have statistics from the CDC at our fingertips. We have personal experience, but we don't have the special access to facts that teachers can have. So I'm glad that the school is able to present that information, in a cool and objective way. My kids will learn something beyond what we have been able to teach them.

Oh, and besides that, I want the other students to know these things. Hey, my kids are perfect, but the kids they go out with might not be. I can't screen their friends, I can't force them to attend a short seminar on contraception and disease prevention, never mind good manners. So I want the kids my kids date to know the facts.
But some Gaithersburg Middle parents at the meeting said they feared a vocal minority that opposes the curriculum will hurt overall sex education.

[PTA president Connie] Mulloy urged members to make their stance known.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm agreeing with [those who oppose the education] by my silence," she added, discussing comments made on PTA Web list serves. "It's worth writing something even if you're OK with [the education]."

And that is the hard part. We formed this web site mainly just to support common sense. Students need to be told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about sex.

Everybody knows that.

As parents, we joke -- "My kids know more about sex than I do" -- but that's not true. They're teenagers, and they only know what they hear from us, and from their friends, and on TV and the Internet. They need the facts.

And everybody knows that.

And you might feel kinda dumb saying it over and over again, but it has to be said, because there are people out there actively campaigning to keep your kids and my kids in the dark. If they don't want their own kids to learn these things, they can simply sign them up for a different unit -- they can sign them up for an abstinence-only class, if that's what they like. Some of these people don't even send their kids to our school district, but they still fight to keep your kids and mine in the dark. It's not their children they're concerned about, it's your children, and mine.

So, people, we have to speak the obvious. Our children need to be taught the truth. Say it out loud, write letters, fight for it.