Friday, September 30, 2005

Extry, Extry, Nuts Twist Facts, Get Upset Over Nothing

The anti-gay nuts are going crazy over this new twist in the "mad dad" story in Lexington, Massachusetts. And, I'm glad to say, the schools are holding the line.

You'll remember, a guy flipped out because his kid's kindergarten class had a book that had something about a family with two mommies. He staged, essentially, a one-man sit-in at the school, and, just like Cindy Sheehan, he was taken to jail. Now he's a celebrity for the Radically Righteous.

And then now, there's a big deal because the schools are not planning to notify parents every time anything "diverse" (and that means ... not white? not straight? not Christian?) is mentioned in class.

We'll start with the wacky WorldNet Daily version of the story, so you can see how they're playing it, and then shift back toward reality:
While the trial of a Massachusetts parent arrested while attempting to secure a promise from school officials to notify parents before teaching about homosexuality in his son's kindergarten class has been postponed until next month, the school district is taking a hard line against such notification.

Paul Ash, the superintendent of schools in Lexington, has announced his instructions to all teachers in the district to give no notice to parents of efforts to teach "diversity" lessons about "alternative lifestyles" - even in primary grades. No notice to parents in 'diversity' classes: District takes hard line after arresting concerned father

I don't know why I read this stuff. You can almost smell the sourness coming off your computer screen.

The WND story is based on this article in the Lexington Minuteman, the local paper. The school superintendent, Paul Ash, published a piece on September 22nd, which coolly and thoroughly discusses the dimensions of the school district's legal responsibilities regarding parental notification. Here's his piece in its entirety:
Over the summer, I have received a number of questions about implementation of Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 71, Section 32A ("Section 32A"). These questions relate to the following provision:

Every city, town, regional school district or vocational school district implementing or maintaining curriculum which primarily involves human sexual education or human sexual issues shall adopt a policy ensuring parental/guardian notification. Such policy shall afford parents or guardians the flexibility to exempt their children from any portion of said curriculum through written notification to the school principal.

In Lexington, curriculum identified by the statute generally begins at the fifth-grade level. LPS has, of course, adopted a policy implementing Section 32A, and school staff routinely provide parents with notice and the flexibility to "opt out" of this curriculum.

Recently, questions have been raised as to whether school staff also has an obligation to notify parents and allow "opt out" of other school-based activities, particularly in the elementary grades. For example, some parents have requested they be notified whenever their child has access to any material, conversation, or activity that acknowledges differences in sexual orientation, including any reference to families with same-gender parents.

Since elementary curriculum often elicits discussion of family experiences, such references certainly may occur. In addition, our schools routinely provide students with access to materials, activities, and discussions that recognize diversity. This access is designed to assist us in our goal of maintaining an appropriate and respectful educational environment for all students. As required by law and LPS policy, this environment must be free of discrimination based on race, gender, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin and disability.

The Massachusetts Department of Education, which is responsible for administering Section 32A, has explained that activities and materials designed to promote tolerance and respect for individuals, including recognition of differences in sexual orientation "without further instruction on the physical and sexual implications" do not trigger the notice and opt out provisions of Section 32A. Under this standard, staff has no obligation to notify parents of discussions, activities, or materials that simply reference same-gender parents or that otherwise recognize the existence of differences in sexual orientation. Accordingly, I expect teachers to continue to allow children access to such activities and materials to the extent appropriate to children's ages, to district goals of respecting diversity, and to the curriculum.

As this new school year begins, I look forward to working with the Lexington community to provide a positive educational environment for all students.

So, listen, this guy sounds pretty smart. The law sounds clear enough. You have to notify parents in some situations, not in others. He's just doing what he's supposed to do.

WorldNetDaily is tricky here, this is good. This is like having a headline that says, "Man Refuses to Cross Busy Street on 'Wait' Sign." This principal has read the law, and he's following it.

And let me point out something interesting they do. You gotta learn to watch for this stuff. They said:
Paul Ash, the superintendent of schools in Lexington, has announced his instructions to all teachers in the district to give no notice to parents of efforts to teach "diversity" lessons about "alternative lifestyles" - even in primary grades.

Now -- notice those quotation marks. You would think, wouldn't you, that the quotation marks indicate that some words are quoted. But in this case, it is just the opposite. They have put quotes around words that they themselves made up, the marks really mean "These are words we are putting in that guy's mouth." He didn't say anything about "diversity" lessons, and certainly nothing about any "alternative lifestyles." He says that sometimes classroom discussion in the elementary grades recognizes diversity, but nothing about any "diversity lessons."

There needs to be something like antiquotation marks.

Sometimes it is ... embarrassing, really ... to realize that we live in a country where we have to take people like this seriously. But if you don't stand up and oppose them, they'll take over and start running things.

Can you imagine getting a notice for everything your kid does in school? Come on, now. "Johnny will be learning to do long division tomorrow." "Your child's class will be studying the Civil War next week" (because, you know, there are people who would pull their kid out of class for that one). First of all, kids don't really show their parents half of that stuff, do they? Or is it just mine? And second, who really wants to be bothered with it? I figure, the kid's going to school, they're going to teach him some stuff. He'll get over it. We sure got a lot of stupid stuff when I was in school, and just look at me now. Uh, well, never mind.

In this case, the principal read the law, and it says, you have to notify parents when you're going to talk about sex in a class, but you don't have to notify them every time a teacher is going to say something nice about somebody that any parent might not like.

Seems clear enough to me. If they don't like it, they should change the law. And then get ready to sign a whole lot of papers.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Decision Time is Looming for the Board

In less than two weeks, the MCPS school board will announce the members of the new citizens committee, which will review the new sex-ed curriculum. It will be very interesting to see how it goes.

You might remember that a couple of months ago, CRC and PFOX signed an agreement with the school board. This document spells out the terms of the agreement reached between the school district and the groups who filed the suit. Most of the stuff is irrelevant or would have happened anyway. Items that we should keep an eye on include:
MCPS agrees that the newly-constituted CAC [citizens advisory committee], for the term during which the consultation on the Revisions contemplated by the Board’s May 23, 2005 resolution will occur, will include a maximum of 15 members and will include one representative of PFOX and one representative of CRC, to be selected by the Board in accordance with Section C(2)(a)(3) of Board Policy BMA, provided such representatives are Montgomery County residents and are otherwise qualified and able to serve on the committee. PFOX and CRC will inform the Board of their nominees in writing by July 1, 2005.

Nothing contained in this Agreement shall be construed to diminish or enlarge the legal right of MCPS to develop, revise or implement curriculum, including curriculum that provides information on sexual variations and promotes tolerance of others regardless of sexual orientation.

Now, you can dig into the policies and rules of the board of education, and see what that BMA stuff is about, but it's mostly just more of the same. The important part is going to be the conditions that the board established for organizations applying for representation on the committee. The statement issued by the board said:
Resolved, That the reconstituted committee shall be appointed by the Board of Education in open session, and be comprised of 15 members, all of whom shall be bona fide residents of Montgomery County, otherwise qualified to serve, and include eight members at large, one of whom shall be an MCPS high school student; and seven representatives of organizations, one of whom shall be an MCPS high school student representing the Montgomery County Region ofthe Maryland Association of Student Councils, one of whom shall be a representative of Citizens for Responsible Curriculum, and one of whom shall be a representative of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays ...

Resolved, That members of the reconstituted committee be comprised of individuals who have not served on this committee previously, and who have applied individually or been nominated by organizations in response to the solicitation of applicants following this action; that organizations interested and designated shall submit one nominee and two alternate nominees; and that final appointment of all individuals, including organizational representatives and the committee chairperson, shall remain within the discretion of the Board, upon consultation with the superintendent ...Resolution to Reconstitute CAC

(There's some other stuff, not relevant here.)

Interestingly, in a Washington Times article from July 5th, the CRC and PFOX were complaining and threatening to sue again, over the rules. That article said, among other things:
The groups -- Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) and Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC) -- have each nominated one person to represent their interests on the panel.

Mmm, one person each? The rules said you had to nominate three.

The article also said:
CRC submitted the name of its nominee, Henrietta Brown, to the school board Thursday night.

Mrs. Brown, who served on the last citizens committee, would be prohibited from serving again under Mrs. O'Neil's resolution, which states that no member of the previous committee can serve on the new one.

Mmm, yes, the rules require that "the reconstituted committee be comprised of individuals who have not served on this committee previously."

That story came out on July 5th, and the deadline for following the rules was September 9th.

So, one question is: did the anti-MCPS groups eventually follow the rules? According to The Times, they had already submitted their names. Here's how that paper put it, back in July:
But the schools' attorney has told the groups that they must submit a list of three nominees, and the school board will pick whom it wants. A resolution drafted by board President Patricia O'Neil, a Democrat, and scheduled for a vote tomorrow includes the provision.

PFOX and CRC are threatening to go back to court, after having signed an agreement with schools officials last week that ended the groups' previous lawsuit against the school system and guaranteed them two seats on the 15-member panel. Such a move could further delay the creation and implementation of the county's sex-education course.

I haven't heard any more about this, whether they conformed to the rules, whether they still intend to sue, so I can only speculate. Let's say, they followed the rules: fine, we'll start the process.

Let's say they didn't follow the rules: uh-oh.

I'm no legal-eagle, but I suppose it's possible that, if CRC and PFOX refuse to follow the rules, as they imply in the Times story, the school board, hoping to avoid more expensive and time-wasting legal wrangling, just might put the two groups' nominees on the committee anyway. Just being nice, you might say.

Let me point out what that does. First of all, groups like us, who followed the rules and submitted three names, will have been played for suckers. That's three good, qualified people who could have applied independently, and three of our members could have applied to be on the committee. But we played fair, so we get short-changed. And the reverse holds for CRC and PFOX -- because they only submitted one name each, they can run two more stealth candidates -- and we know they're doing that, because one of them admitted it in a letter that became public. So breaking the rules is rewarded, following them is punished, if the board allows this violation.

It is possible that the anti-gay groups did not follow the rules, and the board decides to play hardball with them. If that happens, I say: good. Spoiled babies don't need any more candy.

But it comes to that, you just pray that the school district has retained some wide-awake lawyers, and not the Mayberry front-porch-snoozers that defended them last time. Look, if I can see this coming, then they should -- one of the core members of the radical groups is a lawyer, the first thing they thought of when they started the group was suing, they love to file suits. --Remember when they even threatened to sue one of our members for comments on a Yahoo group?

It don't take no Einstein to figure out that they'd sue again in a heartbeat. Since they won't get their way by argument alone, with their crazy anti-science, anti-gay, anti-safe-sex viewpoint, they would be just as happy tying this whole thing up in courts, wasting the taxpayers' money, depriving our kids of the education they deserve.

So, hey you lawyers, be ready this time, OK?

Journalists Gone Wild, er, Scared

A blogger we quoted below commented on this when it happened once, but oddly it happened three times this week. Three major local newspapers, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and the Montgomery Gazette, all did the same thing.

Reporters from all three of those papers went to our forum -- and then called the President of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, a radical anti-gay, anti-safe-sex group, to see what she thought about it.

She hadn't been there.

Check this out.

The Post said:
In a phone interview, Michelle Turner, president of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, said: "There is no conclusive truth that sexual [orientation] is something you are born with. Where's the science?"

Now, you wonder, as the reporter had just come from our forum -- did he tell her where the science is? He had just seen a lot of graphs and tables of numbers, and heard about a whole lot of scientific studies ... did he answer her question? I'm guessing not. So why did he call her?

The Times gave us another piece of information.
Mrs. Turner was in St. Louis, where she spoke at a conference for conservatives about CRC's efforts. She said schools should teach that there is evidence showing that homosexuality is a choice.

St. Louis, huh? I was trying to think, what radical rightwing group has headquarters in St. Louis? Who's backing the campaign against Montgomery County these days? I couldn't think of anybody off the top of my head.

But not to wonder long. Because The Gazette answers that one.
Michelle Turner, who heads Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, spent last weekend in St. Louis speaking to a conference of the Eagle Forum, a conservative group.

Eagle Forum, a "conservative group"?

That's what you might call an understatement.

The Eagle Forum is a group established by Phyllis Schlafly. People for the American Way's Rightwing Watch has a page on this group, including this paranoid quote from Schlafly:
"The goal [in public schools] is clearly to infuse (i.e., cause to penetrate) the gay/lesbian propaganda into every level of school: every grade K through 12, every academic subject, and every school and social activity."

-The Phyllis Schlafly Report, September 1995

Uh, yeah, right. Now take your meds.

But, OK, so the CRC is tied into these national extremist organizations. We knew that. The question remains: what is going on in this world, when a reporter covers an event, and then calls someone who wasn't there, and who they can be sure is going to say something negative even though they know nothing about what happened, and then quotes them in the story about the event?

I will state the obvious. These reporters are afraid not to include the radical rightwing point of view. Even though the anti-MCPS groups had nothing to do with the TeachTheFacts forum, the reporters know that if they don't get a quote from them, they will be accused of ... bias or something. They have been attacked for so long for being liberal that they're afraid to just write an article about what happened,

It doesn't even occur to them to report objectively. Any of them.

They're scared.

And listen again to what they got. To one, the CRC President says that "Reparative therapy cannot be dismissed." But it has been dismissed by every mainstream professional mental health and medical organization in the country. She is just wrong -- it can be dismissed, and usually is.

To another paper, she says, "Where's the science?" But the science is converging quickly: there are genetic and biological components of sexual orientation, some well understood and others still being discovered and explained. There's lots of science -- it must require tremendous effort to remain in this discussion, and not be aware of these findings.

To the third newspaper, she says that "schools should teach that there is evidence showing that homosexuality is a choice." But there is no evidence at all. No one who studies the subject believes sexual orientation is a choice. No peer-reviewed study ever published has found that it's a choice. Some religious extremists wish it was a choice, to make it a little easier to rationalize their fear and hate, but it isn't. It just isn't.

Amazingly, none of these reporters believed they could write about the TeachTheFacts forum, which was an occasion for highly educated experts to bring the audience up to date on the current state of medical, scientific, and educational knowledge, without calling long distance to interview some ignorant person who didn't know anything about the subject, or anything about what had happened at the forum.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A Silly Fun Thing

I don't know why, but this Comcast Channel 8 site is taking a survey (loosely defined). There's just one question:
What's your opinion on homosexuality?
1. It's genetics and biology; you are born with your sexual orientation
2. Homosexuality is a lifestyle choice

Link here

Right now the results are: 94 percent of respondents are intelligent people who correctly understand that you're born with your sexual orientation, and 6 percent are ignorant twits who "think" it's a something you choose.

T. On the Forum

Another local blogger has some interesting comments about our forum this past Sunday. I have quoted from The Republic of T blog before (motto: "Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal."), as he often has interesting insights into our controversy here over sex education. Here's a little of what he says as far as introduction:
No sooner do we settle our family in Maryland than we find that we have a battle going on in our back yard. Namely, the wingnuts - this time in the form of Parents and Friends of Ex-gays (PFOX) and a related organization called Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC) are trying to take over the Montgomery County School’s sex-ed curriculum to edit their view in (if they can’t edit gays out). Fortunately, there’s an informed organized opposition to the PFOXers, called Teach the Facts. Yesterday, the hubby attended a community meeting sponsored by Teach the Facts.

[a snippet from the Post article deleted here]

Even though Parker is not school-aged yet, and our second adoption is sometime in the future, our kids will be going to Montgomery County public schools (in fact, the meeting was held at the high school that Parker and sibling will attend), so we’re getting involved early. We decided one of us should attend, and — given his credentials — I figured it was best if the hubby went. Of course, he brought home all the materials, and gave me a full report of the meeting. Teach Your Children Well

OK, so here's a gay couple with a son, moving into our nice liberal Montgomery County, and finding that it is under attack by "wingnuts." Just the kind, I imagine, they had hoped not to have to deal with. The kind that think that families with two daddies are not families.

I thought this was an interesting observation:
From what he said, the turn-out was impressive. What was particularly moving about it was that the audience was predominantly heterosexual — many parents whose kids were probably heterosexual. Parents, Friends & Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) was also there in force. It brought home just how much heterosexual support there is for gays in Montgomery County. (Looks like we made the right choice about where to live!)

OK, hey, welcome guys. Don't worry about the wingnuts, we'll deal with them. Pow! Pow! Dance, wingnuts, dance!

For me, this is not a pro-gay or anti-gay issue, it's an education issue. The thing is, America has moved past debating whether it's OK to be gay. Of course there are gay people, what're you gonna do, kick them out? It's normal for some people to be gay, everybody knows that, I find it ridiculous that we even have to have this discussion. (But it would be even more ridiculous if we didn't, and let the ... wingnuts ... have their way.)

T. says:
The basic bones of contention in the curriculum are whether or not it will say that sexual orientation is a choice and can be changed, and what it will say about contraception. The opposition, of course, wants sexual orientation taught as a choice and would prefer that contraception gets little to no mention. The result was a lawsuit that ended with a settlement that would send the Montgomery County Public Schools back to the drawing board on the curriculum, with help from an advisory board that would include two seats for PFOX and CRC.

Basically, the wingnuts are holding the education of all the of all the kids in Montgomery County public schools hostage. Fortunately, an impressive array of forces have aligned against the nutters. Speakers at yesterdays' forum included: a former chair of the MCPS advisory committee on the sex-ed curriculum, an "ex-ex-gay" who talked about the 17 years of his life lost to "reparative therapy," the sex-ed policy manager from Planned Parenthood, the chair of the American Medical Association’s Committee on GLBT issues, Maryland elected officials, and other health ed. experts.

OK, we're getting our point across. Excellent.

This blogger goes on to talk about, links to our web site, tells people to sign the petitions... great. Thanks for the good word, T.

Monday, September 26, 2005

An Instant of Insight

Andrea is a local blogger who was at the forum yesterday and has an intereseting observation. Her blog is called Following my bliss, and she describes herself as "an actor/early childhood music teacher/yoga teacher wanna be." She talks about the various topics and speakers at the forum, and then says:
All of these people spoke eloquently on the subject and used clear facts and statistics to support that: 1. homosexuality is NOT choice, 2. reparative therapy is dangerous, and 3. children/adolescents need to be taught age appropriate information on sex and contraceptives.

However, this morning in the Washington Post's coverage of the meeting (see link above) they quoted extensively from a woman who represents the "Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum" (the group that filed a lawsuit to prevent this information from appearing in schools). Now, I was at the meeting, and no one from this group or any other group against the Sex Ed curriculum was present. I'm all for trying to be "fair and balanced" but when you're covering an event shouldn't you only report what happened at the event, not call up the other side to get their opinions when they didn't even hear the information presented at the meeting?

I feel like the way things like sex ed, evolution, and abortion are reported in the media is that you ALWAYS have to get the other side or they're afraid that people who's views were not represented will complain of bias. Now, this may be true if someone is doing an opinion piece, but when you are covering an event, you should state the facts of the event and that's it. Calling up the other side to get their view is then putting your own spin on the story. Strangely, it's almost like the "Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum's" claim that if you teach about homosexuality you also have to teach that it can be "cured". Montgomery Sex Ed panel

Ah, yes, I think she gets it.

The Post Covers the Forum

Pretty nice story in The Washington Post this morning:
Montgomery County school officials drafting a new sex education curriculum should reject lessons suggesting that homosexuality is a condition that can be reversed, speakers at a community forum said yesterday.

"A person's sexual attraction cannot be changed at all. There is no data to suggest that," said Paul A. Wertsch, a physician and chairman of the American Medical Association's committee on gay and lesbian issues, speaking before about 100 parents and other community members at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

Wertsch was among the health educators who spoke at the forum sponsored by, a parent group established to support the education curriculum proposed last year by the county Board of Education. The curriculum, which the parent group considered comprehensive, was dropped in the spring to settle a lawsuit brought by other parents who thought some of the lessons, including a demonstration of how to put on a condom, were too explicit. Sex-Ed Panel Aims to Sway Lessons on Gays: Montgomery Urged to Reject Teaching Homosexuality as Choice

I do need to comment on this headline. The forum yesterday wasn't to "sway lessons on gays," it was really just to find out what the facts are. There is an assumption, at least on our side, that the new curriculum should include factual information, but I don't remember anybody yesterday saying, "The new curriculum oughta do this or that."

And that second phrase: Montgomery Urged to Reject Teaching Homosexuality as Choice. I didn't hear that. I heard people say, "Homosexuality is not a choice." Nobody urged Montgomery to do anything. We were just finding out what the facts are.

Our side believes that the facts should be taught, but somehow it didn't seem necessary to say that. Maybe it's because of our name.
With the school board starting from scratch on a sex education plan, both sides are campaigning fiercely to influence what Montgomery eighth-graders will hear about homosexuality and what 10th-graders will hear about contraceptives. and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit -- Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and the Virginia-based Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays -- are seeking representation on an advisory committee that will work with the school system on devising the lessons. The school board will select the committee next month.

As you know, CRC and PFOX are guaranteed membership on the citizens committee. We remember some stuff on their blog back when the school board announced how they're going to do things, where CRC was upset that they would have to follow the rules. The rules are that all organizations nominate three people for the committee, and the school board selects one. The rules are that former members of the citizens committee would not be allowed to join again. The Washington Times had a story on their hissy-fit HERE.

Nice section here:
Speakers yesterday, citing numerous studies and personal anecdotes, attempted to counter their opponents' desire to include in the curriculum the viewpoint that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice that can be changed with therapy.

Robert Rigby Jr., a special-education teacher at Falls Church High School, said that he spent 17 years in reparative ministries trying to become straight and that during that time, "my life was an ongoing disaster." Rather than change his attraction to men, Rigby said, the therapy left him depressed and suicidal. Finally, he said, "a Baptist pastor said the words that changed my life: 'Robert, God made you the way you are, and God loves you the way you are.' "

Personally, I thought Robert's talk yesterday was compelling. It's one thing to talk about policies and curricula, but it's quite another to see a guy, a regular guy, really, who has been beaten up by ugly attitudes and hateful things people say and do. The schools don't need to promote that sort of thing.

This reporter (V. Dion Haynes, doesn't usually cover this beat, thanks, good job) called the President of CRC, to see what she thought about it all:
In a phone interview, Michelle Turner, president of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, said: "There is no conclusive truth that sexual [orientation] is something you are born with. Where's the science?"

She added that the judge in the case ruled that if the school system addresses the issue of homosexuality in class, teachers must include viewpoints from more than one perspective. "If you open Pandora's box, you have to address everything that comes out of it."

"The science" is not under the sand where her head is buried. She should have come to the forum (we went to hers) if she wanted to see the science. Dr. Wertsch showed us the genetic and neurological physiological data, as well as very persuasive results from twin studies, showing that sexual orientation has biological correlates.

Ms. Turner's Pandora's Box is a pipe-dream. There's no way any judge could ever tell a school that they have to teach myths alongside facts. No, when somebody's religious beliefs conflict with science there's no question about what should make it into the classroom.
Organizers of the forum showed "Protect Yourself," a seven-minute video that was intended to be part of the curriculum. The video opens with a young woman in a pharmacy standing before a row of condoms. She asks what the best ways are for young people to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. The video then shows shots of several teenagers, who respond that refraining from sex or using condoms are best. At the end, the woman uses a cucumber to demonstrate how to put on a condom.

Glenn Northern, sexuality education policy manager at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, praised the video. "It mentions abstinence seven times. This is not simply giving lip service to abstinence."

Turner said the school system is clear in teaching against smoking and using illicit drugs but sends a mixed message on sex. "Why would they teach kids how to have sex when there are so many physical and emotional dangers?" she said.

I heard the response to her question this morning. Smoking and drugs are bad for you, nobody needs to smoke or use dope. Just about everyone is going to have sex at some time in their lives. To some of this, that's a pretty big difference.

The forum was beautiful, I can't stop saying it, and we are glad that The Post phoned Ms. Turner so we can see just how silly CRC's position is, in a proper context.

PFOXS: Parents and Friends of Ex-Straights

Ah, yes, this is great. I'm going through my email, and here's one with the Subject line "Sex-Ed Controversy." Now, you must know that a ... certain percentage ... of the email we get here at the site is not fun to read.

Like, OK, here's one we got last week, completely unedited:
You do not represent my family of 11 children or myself and wife. We will teach our children what we want about sex,you or your organization nor the schools should have any say in what and how we believe.

We do NOT believe homosexuality is "normal",the actions of catholic priests should show you that,man with man or man with boy is sodomy plain and simple.homosexuality... so don't try to change it,even if i were not a Bible believing Christian,as a farmer i can tell you none of my chickens are Homosexuals,as a exsample you have 20 hens and a rooster,add another rooster and the battle is on, the roosters will not try to have sex with each other, but will attempt to either chase off the intruder or kill him to keep him from his hens.. but thats the extent a chicken will take, not me nor should anyone else murder over sex.Now if chickens know the difference in sexes and the proper use of male and female sex organs why the heck can't you so-called intellectuals...?

There are those of us out here who have the freedom i hope to disagree with your teachings and be INtolerant,i believe being intolerant on something that VIOLATES our beliefs is a civil right also...your intolerance to us is a violation of our civil rights...

Your so-called Facts are very misguided and wrong,i personally have been assaulted by homosexuals while in the US Navy so don't try and tell me to be tolerant of these peoples acts,they are perverse.It is even against nature its self,how does homosexuality balance in nature ? it doesn't ! its out of balance,there is no male ,female and IT...

So we shall be praying the courts throw out this mess you call facts teaching,you keep your beliefs to yourselves,we have done quite well in raising our children,thank you so much...E.

I have no idea what inspires a guy like that, no doubt busy with his eleven children, to take time to write us a letter like that. But he's actually not the only one, believe it or not.

(It is funny, though, just yesterday we heard the Chair of the American Medical Association’s Advisory Committee on GLBT Matters talk about homosexuality in the animal kingdom, including farm animals. Turns out it's quite common in a lot of species, including sheep and elephants.)

(Wasn't there a gay elephant in Fantasia? I can't remember...)

Anyway, so when you get an email with a subject line like "Sex-Ed Controversy," you sort of squint and look at it with one eye at first. The one I got today was from somebody in Atlanta, I think I'll leave out her name, just so that farmer with time on his hands doesn't write her, too. She says:
Hi, I see that you are the sane and responsible people in the Montgomery County sex ed debate going on right now. Earlier in the year, I was inspired by the controversy to create a parody website called Parents & Friends of Ex-Straights, which encourages heterosexuals to choose change.

As this heats up again, I wanted to send a link and perhaps help make some people smile in a tense time:

Good luck to you, and thank you for your hard work.

S***** B******
Atlanta, GA

Ah, click on the link, this is beautiful. PFOXS -- Parents & Friends of Ex-Straights: "Hope for the Hopeless Hetero." Topics for discussion include:
  • Is heterosexuality a choice?
  • What legislation discriminates against former heterosexuals?
  • Why must questioning youth have access to sexual reorientation information? (I love the answer to this one, it sounds so familiar: Teenagers experiencing opposite sex attractions do not automatically mean that they are heterosexual. Many teens go through temporary episodes of idealization of opposite sex peers and should not be urged to prematurely label themselves as straight. PFOXS refers to this as the "straight jacket", where a single opposite sex romance is used by family and friends to unfairly define a teenager's sexual orientation. This is coercive, restraining, and unfair.)
  • Do gay activists oppose efforts to protect the equal rights of former heterosexuals?
  • Why would anyone want to go from being straight to being gay? Doesn't that open you to abuse and discrimination? (The answer: In a word, yes.)

OK, let me get serious for a moment. Just a moment, that's all. I'm a kind of boring old straight white guy myself, and I'll tell ya, I have learned a whole lot since getting involved with this sex-ed stuff. I'd have to say the real eye-opener for me has been learning about the self-righteous intensity of those who oppose homosexuality.

When I went to that first Recall Group meeting, and heard the way they talk! I can't describe it. I have been as uncomfortable as the next guy, sometimes you don't know what you're supposed to say, or you don't know what to think about gay people, but it had never occurred to me to just hate them all. Oh, they say they "love the sinner, hate the sin," but that's hypocritical wordplay. They will claim they love the sinner, but they hate everything about him. I say, when you believe a person is evil to the core, and trying to take over the world, trying to destroy the institutions of marriage and the family -- it is reasonable to say you hate that person. Don't try to tell me it's homosexuality you hate -- there is no homosexuality in the abstract, only homosexual people. Play with the words if you like, but their attitude toward homosexuals amounts to black-hearted hatred.

This PFOXS web site, of course, is making fun of PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays), one of the two anti-MCPS groups that sued to terminate the sex education curriculum. PFOX is a clever creation of the Christian right, a spin-off of the Dobson empire. What's so brilliant is that they can state their anti-gay message in such a positive way -- "Change is possible" -- yet it is so profoundly insulting. It is infuriatingly hard to argue against, because they put the insult between the lines, they don't say it out loud. So you end up arguing that change is not possible, which is correct but it's the wrong argument. The argument should be, "Who said gay people should change?" Why not just accept them as they are?

The Parents and Friends of Ex-Straights web site turns the tables beautifully. (But I doubt that I'm going to buy the "I'm with the queers" t-shirt.)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Today's Teach the Facts Forum was Perfect

Today was great. The forum turned out to be just as we'd hoped. Sex education is a very complex subject -- you can break it down to sound-bites, but when you do that you end up missing the whole point. Because the whole point is that it is complex.

I hope to write in more detail tomorrow, and also hope to post some sound recordings soon, if they came out (my batteries died during the last two talks, but I should have most of it recorded). So here let me just say a couple of things, for those of you who have been holding your breath waiting for this event, and then didn't come to it yourselves.

An important theme that came up in a number of the talks was sex education is about more than sex. Sexuality reflects its light into all aspects of a person's life, from their own sense of self-respect to the fine-tuning they do in their personal relationships. We have heard CRC members say, "I learned everything I need to know about my sexual identity in the bathtub." But of course that simply shows that they miss the point.

The point of comprehensive sex education is that your sexuality is an integrated part of who you are. To discuss sex properly, you simply must talk about responsibility, about values, about feelings, about how you make important decisions, about how you resist social influence, you have to talk about yourself in a social world, seeing others and being seen by others, interacting with people -- affecting them and being affected by them. And to be responsible, to make important decisions, to obtain good moral values, one must have access to good, accurate knowledge.

A term that was used a lot today was the word "affirming," in all its various forms. Deborah Roffman introduced the term, describing it as unconditional love, affirming who a person is, as contrasted with what they do; and it seemed that most the speakers after her used the word, too. She noted the need for both schools and family to provide affirmation to a child, but in different ways. Several participants (both on the stage and in the audience) talked about experiences they had had as children, when they were punished for who they are, not anything they'd done.

It was incredible to sit and listen to the speakers, one after the other, addressing this many-faceted topic with clarity and expertise, and it was comforting in a way. When the Recall group held its first meeting last December, we heard them talking about "deviants" and "sodomites" and sin, and complaining seriously about the "gay agenda." For the past year we have heard them say that the school district is encouraging children to have sex, encouraging them to become homosexuals, promoting promiscuity -- OK, I'll stop, but the list goes on and on and on and on. And every bit of it is ridiculous. You have to argue with them, because they can't be allowed to get away with this, but sometimes you feel so ... dumb ... talking to these people about things that are really nothing.

But sex education is not nothing. There's really a lot to it, and it's about time people got together and started talking seriously about it. That happened today.

I want to say, too, that the comments from the audience were mind-bogglingly good. And I don't even care if that's a word or not. People lined up at the microphone and poured their hearts out, or brought up another aspect of the subject that had not been discussed, or asked questions that showed they were understanding the nuances of what was being said.

One lady, a health educator herself, pointed out a couple of things in the Protect Yourself video (which we watched in the middle of the meeting) that could have been improved. Her voice was quivering, and I think she was nervous about criticizing it in front of the people who had supported it, but she had a couple of good points. The recommendation to use a spermicide is probably not good -- the CDC and other groups have reversed their stance on this in the period since the video was made -- and it did not mention that the condom should be removed before the penis becomes flaccid. Good points.

And the reaction? The reaction was not to defend the video, perhaps to say something sarcastic about this woman's intentions, which is the kind of reaction we have grown accustomed to. No, the response was to ask her to please contact the MCPS health coordinator with her suggestions, so perhaps the video can be improved.

See, there's a lot known about sex and sexuality, and there's a lot unknown. Science is about expanding the realm of knowledge, science isn't a bag of facts that can be considered a kind of oracle that can be consulted in cases where facts are needed. As science learns, the curricula should be updated. That's the only thing that makes sense.

We will definitely be talking more about the forum over the next few days, but I wanted to say something for those who couldn't attend. It was a great success, very stimulating, and it was a pleasure to be in the room with such intelligent and knowledgeable and good-hearted people.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Gearing Up for the Forum

As you see in the banner at the top of the screen here, Sunday we are holding a forum to discuss some dimensions of the controversy around sex education here in Montgomery County. We have lined up some really good speakers, both experts in the field and people with personal experiences to relate, and it will be an enlightening afternoon for all.

There are two broad topics to talk about. First is the topic of comprehensive sex education. As you realize, there are people in our country who believe that teaching teenagers about sex is the same as encouraging them to have sex. So there is, for instance, federal funding for abstinence-only programs, where students are given very little in terms of information about sex, and are simply encouraged to abstain from it until they marry. supports the view that teenagers make decisions in their private lives that reflect what they believe, and if they are given good, thorough, scientifically supported information they will have good, correct beliefs, and will be able to make good, wise decisions when they find themselves in critical situations. It doesn't really make sense to count on teenagers doing what they're told, without any real explanation. A comprehensive sex-ed curriculum gives them information to support good thinking; if, as half tend to do, they decide to abstain from sex in their teen years, then that is -- we all agree -- a good decision. If, as the other half tends to do, they decide to have sex, then they should have information about how to make it as safe as possible, to prevent the spread of diseases and to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

The other issue is what the state calls sexual variation. Mainly, this means discussion of homosexuality and transgender topics. Here, we need to make a commitment as a society. One side wants to drop this topic altogether, or, since state law requires it be taught, they want to include a lot of stuff with no scientific basis, for instance discussions of reparative therapy, which is intended to convert people from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation (and is considered an unethical practice by all mainstream psychological organizations). They will push to include discussion of "ex-gays" in the curriculum, though the concept of "ex-gay" is a religious construction, and is not found in the scientific literature. There is no evidence that anybody's sexual orientation changes, and it would be wrong to include this sort of thing in the curriculum.

The real point, of course, is to continue stigmatizing sexual minorities. It's a complicated strategy they have, but the bottom line is they don't want to have to treat gay and transgender people as real citizens, they want to continue discriminating against them. If they can argue that sexual orientation is a choice -- if you can choose not to be gay, then you must have chosen to be gay in the first place -- then they can more easily justify persecuting people for having "different" sexual preferences. From our side, it does not appear that society gains anything by treating these people badly. Some people are going to be gay, whether anybody likes it or not; it's not something you choose, and it is not right to be unfair to people simply because they are different. Sone small proportion of the population is gay, and it makes sense for students to spend some small proportion of their time learning a little bit about it. The payoff will be an increase in tolerance and a decrease in the pain that young gay people have to go through, growing up in a world that cannot understand them. That's called win-win.

Americans in general are uncomfortable talking about sex, even though we surround ourselves with it. A good, solid majority of us want sex-education taught in the public schools, and a majority want comprehensive sex-ed, not abstinence-only. And a majority believe that the topic of sexual orientation should be addressed in sex-ed classes. But take the discomfort that people feel, and add to it the expressed objections of some religious groups, and you have the makings of a controversy.

The anti-MCPS groups exploit our discomfort with the topic of sex. They talk about health classes as if they were pornography, and in fact it is not clear that they are capable of distinguishing between porn and rational dialogue about sexuality. Their comments about the planned curriculum -- which we saw repeated again this week on a PTA listserve -- are inflammatory and fictional, not intended to reason about the issue but to malign those who disagree with them. It appears that their intention is not to craft a good curriculum, but to take over the process.

Our forum on Sunday is intended to raise the level of the discussion. Everyone has concerns about what their children will be told in school, and everyone wants the best for their kids. How should the schools present information about sexuality? What is best from a public health standpoint? From an educational standpoint? How does morality play into it? How does prejudice against homosexuals affect the development of a curriculum? What are the facts about sexual orientation, teen sexual behavior -- does sex-ed in school really affect behavior at all? What is the role of values, and of the family, in sex education?

We will hear from people who take these things very seriously. Some of it will be fun, some of it might be scary. All in all, the point is to bring the discussion to the people, bring the facts out into the open, so we know where we want to stand on these issues that affect all of us.

Please plan to attend. You'll learn something, I guarantee it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

ACLU Declares War On Abstinence-Only "Education"

The American Civil Liberties Union announced yesterday that they were going after abstinence-only programs across the country.
NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today launched Not In My State, a nationwide action aimed at combating dangerous abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula. In a coordinated effort, ACLU affiliates across the country are sending letters to local officials calling for careful scrutiny of health and life-skills curricula.

"Today's action should be a wake-up call for many states," said Louise Melling, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "State officials need to ensure the health and safety of students by taking responsibility for the curricula taught in their classrooms."

According to a recent report prepared for Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), many abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula used by federally funded programs contain false and misleading information and perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Perhaps most alarmingly, these curricula misrepresent the effectiveness of contraceptives by vastly understating the effectiveness of condoms at protecting against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and preventing unintended pregnancy. Such misinformation is particularly alarming given that each year in the United States, nearly 9.1 million 15-24 year olds are infected with an STD and more than 800,000 15-19 year olds become pregnant. ACLU Announces Nationwide Action Aimed at Combating Dangerous Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Curricula in the States

The rightwing buzz against the ACLU is pretty strong and pretty bitter these days. It's a kind of organization, I suppose, that's bound to be unpopular at times. They represent the guy whose rights are being violated, and lots of times that happens when nobody really cares, or even when a lot of people don't believe that someone deserves the rights given to them by the Constitution. Occasionally they end up representing somebody who is truly despicable, and sometimes people may disagree with the ACLU's judgment about whether something is a rights violation or not. In any case, the ACLU performs a thankless function for our society.

The extreme right is trying to spread the idea that the ACLU is "against God," because they do step in and intervene when religious groups try to impose their will on nonmembers. I'm sure this latest move will be portrayed in that light.

This looks like it will turn into a Big Deal.
ACLU affiliates in 18 states called on local officials to keep unsafe abstinence-only-until-marriage programs out of the classroom. The letters encourage officials to select health and life-skills curricula that present medically accurate, age-appropriate, and unbiased information about sex and sexuality.

"For too long the federal government has funded abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula that are based on ideology and religion rather than science," said Jennifer McAllister-Nevins, State Strategies Attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and Not In My State campaign coordinator. "Studies show that the overwhelming majority of parents want their children to get all the information they need to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and STDs. If the federal government continues to censor life-saving information, then it is up to the states to say enough is enough."

Since 1997, the federal government has poured nearly a billion dollars into abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that deny teenagers critical information they need to prevent pregnancy and the spread of STDs. In addition, many of these programs promote gender stereotypes, discriminate against gay and lesbian youth and all too often proselytize on the public’s dime.

Those opposing the Montgomery County Public Schools have claimed that they don't want abstinence-only education. They also say they don't want to recall the school board. Tney also said they didn't plan to sue.

Now and then, if you have any sense, you just have to shake your head and wonder how America got into this situation. It's not just a handful of nuts advocating the teaching of ... nothing ... in health classes -- it's actually the federal government that promotes this. How did we get to this point? How do we get back to reason? has a couple of ideas. The ACLU has some ideas. Let's all pull together on this, OK? It's going to be a long, slow haul, pulling our communities back from the edge of the abyss, but we've got to do it, bit by bit.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Parents Upset About Abstinence Speaker

These California parents are mad! It seems the school district out in San Diego sent somebody in to talk to their kids about abstinence, and they didn't mention contraception. Didn't tell them about condoms. Didn't say anything about safe sex practices.

And in California, that's against the law.
Some local parents are protesting an abstinence-only sex education talk presented to nearly 2,400 students at Coronado and Grossmont high schools Tuesday.

The parents are angry because state law prevents schools from discussing abstinence without also discussing contraception. In one excerpt from the discussion, speaker Pam Stenzel said, "No one has ever had sex outside of marriage who didn't pay -- no one." Parents Say Sex Ed Speaker Broke Law: District Defends Controversial Presentation

Man, that's the way to do it. Keep the nuts on the defensive. Run 'em out of town as soon as they open their mouth.

The school district is ducking the charges by calling this lady, Pam Stenzel, a "motivational speaker," not an educator. Hey, it's worth a try, I guess.
Critics say parents were not given enough notification to allow their children to opt out of the presentation.

"The flyer they gave them never mentioned it was an abstinence-only advocate," Hall said.

Yeah, they're mad.

Ohio's Abstinence Philosophy Explained

I blogged last month about the high school in Ohio where 65 girls were pregnant. Not surprisingly, that school had an abstinence-only sex-ed curriculum, meaning the health teachers taught kids to say no to sex, but didn't give them any information about how it works or how to avoid getting pregnant or spreading sexually transmitted infections.

As this school has received a lot of attention, it is interesting to read a little bit about Valerie Huber, the woman who is the director of Ohio's sex education programs. Her job is State Abstinence Coordinator at the Ohio Department of Health.

Now, I'm wondering, how do you coordinate abstinence? You ... make sure that everybody does nothing, like, at the same time? Or what?

I had a friend once who had the job of "organizing space at General Dynamics." Same thing. What do you do, man?

Anyway, I found this online article about the lady in charge of this wonderful sex-ed program that resulted in all these girls getting pregnant. She got involved when her son was going to high school:
"My vision was to make a difference in the life of one child - my son - but God had a much bigger vision." Last year Valerie left REACH [a non-profit organization] in the capable hands of Jan Seibel (another Grace Brethren) to take the position of State Abstinence Coordinator at the Ohio Department of Health. God carefully prepared Valerie to take on this sometimes-overwhelming responsibility. "Anyone who thinks that 'one person can't do much' forgets that God makes any battle or undertaking a majority!" She trusts that God will continue to use her in this secular environment, equipping her with all she needs.

The position of State Abstinence Coordinator was created as an answer to the health issues surrounding pre-marital sex. STDs, teen pregnancy, and teen suicide are all connected to the unwise option of a physical relationship before marriage. Previous strategies were ineffective in dealing with the continuing rise of these problems, so Congress marked monies for abstinence education. Many states, like Ohio, are now required to promote abstinence as the healthiest option. However, this program is still in its infancy, giving Valerie the unique opportunity to develop and fine-tune it. Valerie is infusing her Christian beliefs into this program. State of Ohio Hires Grace Brethren Abstinence Coordinator

I'm sure some of those teenagers' babies will be named after apostles, if that's what she had in mind.

This web site seems to be put here by an Ohio church, Grace Brethren, that Ms. Huber attends. The site is called "CE National," but they don't say anywhere what the CE stands for. Feel free to make something up.

Oh, here we go:
There are many organizations that claim to support abstinence. What is most confusing is that organizations like Planned Parenthood claim to support abstinence, but there is an immense difference between their working definitions. Valerie Huber defines abstinence as, "voluntarily refraining from sexual activity until marriage." There are two key differences in this definition from the one Planned Parenthood is offering. First, refrain from sexual activity - not just sex. Second, one must refrain from such activity until marriage. Many organizations support abstinence, but it is abstinence until you feel you're ready or simply feel like it. In other words, we're all abstinent until we do it again. Valerie Huber is advocating a different code of morality - the biblical standard of abstinence until marriage.

And it works so well.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Zach Update: LIA/R Is Shut Down

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The state Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities has ordered the closing of what it calls two unlicensed personal care facilities run by a Christian group that counsels gays to give up homosexuality.

The state inspected two facilities in Memphis on Aug. 19 and determined Love In Action International Inc. was providing housing, meals and personal care for mentally ill patients without a license, according to a subsequent letter to the organization from the Department of Mental Health.

The department gave Love In Action until Sept. 23 to cease operation of the facilities and apply for a state license. State says homosexuality reversal group violating law

You will remember, this is the facility where "Zach," the 16-year-old gay kid who got national attention when he blogged about his situation, was sent.

The A Musing blog reports that the director of the program, John Smid,, who describes himself as a "licensed reverend," is a fake. Mmm, interesting:
What is even more curious is that according to LIA's site only one staff member advertises as a licensed minister--The Rev. John Smid.
But what does that really mean?

When parents with concerns about a child's sexual and spiritual welfare turn to someone with the title of minister, they may do so with certain assumptions. They may assume that a minister...
  • Has been trained for ministry.
  • Attended seminary
  • Took college courses in theology, psychology, and counseling
  • Received a Master of Divinity degree (MDiv)

They may further assume that only after a supervised internship and an intensive review by a church board, that someone can receive the honor and responsibility to serve as an ordained minister.

That's what the majority of ministers in the US do to earn the credibility to lead a congregation and give out spiritual advice.

But John Smid never attended seminary. In fact, the highest degree he holds is a high school diploma. He was handed the title of "Rev." by Germantown Baptist Church.

John Smid, who never took psych 101 or any college-level counseling course, denounces the American Psychiartic Association's professional assessment of homosexuality. Not only has he been running a mental health facility without a license, he has done so without the training. The False Image of LIA

(Thanks to Kay and Wayne Besen for the links.)

Well, it looks like the good guys win one this time.

Great Harvard Editorial

The Harvard Crimson has a great editorial today. You remember that the Massachusetts legislature just voted overwhelmingly to allow same-sex marriages. It seems that some people, including the governor of that state, just can't accept the people's will. Some excerpts:
In 2003, following the now-famous Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said, "The people of Massachusetts should have the right to define marriage. It should not be decided for them by a court." Last week, the state legislature—representing the will of the people of the Commonwealth—answered Romney’s call in resounding fashion, defeating a proposed constitutional amendment to replace same-sex marriage with civil unions by an overwhelming vote of 157 to 39. Through their elected representatives, the people have sent a clear message to Romney and his anti-gay marriage allies: the mainstream of the Commonwealth has come to accept same-sex marriage both as a fundamental right and as an integral component of the state’s social fabric.
Evidently, however, the evidence and the resounding decision of the Legislature—the very manifestation of the will of the people—are still not satisfactory to the opponents of same-sex marriage. The Massachusetts Family Institute plans to introduce a new amendment to the state’s Constitution, this time absolutely banning same-sex marriage, with no provision granted for civil unions—a measure that Romney supports. This time, anti-same sex marriage advocates won’t be satisfied unless the measure is put before a statewide referendum, which will inevitably generate a bitter battle and could even strip thousands of people of their recently-won rights. Amazingly, even after the Legislature’s momentous decision, Romney still professes that the people should be given a direct vote on the issue, as though their will has not already been made abundantly clear.

This is the haters' nightmare, isn't it? That tolerance will spread like a cancer through the population, that the flames of bigotry will burn out, leaving nothing but freedom and respect for all.

Heads Up: This Could Happen Here

The Washington Post had a story the other day that kind of went without comment, but it should be a lesson for us in Montgomery County.

Seems over in Charles County, the chairperson of the Board of Education is a very conservative woman who won't even send her own kids to the public schools. She home-schools them. And the board is packed with like-minded folks who intend to change education there.
From the dais of a windowless meeting room, the elected leader of Southern Maryland's largest school system strained to smile politely this week as she faced angry accusations from a teacher.

She had heard similar questions before: How can you be an advocate for the public schools when you home-school your children? Are you going to replace science books with Bibles? And why are you trying to censor classic literature?

Margaret Young, chairwoman of the Charles County Board of Education, has at times taught her children at home in Waldorf using a Christian-based curriculum. She says she wants teachers to stop assigning books that contain profanity and what she believes are immoral messages. As an example, she cites Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," which is an option on the 10th-grade reading list. Conservatives Ascendant in Charles Schools: Critics Worry That Shift on Board Opens Door to Religious Emphasis

Here in Montgomery County, we saw some internal email among leaders of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, saying, "Now that we have settled, the goal of the CRC seems mainly to be to replace members of the BOE in the next election..." They have been vewy vewy quiet lately, and one wonders what kind of bunny they're stalking. As their first aim was to recall the entire school board, we can be very sure this is still a high priority for them.

Just like over in Charles.
Another board member, Collins A. Bailey, is a member of the missionary group Gideons International and has also home-schooled his children. A third, Mark J. Crawford, is a former host of a radio show for Christian youth who taught at and attended religious schools. A fourth member, who sends her children to public schools, regularly votes with them.

Those in the new majority in Charles said they are moving to raise academic standards with back-to-basics lessons, character education and greater involvement by parents -- issues they campaigned on.

Critics said the effort is a distraction to educators and is one that is steeped in Christian conservatism that has no place in public schools.

This is not a simple issue. I personally would want to keep a very close eye on anything called "character education." Seeing the kinds of nuts that seem to get involved in this sort of thing, I would be sure that their idea of good character and mine will be quite different.
"We're supposed to be educating students, not infusing them with religion," said former school board chairman James Gesl, who tried unsuccessfully last year to create a recall process to hold members more accountable to voters.

Sharon Caniglia, who was a board member for 12 years and who is the principal of a local Catholic school, said she is also concerned about the future of the school system.

"It is disappointing to see board members promote their personal agendas," she said.

Yes -- you want that here? Watch what's going on.
The teachers union cites a "brainstorming" list made public by the board last fall that suggested eliminating science books that are "biased toward evolution," teaching "abstinence-only and a pro-life approach" in health classes, offering students time for character and spiritual growth and inviting the Gideons to offer Bibles to students.

This article goes on, much more than I can reproduce here. Click on the link above and read about what can happen if you don't pay attention.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Reality Makes Our Point For Us

The groups that have been attacking the school district get in a special uproar over the idea that the new curriculum would "normalize" homosexuality. I always found the word distracting, as normalize seems to me to be something you should do to vectors, or databases, not somebody's sexuality. But I suppose they get their point across. To them, homosexuality jes plain ain't normal, it ain't natcherl, and if the schools teach about it, students might think there's nothing wrong with it.

Oh, they argue against it from all sides. The President of CRC has been quoted as saying, "I think if we allow the liberal sex education program to happen, we will see the end of families and it will serve a tremendous blow to society." The speakers at the CRC March Hate-Fest had reasons, one after the other, for despising gay people, they went on for four hours listing all the disgusting things they could possibly attribute to gay people. They've got this bigotry down to an art-form.

So it's interesting to see this editorial in the New York Times yesterday, looking over what's going on in Massachusetts. It seems that opinions there have swung around the other way. And why? Here's what the NYT thinks:
There's nothing like a touch of real-world experience to inject some reason into the inflammatory national debate over gay marriages. Take Massachusetts, where the state's highest court held in late 2003 that under the State Constitution, same-sex couples have a right to marry. The State Legislature moved to undo that decision last year by approving a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages and create civil unions as an alternative. But this year, when precisely the same measure came up for a required second vote, it was defeated by a thumping margin of 157 to 39.

The main reason for the flip-flop is that some 6,600 same-sex couples have married over the past year with nary a sign of adverse effects. The sanctity of heterosexual marriages has not been destroyed. Public morals have not gone into a tailspin. Legislators who supported gay marriage in last year's vote have been re-elected. Gay couples, many of whom had been living together monogamously for years, have rejoiced at official recognition of their commitment.

As a Republican leader explained in justifying his vote switch: "Gay marriage has begun, and life has not changed for the citizens of the commonwealth, with the exception of those who can now marry who could not before." A Democrat attributed his change of heart to the beneficial effects he saw "when I looked in the eyes of the children living with these couples." Gay marriage, it turned out, is good for family values. The Normality of Gay Marriages

Wow -- this is what we've been saying. Nothing happened, except that some people who were in love were allowed -- legally -- to marry and establish families, and enjoy the privileges that married people everywhere have.

Of course, not every single person in Massachusetts is real happy about the way this is going.
Some legislators who strongly oppose gay marriages also switched their votes this year for tactical reasons. They realized that the original measure was headed for defeat, and they had never really liked the part that created civil unions anyway. They are now pinning their hopes on an even harsher proposal, endorsed by Gov. Mitt Romney, that would ban gay marriages without allowing civil unions.

We can only hope that this new appeal to fear and bigotry will stumble over the reality, already apparent, that gay marriage is no threat to the larger community. States that rushed to ban same-sex marriages after the Massachusetts court ruling were succumbing to misplaced hysteria.

Romney is the governor who last year was heard joking that "I have to admit that as a Mormon, I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman ... and a woman and a woman." Mmh hmm, there's your traditional family for ya.

The fact is, it is normal for a society to include some homosexuals. It happens everywhere, at all times. Because it is a statistical rarity, simple-minded people are afraid of it. Just as extremely intelligent kids are teased for being "brains" and nerds, gay people are labeled, stigmatized, and ostracized.

The Times is right to point out that Massachusetts society did not collapse into a moral trash-heap when gays were allowed to marry. In fact, nothing seemed different, really.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Web Site Seems Better

This week we've had a couple of problems with our web host. Today when I tried to post here on the blog, I got a "Disk Full" error message, and when people commented their comments didn't show up until like ten hours later.

I've been communicating with our web host support guys throughout the day, and they said they had to move some stuff around on the server to make more room. I really hope this fixes it. Keep your fingers crossed.

More Than Half of US Teens Have Had Oral Sex

It wasn't like this when I was a kid, says the old man, shaking his head. Here's a story from this morning's Washington Post about a new survey that finds that American teens are ... different ... from how we were:
Slightly more than half of American teenagers, ages 15 to 19, have engaged in oral sex, with females and males reporting similar levels of experience, according to the most comprehensive national survey of sexual behaviors ever released by the federal government.

The report today by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that the figure increases to about 70 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds.

The survey, according to those who work with young people, offers one more sign that young women are more sexually confident than they used to be. A release by the center six months ago, based on the same survey results, showed that slightly more girls than boys have intercourse before they turn 20. In addition, other national data indicate that the same proportion of high school girls and boys have sex only one time with a particular person or have relationships with others that they are not romantically involved with.

"This is a point of major social transition," James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a reproductive health organization, said yesterday. "The data are now coming out and roiling the idea that boys are the hunters and young girls are the prey. It absolutely defies the stereotype."

The data also underscore the fact that, unlike their parents' generation, many young people -- particularly those from middle- and upper-income white families -- simply do not consider oral sex a big deal. Study: Half of All Teens Have Had Oral Sex

Oh, hey, let's see who will be the first person in our comments section to blame Bill Clinton.

We have seen some surveys recently hinting that this sort of tidal change was going on, but I don't think people realized how much things have changed.

What must it be like for those who just want teen sex to stop altogether?

Interestingly, according to The Post, it seems that maybe some of this is actually the result of the push to teach teenagers not to have sex:
Many teenagers have fully accepted the idea that postponing intercourse is a good thing to do, Brindis said. When they weigh the advantages and disadvantages of intercourse versus other forms of sex, they decide that they are far more at risk with intercourse, both because of pregnancy and the greater risk of disease.

"They're very smart about this issue," said Brindis, "but they may not have been given a strong enough message around the risks of oral sex."

Well, this is getting tricky, isn't it? Let me point out what they do: they take the information they have, about the dangers of sexual intercourse, and make a decision. No authority tells them to have oral sex, but, given what they're been taught in their abstinence courses, it just makes sense. promotes the idea of giving teenagers accurate facts, so they make the right decisions.

The Survey Report itself is fascinating. Don't you wonder what your neighbors do ... really? Well, the National Center for Health Statistics asked them. They're pretty busy, it turns out, and they don't tell you everything.

Some people think adolescents should exercise their willpower, to remain chaste until marriage. If they all did that, then there would be no need for comprehensive sex education. No need to explain about condoms, how to choose them and use them correctly. There'd be no need to discuss STDs if everybody had exactly one sex partner in their life. But, people, that doesn't happen. Oh, sure, your children are angels, but those other kids need the information. They really do need to learn how it all works. Sex is not going to go away just because some people want it to.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

September 13, 2005, BOE Public Comment Transcripts

Here are transcripts of some of the Public Comments made at the MCPS Board of Education meeting on September 13, 2005.

Speaker #2 was Dr. Dana Beyer:

Good morning. I’m Dr. Dana Beyer. I thank you for allowing me this time which I will use to respond to the scurrilous, hateful remarks of Ben Patton and Dr. Ruth Jacobs at last month’s meeting.

As my time is very limited, I’ll get right to the fundamentals. You need to understand what sex is to understand who transgender people are. Ignorance feeds fear and hatred. But I will say in Dr. Jacobs’ defense that when she and I were medical students this topic was not covered. That, however, doesn’t excuse her from speaking without understanding her material, particularly since it is not her specialty.

Sex has many attributes – chromosomal, genetic (and epigenetic), gonadal (testes or ovaries), genital, hormonal (blood levels & receptors), morphological and, most importantly, brain sex. We all know that “sex is between the ears, not between the legs,” but we assign a sex to our children based on their genitals. Sometimes we make a mistake. Over 2% of live births are intersexed, where all the sexual attributes do not line up. Transsexual persons are, simply put, neurologically intersexed, where the brain sex is the opposite of genital sex.

Transgender people are not mentally ill, mentally disturbed, sexually deviant or perverted. Those of us who survive the often unremitting hostility of the uninformed during our youth are remarkably well-adjusted. We are normal people with a congenital condition, like cleft lip or palate.

The treatment for transsexualism is remarkably successful, again counter to Dr. Jacobs’ use of grossly outdated, biased references. Treatment consists of social transition, where one lives in the gender of one’s brain sex, and medical transition, which means taking hormones that are no different from the hormonal replacement therapy used by post-menopausal women, not some bizarre form of steroid abuse. And, finally, surgical reconstruction to bring one’s body into congruence with one’s brain, a highly successful procedure with a 95%+ success rate. Calling it mutilation simply betrays one’s ignorance.

So, to answer Mr. Patton’s question: “Why do you want to teach our children that transgenderism is normal, natural, and healthy?” The answer is because we are as normal, natural and healthy as you are, and because it is important that children know that people come in all forms, that human diversity is not a curse but a blessing.

Speaker #3 was Christine Grewell:
Good morning Dr. Weast, President O’Neill, and Members of the Board of Education:

Some rather extraordinary statements were made during the August 25 public comments.

One was that MCPS has “constructed a curriculum . . . requiring students to listen to degrading notions and suggestions such as homosexual role-playing and encouraging teens to practice mutual masturbation and watch erotic movies.” The FACT, however, is that there has never been anything of the sort in either the existing curriculum or in the revisions you approved for piloting last November.

Another was a statement by a high school senior that when she took the Health Education course in 2003, she assumed she had to take all the units in order to graduate. That is strange, since she would not have been permitted to take the portions on Family Life and Human Sexuality unless her parents gave explicit, affirmative permission to do so.

The same speaker described her shock at “the homosexuality unit” that allegedly was presented in 2003. That is also strange, since then, as now, there is no “homosexuality unit.” Indeed, there has never been any mention of homosexuality in the Family Life curriculum. Your wise efforts to include basic, accurate information on sexual orientation were temporarily stymied by litigation last spring. But it is hard to understand what the speaker was talking about in 2003.

MCPS has long recognized that some families do not want their children to take the Family Life and Human Sexuality Unit, which includes basic information on contraception. In the past, 98-99% or more of students have been given the required explicit permission to take those units. Yet, a few people have urged the development of an entire alternative class that would not include those materials. For a typical 30-student cohort, that would mean having a separate class for about half a student. A few people have expressed concern that such students are stigmatized by having to get up and leave the class. I don’t know if that actually happens, but if it does, the simple solution is to have them report directly to the media center for their alternate learning materials.

Speaker #4 was David S. Fishback:
Recently, statements have been made during public comments suggesting that the Health Education Curriculum units on Family Life somehow discriminate against marriage or ignore the importance of marriage. Those testifying along those lines either are not familiar with the curriculum, or have another agenda.

I think it time to correct the record. MCPS posts the curriculum on its website, so it is there for all to read. The 10th Grade Curriculum, for example, explicitly covers the following:

The responsibilities and psychological impact of marriage and parenthood.
How laws relate to marriage.
The importance of monogamy in building trust in a marriage.
Issues that may enhance or threaten marriage.
How the media and social trends influence marriage.

As President O'Neill pointed out last summer, not all families are able to continue with two parents in the home. The MCPS curriculum can - and does - stress the importance of marriage without undermining the efforts of such families.

I hate to have to say this, but I fear that much of what you have been hearing from those attacking MCPS is based upon a view that any family that does not comport with the "one man/one woman" form should be rejected as unworthy. Such an approach would be particularly, and unnecessarily, hurtful to the children of gay and lesbian couples in our community. Current laws in Maryland do not provide for such couples to formally marry. That surely does not mean that, in Montgomery County, those families should be dismissed as less than worthy. Sadly, the negative view of gay and lesbian families seems to be the linchpin of those testifying against the existing Health Education curriculum and the approach to curriculum revisions you approved last November. MCPS has a choice to make. I am confident it will choose wisely.

Speaker #6 was Dr. Ruth Jacobs:
I’m an infectious disease physician and I was named as one of the top doctors in Washington, DC. Recently a young boy came in for evaluation of a wart in his nose. Despite excision, it had recurred several times. The best advice I could give was repetitive excisions until the body’s immune system would kick in which would hopefully happen within the next two years.

Anogenital warts are even more difficult to treat. One textbook states, “Highly effective and safe treatments for HPV are not yet available and therapies have little effect on the eradication of HPV or transmission of infections.

A young man called me, panic-stricken because after a few months of marriage, his wife had cervical dysplasia. He had done research and realized he may have carried HPV and the risk of cervical cancer to his wife. He wanted to be checked. He wanted to be cured.

The penis is soaked in acetic acid. Many of the infected areas turn white and can be ablated. Although the warts may be removed, human papilloma virus persists. Human papilloma virus has no known cure.

Anogenital warts may not be as visible as a wart in your nose, but human papilloma virus but human papilloma virus can affect the birth process, be psychologically devastating, and with cancer subtypes, it can be deadly.

Human papilloma virus can be transmitted 66% of the time with a single sexual act. As of this moment, human papilloma virus is not even included in the outline for the sexually transmitted disease section of the curriculum. The failure of condoms to protect against human papilloma virus must be made clear to students of Montgomery County Public Schools.

Speaker # 7 was Jim Kennedy:
Dr. Weast, Ms. O'Neill, members of the board, thank you for allowing me to address you. I have many concerns about what has been happening with the health curriculum, but I would like to focus on the aspect of it that most worries me professionally.

Let me briefly introduce myself. I am a founding member of I received my doctorate in social psychology from the University of North Carolina and am a member in good standing of the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society (which exists to promote the science, as compared to the practice, of psychology), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science; I publish in both computer-science and social-science journals and conference Proceedings, besides book chapters and a book on swarm intelligence that is used as a graduate level textbook. If you have read Prey by Michael Crichton then you know something about my research.

Education extends well beyond high school. Our society relies on the institutions of education to produce experts who have the deepest knowledge of their field, participants in the international academy of scholars. These scholars interact with one another according to some formal processes of debate and discussion, replication and review - the process we call science.

The attack on the MCPS health curriculum has been, above all, a direct attack on the academy of scholars. When peer-reviewed scientific research, published in the academic literature, conflicts with the self-published reports of religious and political organizations, there should be no controversy about which will be taught in the classroom. It is not a question of public opinion, it is a question of the validity of knowledge. If we are to produce an excellent crop of Montgomery County scholars, we must start by presenting them with the best quality of knowledge available, and respect for the educational institutions that make advances possible.

Speaker #10 was Mary Beth Hastings:
Good morning. Guess what I'm going to talk about! My name is Mary Beth Hastings, and I’m the mother of a Montgomery County School student – or at least she is in her fantasy play; since she’s only two-and-a-half, she still thinks homework is something to look forward to!

Through my work in international development, I’ve dealt with countless communities struggling with teen pregnancy, AIDS, and other STDs. They face daunting barriers in getting quality information to young people – especially low literacy rates and the lack of resources. I’ve also seen how these groups have overcome obstacles. We have the education and the resources in this community to provide the best in sex education, and it would be a shame for those resources to be wasted on anything less.

I realize you’ve heard from a number of concerned parents about this, and I thank you for all of the listening that you’ve done. It’s clear that a lot of parents and students have come before you without the facts, because they’re simply repeating lies and distortions they’ve heard about what comprehensive sex education includes. I know we can trust you to sort out these distortions from reality and make a reasoned decision about a new curriculum.

We trust you to make these decisions because you know what’s at stake and you know it goes beyond statistics. There are lives in the balance here, and to deny comprehensive sex education in today’s world would be to deny some kids their future. We can’t just hope parents will have all the facts and be able to communicate them effectively to their teens. We can’t just hope that if the parents fail, our teens will be guided by their peers toward good choices. Yes, making these changes may offend some people, but the alternative would abandon sexually active teens to a high-stakes gamble. The alternative would tell gay and lesbian teens that they should be ashamed of themselves. We know you will make the right decisions, because the alternative is unacceptable.

Thank you.

Speaker #11 was Steina Walter:
Ah yes, good morning Dr. Weast and Board of Education.

We are led to believe that the MCPS finds discrimination against anyone intolerable especially if it results in bullying or emotional distress. Dr. Weast has stated students who have different sexual orientation other than heterosexual, often do not feel safe because of the emotional distress and physical violence displayed towards them by some students and adults in the general population. Board of Education has however been unable to provide documentation in support of Dr. Weast’s concerns.

On the other hand, there are reports of reverse discrimination taking place. At Whitman High School Gay Straight Alliance Club meeting, members passed out cards claiming bigotry and harassment by Whitman students towards homosexuals. These cards were distributed to other students during school hours and posters were on display on the school walls.

The Board of Education and Whitman Administrators condone such deliberate bullying by the Gay Straight Alliance member at Whitman High School. However, when members of the Gay Straight Alliance were asked about incidents of harassment, they responded none took place at their school, but probably happened in other schools.

What is taking place in our schools is that students who disagree with the homosexual agenda are harassed and labeled. Many high school and middle school students do not dare to speak out against the homosexual agenda. They are the ones who have been silenced. So why are Dr. Weast and Board of Education so selective in their apparent concern? Don’t all of our students deserve the same protection from bullying? Or does Board of Education think that homosexual students are more equal than the other students?

Thank you.

Speaker #12 was Ben Patton:
Patrick Henry, who was famous for his phrase, "give me liberty or give me death," ardently fought for religious freedom. Prior to the Revolution, Patrick Henry defended Baptist and other ministers in the Commonwealth of Virginia who were as members of a religion not fostered by the State, often persecuted and sent to jail. The Baptists chronicled the martyrdom of their preachers recording preachers pulled down while preaching, dragged out, pelted with apples and stones, brutally assaulted, arrested, abused. Their suffering became a watchword, a testament of faith, but coupled with it went a story of one stalwart friend, Patrick Henry.

Henry rode 50 miles out of his way to volunteer his services to Baptists jailed in Spotsylvania. He fought for religious toleration acts and the Bill of Rights. It is wrong that Baptists, fundamentalists, and other religions have to celebrate Judge Williams’ protecting their religious faith with a restraining order.

Superintendent Weast – You said the curriculum is a viewpoint curriculum. You stated it is necessary to present the homosexual lifestyle as healthy and happy. This may not be Virginia, but it is America and it is a sad indictment of our school system that the references used in order to promote this viewpoint showed religious discrimination.

With the facts showing increased risk of depression, drug abuse, HIV and other health issues in homosexuals, do not continue religious discrimination in the new curriculum by promoting a religion or belief that homosexuality is happy and healthy. If you want to teach the facts about homosexuality, then teach all the facts, not just your politically correct viewpoints.

The phrase "give me liberty or give me death" may take on new meaning if you continue to proscribe the liberty to tell the whole truth about risks associated with homosexuality.

There was some discussion by Board of Education members about the award citations that had been given prior to the Public Comments, particularly about the Whitman family that started the backpack for Katrina victims drive here in Montgomery County. After Valerie Ervin finished speaking about the Katrina tragedy and the heroic efforts to provide for the survivors, President Pat O'Neill took the floor and said:
Piggy-backing on your comments about Katrina and I know that we’ve had many people come and speak to us over the months about traditional families. One of the pieces that struck me on the news was how many grandmothers were with their grandchildren, fighting to make sure that those children were saved. And you know, not passing any value judgment on anyone’s family situation, but I commend those grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren and providing them, to the best of their ability, to have a healthy and safe environment.

When people talk about traditional family values, you know, not all families come in a tradition, and I commend those grandmothers who are there for their grandchildren. We have had a lot of talk about tolerance and historical references and I count my blessing that I have the luxury of a husband and two wonderful children.

But I think that I have worked very hard in this community, and particularly in the Walt Whitman community for many many years. When I got my mailing this summer from the school, with emergency forms and calendars and such, I was struck and I want to speak to it because the Board of Education has a policy on character education that we have had for more than a dozen years. And every community has embraced their own version. In Gaithersburg it has been supported by the City of Gaithersburg – Character Counts.

The Walt Whitman cluster has a Colors of Ethics program and you know, in this mailing to the high school parents, it speaks volumes. I mean this is pretty important: Respect, Honesty, Responsibility, Moral Courage, Fairness, Caring, Empathy, Cooperation, and Trust. And in the beginning of the mailing, it speaks of who Walt Whitman was and what he stood for and it says “poet, journalist, lover of freedom.” And I think that is incredibly important.

And in this mailing was a list of wonderful resources on intervention, prevention, and/or treatment. It has the AIDS Hotline, Al-Anon, Alcoholics Anonymous, Center for Eating Disorders, Family Stress Line, Help Line for Asian Families in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Hispanic Hotline, Montgomery County Crisis Center, Montgomery County Public Schools Safe and Drug-free Schools, NAACP, Narcotics Anonymous, Open Door Runaway Shelter, Operation Runaway, Party Busters, PFLAG, Rape Sexual Assault Crisis.

Someone raised the issue that you know, where did this list come from and was this something new that was in here. Now I’m a pack rat. In the 1998-99 Walt Whitman Telephone Directory is included this same list of resources. And I commend the Whitman Community for including it, and it’s in the new telephone directory that I just got last week.

But I think that if we talk about tolerance, I think of the words about Walt Whitman as a lover of freedom. I think we need to constantly remind ourselves about that.

So with that said we now move on to....

Christine Grewell