Thursday, April 27, 2006

Next: Sex Texts

Interesting idea here, from the Boston Star:
San Francisco health officials are starting a new program to get sex education advice to young people by sending them text messages.

The city's Department of Public Health began a program this week -- the first of its kind in the United States -- offering automated sex education and health advice to people via their cell phones.

All someone has to do is send a text message with sexinfo in the message to two phone numbers set up within the health department.

The text message generates an automatic reply, prompting people to choose from a variety of topic options ranging from peer pressure to broken condoms.

The text conversation usually ends with solutions, including a phone number to call and location and hours of area health clinics.

A lot of teenagers don't go to clinics, they're afraid to ask questions, said 22-year-old Michelle Irving, a peer educator with the city health department.

She said this gives people, especially within the programs 12-to-24 target age range, a more private option for seeking help or advice.

The program, modeled after one in London, will cost San Francisco about $2,500 a month to run. Text-mailing used to teach sex health

Government Information Is No Longer Dependable

There are a couple of government agencies that have always been considered a sort of gold standard for medical information. The Centers for Disease Control, for instance, posts a lot of information and advice, and it ... was ... considered an authoritative source.

I followed the links to this article in Glamour, of all places.
For the past 15 years, Ruth Shaber, M.D., has been an ob-gyn in San Francisco for Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation's largest health maintenance organizations. She sees all types of women—union members, executives, waitresses. Most of them, Dr. Shaber says, have questions for her, including how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases, how to preserve their fertility, how to prevent breast and cervical cancer and whether the latest Internet health scare they've heard is really true.

Dr. Shaber tries hard to separate fact from fiction because, she says, "rumor and hearsay can start to seem real." In the past, she'd sometimes refer patients to government websites and printed fact sheets, or rely on those outlets to help create her own materials. Not anymore. "As a physician, I can no longer trust government sources," says Dr. Shaber. She is not a political activist or a conspiracy theorist; in addition to her own practice, she's Kaiser Permanente's director of women's health services for northern California and head of the HMO's Women's Health Research Institute. Yet this decidedly mainstream doctor and administrator says, "I no longer trust FDA decisions or materials generated [by the government]. Ten years ago, I would not have had to scrutinize government information. Now I don't feel comfortable giving it to my patients."

Such doctor mistrust represents a major change. For the past 100 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been the world's premier government agency ensuring drug safety. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have similarly stellar track records. But recently, Dr. Shaber charges, the government has lost its most precious asset: credibility.

How did it happen? Many prominent figures in science and public health think they know the answer. "People believe that religiously based social conservatives have direct lines to the powers that be within the U.S. government, the administration, Congress, and are influencing public-health policy, practice and research in ways that are unprecedented and very dangerous," says Judith Auerbach, Ph.D., a former NIH official who is now a vice president at the nonprofit American Foundation for AIDS Research. In fact, Glamour, has found that on issues ranging from STDs to birth control, some radical conservative activists have used fudged and sometimes flatly false data to persuade the government to promote their agenda of abstinence until marriage. The fallout: Young women now read false data on government websites, learn bogus information in federally funded sex-education programs and struggle to get safe, legal contraceptives—all of which, critics argue, may put them at greater risk for unplanned pregnancies and STDs.

"Abstinence is a laudable goal," says Deborah Arrindell, vice president of health policy for the nonpartisan American Social Health Association, an STD-awareness group. "But it is not how young women live their lives—the reality is that most women have premarital sex. Our government is focusing not on women's health but on a moral agenda." Consider this a wake-up call. The new lies about women's health

This is a surprisingly thorough and well-done article, and it's quite long. I would suggest that women readers of this blog, especially, should check it out, as it turns out a lot of the misinformation has to do with women's health.

There are several things going on here. One is the religious right's desire to promote their narrow view of sexuality. There is a sexist aspect to it, which I'm not going to get into, but you don't have to dig very deep to find the message that women should be staying home and taking care of the babies. There is good old-fashioned Republican corruption, with the drug companies re-writing scientific results to make their products sell better, and well-financed politicians helping them do it in government publications and web sites. All of these things come together in our one-party federal government to produce a literature of lies.

Everybody knows this is happening, but it almost seems like nobody cares. We just sit in front of our TVs and let this happen to our country while we wonder about that blonde girl who disappeared in Aruba.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Catholics Considering Condoms

News reports coming out say that the Pope is reconsidering the traditional Catholic ban on condoms. The Vatican isn't going to say that they will change their minds, but the worldwide AIDS epidemic is giving them second thoughts.

Here's what CNN says about it:
The Vatican is studying whether condoms can be condoned to help stem the tide of AIDS and a host of other bioethical issues such as stem cell research, officials said Tuesday.

But there is no indication of when or whether it would pronounce itself on the matter.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, who heads the Vatican office for health care, was quoted over the weekend in Italy's La Repubblica daily as saying his office was preparing a document on the question of condoms and AIDS, and that it would be released soon.

But on Tuesday, he clarified that his office was merely studying the issue at the request of the pope as part of a broader "dialogue" with other Vatican departments.

"We are conducting a very profound scientific, technical and moral study" on how to deal with married couples when one is infected with HIV, he told Vatican Radio.

He said the study would be presented to Pope Benedict XVI, "who with his wisdom and the help of the Holy Spirit will take a decision and tell us where we are going."

While the Vatican has no specific policy concerning condoms and AIDS, the Catholic Church opposes the use of condoms as part of its overall teaching against contraception. It advocates sexual abstinence as the best way to combat the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Well, "advocating sexual abstinence" is all well and good, except when you're dealing with living organisms of any species.
The issue was reignited last week when a one-time papal contender, retired Milan Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, said in comments published in Italian newsweekly L'Espresso that condoms were the "lesser evil" in combating AIDS.

Other cardinals and prelates have made similar comments, arguing that when confronted with the possibility that within a married couple, an HIV-positive spouse could transmit the virus to the other, it was a "lesser evil" to condone the couple's use of condoms.

The lesser evil ... hmmm. There's a virus that kills you, and there's a contraption that can prevent the virus from killing you. Now the big debate is ... are these two things equally evil, or is one worse than the other?

Can you believe -- this is progress?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

What, This Isn't Important?

A question came up in a recent citizens advisory committee meeting, and I expect it will come up again -- it's a good one. A hard question. See what you think.

Let's say you're a sixteen-or-seventeen-year-old girl with a boyfriend, and you discover you're pregnant. What do you do?

A section addressing this question was proposed for the new sex-ed curriculum, though it was voted down. But what could be more on-target than this?

What is a girl supposed to do? It seems the choices are few in number. You can have the baby and raise it, you can put the baby up for adoption, or you can have an abortion.

Can anybody think of anything else? I suppose there are things like, let your mom raise the baby, but those will be variations on a theme.

This seems like an obvious thing to include in a sex education curriculum for teenagers. Some not-small-number of them are going to get pregnant -- when I drop my kid off at school, I see the girls pushing their strollers. I don't know the numbers, but there are a lot of pregnant MCPS students and students with kids.

For some people the answer to the question is a given. For instance, for some girls the idea of raising a child is simply ... out ... of ... the ... question. Yes, it's irresponsible, we can say it's reprehensible, even, to get knocked up before you're ready to be a parent. Teenagers who think they're ready for sex need to be ready for the consequences, too. We know that, and we can explain that to them in class. But, no matter, it's going to happen. Accepting the fact does not mean approving of the behavior, it just means we need to figure out what to do about something that actually happens.

For some girls, abortion is just not an option. Especially for religious reasons, some people cannot accept that choice. Most of us, maybe everybody, understands that abortion is not a practical birth-control method, there are lots of reasons not to have this procedure done. I don't think anybody wants to encourage girls to have abortions -- it's far better not to get pregnant in the first place.

But the truth is, abortion is legal, and it is one of the choices available to someone with an unwanted pregnancy. Maybe the law will change one day, maybe not, that's not really the point. Plenty of anti-abortion women end up having abortions themselves, when you come to that decision in your life it's not a simple black-and-white, right-and-wrong matter, it's a complex decision and a hard one. But it is a decision.

By the way, a writer named Joyce Arthur has collected a series of anecdotes about women who oppose abortion, but consider their own case an exception: The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion. Very interesting and thought-provoking.

When this question came up in the citizens committee, it seemed that it was just too controversial to go forward with. Some school board members are up for election this year, and nobody wants to deal with this issue in their campaign, no incumbent wants the "pro-abortion" label hung around their neck in an election year. But is that the way we make choices about our children's education?

It seems like the most basic kind of knowledge for a student to have, at least as important as defining "zygote" and explaining how mitosis works.

Does it make sense to you to leave it out?

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Stream of Letters to the Gazette

I'm afraid this post might be a little long; I'm trying to condense reading that is spread across a bunch of newspapers and web sites into one place. The Gazette has published a barrage of letters in recent weeks, going back and forth about homosexuality, sometimes directly related to our sex-ed controversy, sometimes only indirectly. The last edition of the paper had six letters.

This seems to have started with a letter from Tres Kerns in the March 8th Gazette, titled, "Children learn to how interact with both sexes by watching opposite sex parents." You might remember Tres from the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum's March, 2005, town hall meeting -- he was the guy who has to travel to all the gay conventions and get-togethers picking up outrageous materials to show in his talks. Whenever there's any kind of gay event, he goes, and then he can tell us how the "homosexual agenda" is after our children, trying to take over our society, blah blah blah. He's got lots of gay porn and offensive stuff, which he seems to take with him wherever he goes.

Kerns wrote The Gazette, and I'll excerpt just a little here:
My homosexual friends and I are having an interesting discussion about parenting.

I reason that every child wants a loving father and mother who love each other, and are faithful to one another and the Creator for a lifetime. They agree, but retort that not every child has such a loving father and mother. Although we mostly agree on these points, it brings up an interesting dilemma about same-sex marriage.

If it is true that every child wants a loving father and mother, while it is also true that not every child has a loving, faithful father and mother, what would the impact of same-sex marriage be on this problem?


As I have gotten to know many homosexuals better, I have learned that most were not shown the Creative order of true love as children. Some homosexuals do not even believe that it is possible to have a loving, faithful father and mother.


The problem with same-sex marriage, apart from embracing homosexual behavior as normal and healthy, is that it automatically eliminates a loving father or mother by definition. The very situation that most of my homosexual friends have experienced in their lives will become a permanent reality for their children. Will it make a difference? Some will have good results and others will not. However, the results for American society will be profound. We will have fooled ourselves into believing that our human way — secular, radical redefinition of "marriage" — is effective, when in actuality we have transgressed from what works best.

Unless we change course, we will continue down the path of leaving many children never knowing what it is like to have a loving, faithful father and mother at home. Children learn to how interact with both sexes by watching opposite sex parents

It's quite a long letter, and of course provocative. The idea that Tres Kerns has "homosexual friends" is a hoot in itself. Tres has a kind of web site,, I say "kind of" because it doesn't look like it's been updated in a couple of years. Anyway, he gets quoted by the Family Blah Blah groups, he's a classic obsessive gay-hater, and in this letter he proposes a naive theory of developmental psychology with no data to support it, no reason to believe it makes sense in any way except that it's consistent with his preconceptions.

Whatever, in America, everybody has the right to be wrong.

On March 24th, Kerns got a reply in The Gazette from Kenneth B. Morgen, Ph.D., who describes himself as director of Chesapeake Psychological Services in Towson and president of the Baltimore Psychological Association. He writes:
Tres Kerns' mission in life is to prevent people like me from enjoying the same rights and privileges as people like him ("Children learn how to interact with both sexes by watching opposite sex parents," March 3 letter). Although I'm not calling him a hate-monger, his suppressive speech promotes a peculiar brand of "loving" intolerance that threatens thousands of Maryland families like us.

As a parent and a clinical psychologist, I write not only from personal experience, but also from a professional perspective that spans three decades and contains great familiarity with the professional literature about same-sex marriage and parenting.

Fact one: Sexual orientation is not learned or taught, it's discovered. After all, most of us with a homosexual orientation were raised by heterosexual parents. Similarly, many gay parents have straight kids.

It has long been known in the social sciences that gay people do not choose their orientations any more than do straight people. Like when throwing a ball, most people are right-handed, but some people feel more comfortable lobbing with their left.

Gay or straight, people discover their sexual and romantic feelings early in life. Romantic and sexual feelings lead us to form mutually satisfying relationships, which lend our lives meaning and help define the happiness, which our Constitution guarantees us the right to pursue. The only difference between Mr. Kerns' marriage and mine is a piece of paper and the gender of our spouses.


This simple truth was brought home recently by a panel of children, ranging in age from 9 to 30 who were raised by gay or lesbian parents, when they spoke of their experiences at the Park School in Baltimore. Uniformly, they were grateful to their same-sex parents and confused by those who held negative views of families such as theirs.

It's about time we listen to those children and for Heaven's sake, keep them away from "well-meaning," poorly informed, self-appointed, social guardians like Tres Kerns.Children need loving parents — period

This guy rips into it for a bunch more paragraphs, you should click on the link to see all that he has to say. I hate to repeat it all here -- most of us are already familiar with these arguments, though they are made in a most articulate way here.

Then on March 31st, the ubiquitous Ruth Jacobs, the CRC's resident physician, rang in:
In his commentary, "Children need loving parents — period" (March 24), Dr. Kenneth B. Morgen presents himself as an expert in the gay lifestyle based on both personal and professional experience.

He states being gay is "not contagious" and doesn't hurt anyone. Dr. Morgen knows that although male homosexuals are only 2.1 percent of the population, men who have sex with men account for 56 percent of the deaths due to AIDS. About 20 percent of men who have sex with men (MSM) are HIV positive.

The Centers for Disease Control states:

*"Although many MSM reduce risk behaviors after learning that they have HIV, most remain sexually active."

*MSM "are at increased risk for multiple sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including ... HIV, ... AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B and hepatitis A."

*"The use of alcohol and illegal drugs continues to be prevalent among some MSM and is linked to HIV and STD risk."

*"Depression, childhood sexual abuse, using more than one drug, and partner violence have been shown to increase high-risk sexual behaviors (in MSM)."

I have seen many people die and be otherwise hurt by infections obtained because of the gay lifestyle. Dr. Morgen should not hide the serious medical consequences of men having sex with men as he promotes the gay lifestyle and shuns those who oppose adopting "gay marriage" as the standard for Maryland.

Dr. Morgen and his partner are doctors and must be intellectually honest enough to interpret the medical data objectively — period. Medical data shows that gay lifestyle is risky

First of all, the acronym MSM, for "men having sex with men," is not at all the same thing as "the gay lifestyle" or even "being gay." For instance, a recent study showed that the incidence of AIDS among blacks is increasing disproportionately because blacks are imprisoned disproportionately. Men in prison have sex with other men, but very few of them are gay. It's just two different things.

Second, if gays use alcohol or drugs, if there are diseases targeting that population ... what in the world does that have to do with a gay couple's ability to raise children? Is she trying to imply that all gay people are the same, they all do all of these things, and therefore none of them are fit to have a family? That's absurd.

By the way, it's fun to look at the CDC document she quotes from: HERE. It's all about teaching gay men about the risks. You can order their poster, which has a big picture of a white man and a black man hugging, and says "Prevent STDs." To twist these warnings about health risks into a statement that gay couples should not raise children is perverse and shameful.

Sharron Barnum of Gaithersburg writes in that same day's paper, saying:
Dr. Morgen needs to clearly state his facts and let us know where they are coming from. Homosexual orientation is a choice.

I'm cutting out most of it, this post is going to be too long already. Actually, her letter is a straightforward paraphrase, not quite plagiarized from a presentation given by Dr. Jeffrey Satinover to a Massachusetts State Senate committee meeting in 2003. You can read it on just about any rightwing web site.

Dr. Jacobs' letter elicited an April 7th response from's very own Dr. Dana Beyer, who said:
...just as most heterosexuals are not prostitutes and are not living "the straight lifestyle," most gay men and women are not living a special lifestyle either.


Promiscuity leads to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. Anal sex is associated with a higher incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. Focusing on one population is not only misleading but it’s dangerous, because most anal sex is engaged in by heterosexual couples who, if they are acolytes of Dr. Jacobs, will assume that they have no risk from that behavior because they are not gay. That’s absurd.

We should be encouraging a monogamous lifestyle for all our children, gay and straight. But that would mean supporting marriage equality, which is anathema to Dr. Jacobs. So religious extremists continue to twist themselves into knots, promote pseudoscience, and cause more harm to the public health. Encourage monogamous lifestyle for all

--Hey, here's a little tidbit of news for you: Dr. Beyer has just announced her intention to run for State Delegate in Maryland's District 18, which includes Chevy Chase, Kensington, and Wheaton, in the Democratic primary, which is September 12th. We wish her all the luck.

Also on April 7th, but in a different edition of The Gazette, Mike Bernard of Baltimore responded to Sharron Barnum, saying:
I would like to know when and how she was given the choice of her sexual orientation, and what steps she took to choose her orientation. Was it during her childhood or later? I don’t remember my parents or anyone else sitting me down to tell me that it’s time to choose my sexual orientation. I would be most interested to hear how this process takes place in other families.

Since the word "orientation" implies an innate state, sexual or any other orientation cannot be chosen by any individual. Those rejecting their sexual orientation, for example those trying to become "ex-gay" can be compared to brown-eyed people wearing blue-tinted contact lenses and claiming that they’re blue-eyed. The reality is they still have brown eyes. And our orientations are our true selves.

I wish people would focus their energies on accepting those around them as they are, no matter their orientations. How much better our world would be if we did. Accept each other

(By the way, that was his entire letter. You might want to look back here when you see Regina Griggs' comments, below.)

Sharron Barnum's letter also provoked an April 14th response from Chad Wheeler, of Montgomery Village, who said:
I guess she is insinuating that since being gay is a choice that all heterosexuals have made a choice to be straight and that it is really as simple as choosing which shoes to wear each morning. Confronted with the "choice" of being gay or straight I can see why so many choose the "gay lifestyle." Who wouldn't enjoy being persecuted and judged with hatred? Why not choose a lifestyle with no legal rights and a constant fear of violence and hate crimes? Debate surrounding gay lifestyles continues

On the 14th The Gazette also published a letter by Regina Griggs, Executive Director of PFOX - Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays. She wrote:
In his letter ("Accept each other," April 7 Gazette of Business and Politics), Mike Bernard denigrates ex-gays while asking the public to accept people regardless of their sexual orientation. Perhaps he should heed his own advice and accept the ex-gay community.

Contrary to Mr. Bernard’s assertions that former homosexuals do not exist, the ex-gay community can attest to the fact that thousands of men and women with same-sex attractions have made the personal decision to leave homosexuality. Because people like Mr. Bernard refuse to respect that decision, ex-gays are subject to an increasingly hostile environment where we are reviled simply because we dare to exist.

Contempt of those who have resolved unwanted same-sex attractions perpetuates misunderstanding and harm against the ex-gay community. It also demonstrates a disregard for diversity and a refusal to respect a basic human right to dignity and self-determination. We now need to face the other side of sexual orientation — intolerance of ex-gays.

Now, look back at what he said. See if the words "denigrates," "do not exist," "refuse to respect," "increasingly hostile," "reviled," "contempt," and "intolerance" have any relation to his comments. Somebody's panties are in a wad about nothin'. Somebody likes feeling sorry for themselves.

Look, Regina, nobody cares one way or the other if somebody switches from AC to DC, or whatever. People don't like to be preached at. Stop doing that, and you'll find nobody "reviles" "ex-gays" at all. (It would also help if you would stop calling them "ex-gays" and start calling them "straight people.")

On the 14th, Mark Hodge writes in to contest Ruth Jacobs' comments:
When there is so much going on in the world that directly affects the lives of those who read this paper (lack of affordable health care, a war nobody supports anymore, pharmacists and doctors refusing to provide care in the name of morality, spying) do any of them, besides maybe Dr. Jacobs, wake up every day wondering, "What research findings can I manipulate today to continue my anti-gay rhetoric?" Research shows it is highly unlikely.

This is not news. Polls show the majority of Americans don’t care about this.

And ... Ruth Jacobs herself writes again, this time to rebut Dana Beyers' rebuttal of her previous letter.
The Centers for Disease Control is a federal, scientific institution designed to protect the health and welfare of all U.S. citizens. The CDC finds the gay lifestyle contains factors such as depression, illegal drug use and partner violence contributing to high "gay" STDS/HIV risks.

Dana Beyer, a retired physician, tries to dispense with these facts by labeling CDC information as pseudoscience ("Encourage monogamous lifestyle for all," April 7 letter). Instead of the CDC, Dr. Beyer relies on an HIV positive, gay writer Andrew Sullivan.

Anal sex is mostly associated with the gay lifestyle. HIV transmission is 7 percent per year with vaginal sex and about 80 percent per year with anal sex. Anal sex has risks that extend beyond STDS/HIV. However, if all waited until they met their lifetime partner and were then monogamous with that partner, STDs and sexually transmitted HIV would disappear.

While I disagree that the promiscuity and lifestyle choices of homosexuals are the same as heterosexuals, I agree with Dr. Beyer that we should encourage a "monogamous lifestyle for all."

Let me point out to you, first of all, that the CDC's web site, in all its thousands of documents online, does not contain one single instance of the term "gay lifestyle." There is one instance of the phrase "homosexual lifestyle," where a rare form of pneumonia was identified in several gay patients, and the author speculated the fact they were gay "suggests an association between some aspect of a homosexual lifestyle" and the mode of transmission of the disease. That's it.

The CDC does not "find the gay lifestyle contains" any factors regarding diseases. This is not an error in Dr. Jacobs' letter: it's a lie.

Second, anal sex is not "mostly associated with the gay lifestyle." According to a recent survey published by the CDC, 35 percent of women and 40 percent of men have had anal sex with a member of the opposite sex, and only 3.7 percent of males have had anal sex with another male. In other words, anal sex has very little to do with the "gay lifestyle," and lots to do with the "heterosexual lifestyle."

It is very encouraging, though, to see the citizens advisory committee's representative for the CRC agreeing that gay people, as well as straight ones, should be monogamous. Doesn't she agree that the government should recognize the importance of monogamous relationships for gay as well as straight couples?

Stephen Kay of Severna Park writes in the same paper:
The American Medical, Psychiatric, Psychological and Psychoanalytical Associations all say that being gay is a built-in orientation. For most gays, to change is as unlikely as for the straight majority to choose to be gay.

As for the AIDS crisis, in some socioeconomic groups and poor countries the incidence of AIDS in straight populations is about 25 percent to 40 percent. The best AIDS preventative for our gay population would be legal marriage. They become, just like us, legally tied to their spouse, probably appreciating marriage more then we do, and if facing a most painful situation to divorce, learn to accommodate each other.

Finally, Rachel Zipper of Towson sent in this ... zipper:
Dr. Ruth Jacobs, an infectious disease specialist, left out important information concerning HIV/AIDS and the "lifestyles" of gay men.

According to the 2000 Fact Sheet, "HIV/AIDS Statistics," by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, "Worldwide, more than 80 percent of all adult HIV infections have resulted from heterosexual intercourse." Homosexual sexual activity does not total the other 20 percent of the infections since drug use and mother-to-child transmissions are a source of infection as well.

International facts about HIV/AIDS are left out by homophobic people since they reveal that unsafe heterosexual activity results in the most infections. America and some Asian and Latin American countries are unique in that unsafe homosexual sexual activity led to more infections.

According to NIAID’s 2000 Fact Sheet on "HIV/AIDS in the United States," 60 percent of men were infected through homosexual sex. Also, with new infections, African Americans and women have been disproportionately infected. The real culprit, then, for both heterosexuals and homosexuals is a lack of outreach by the government and local communities to inform and empower their countrymen in addressing the disease.

I think that takes us up to the present. This stream of letters-to-the-editor doesn't show any sign of slowing down.

Our school district is deciding how to teach about sexual orientation in middle school and high school, and this discussion is an extension of it -- several of these authors have participated in public comments at school board meetings, for instance.

It is clear where Montgomery County stands on the issue. Our gay neighbors deserve the same rights the rest of us have. People in this county don't think of their gay neighbors as dirty, germy, unfit to love or care for a family. Oh, well, a couple do (though Regina Griggs lives, I think, in Virginia). But mainly, this is a done deal. It's time to teach our kids some facts, and get over the yay-hooism.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Bragging About Their Failure

I'm looking at this crazy thing. These guys -- including the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum -- are trying to get kids to wear anti-gay t-shirts to school, and to pass out cards that say:
I am speaking the Truth to break the silence.
Silence isn’t freedom. It’s a constraint.
Truth tolerates open discussion, because the Truth emerges when healthy discourse is allowed.
By proclaiming the Truth in love, hurts will be halted, hearts will be healed, and lives will be saved.

The shirts just say "Day of Truth" on them. I guess that's not really anti-gay, unless you know what they mean by it.

The web site promoting this says:
In the past, students who have attempted to speak against the promotion of the homosexual agenda have been censored or, in some cases, punished for their beliefs. It is important that students stand up for their First Amendment right to hear and speak the Truth about human sexuality in order to protect that freedom for future generations. The Day of Truth provides an opportunity to publicly exercise our free speech rights.

Well, whatever, my kid's school doesn't even let them wear caps, I don't know about this.

Did you see where, down in Richmond, they sent some Hispanic kids home from school for wearing t-shirts that said "Latinos Forever," in Spanish?

This creepy site goes on to say (and CRC has this posted on their web site, too):
Last year more than 1,100 students from over 350 schools participated and shared the Truth with their classmates.

Does that sound like a lot to you?

According to the Education Department, there are approximately 84,000 public schools in the United States, with about 45 million students; besides that, there are nearly 8,000 private schools.

Call that 90,000 schools. Let's do the math. 350/90000 is about (mmm, where's that calculator?) ... three tenths of one percent of schools where this stupid stuff actually happens. Hey, maybe this year they'll get it up to one half of a per cent. That'd be something to brag about, wouldn't it?

I don't have a count of students in private schools, so let's just imagine this is only public schools. 1,100 students out of 45,000,000. That's about ... 0.000024, which is 0.0024 percent, that is, rounding, about two thousandths of one percent of students who participate in this ridiculous exercise.

I'm not going to link to this, or even give the date they want to do it. If you belong to one of these groups you already know. Otherwise, I say let's ignore it.

The fact is, America has no enthusiasm to embarrass itself with these displays of hatefulness. Sure, it's fine for some politicians to get attention and pretend they stand for "family values," it might be a good hook for getting stupid people to vote for them, but look, nobody really cares about this, and this "campaign" is a failure.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Some Friday Night Favorites

If you have sound on your computer, here're some things you might want to see and hear. is a fun web site, my wife and I were looking around on it last night. It's got a gazillion videos, most of them less than a minute long, most of them movies that kids make of each other goofing around in the their rooms, dancing, doing stupid pet tricks. Some are good. Most aren't any good at all, but it's addicting.

Here's a serious one. The singer Pink, well, hey, I didn't know she was a real singer! Go watch this video of her song, "Dear Mister President." There's some stuff going on in this song. Turns out it's not at all like "Happy Birthday Mister President," by Marilyn Monroe ... no, not at all. Watch it with your kids.

Less serious: I'm the Decider (Koo-Koo-Kachoo). Sample lyric:
I am me and Rummy's he, Iraq is free and we are all together
See the world run when Dick shoots his gun, see how I lie
I'm Lying...

Finally, the best of all. Did I mention that I love Neil Young? A few weeks ago we ran into some other TTF folks down in Silver Spring at the showing of the Neil Young movie, "Heart of Gold." We bought the CD from the movie, which is called "Prairie Wind," and we listen to it every day, in the car, at home -- we even put it in the CD player in the car in England. The movie is beautiful and poignant, the CD is sweet and personal and rich, this is a guy who has found his place in the world.

Now, you have probably heard, Neil Young's newest album, coming out soon, is called "Living With War," and it includes a song called something like "Let's Impeach the President." There were a hundred backup singers on it, and they gave him a standing ovation in the studio when it was over, I have seen blogs saying that people were in tears, there was just a big rush of emotion in the session.

There's a fascinating CNN interview with the ordinarily reclusive Neil Young, again on I'll tell you, this is my kind of guy. He's not getting backed into any lefty-righty corner, in fact, he came out in favor of the Patriot Act when it was first passed, and has supported G.W. Bush ... but no more. Watch this actress-pretending-to-be-an-interviewer try to find something ugly in what he's doing, and watch him prove that there's nothing like that to find. It''s just really refreshing to hear good old common sense for once.

Click on the image below to watch the interview:

[Note: This link seems to be having trouble due to heavy traffic. You can try THIS LINK, but even that is slow, maybe you'll just need to check it out later.]

This is the way people need to talk about what's going on, if you ask me.

A final comment here. I am the least political guy in the world, I'm registered Democrat, but I don't care about that. Here in Montgomery County, there was an attempt, after the last Presidential election, to recall and replace our county school board because they approved a kind and informative sex-ed curriculum. We have seen minutes from early meetings of the group that tried to overthrow the board, and besides rightwing nut-groups like Concerned Women for America, the Republican Party was sending representatives to those meetings. This wasn't a group of upset local parents, as they want you to believe, it was an attempted coup orchestrated by national political organizations.

Right now, finally, it's open season on these criminals. This administration's corrupt, amoral, greedy, incompetent leadership has run this country into a ditch, and people -- those good-hearted American folk who trust people and give you the benefit of the doubt -- are fed up with it. We have three more years of this degradation to endure, but at least the fog has lifted, and the citizens see what we've got. Bush popularity, reported by Fox, is down to thirty three percent, and still dropping.

Montgomery County residents knew this was coming, we voted against this crookedness by a two-to-one margin in 2004. We didn't want it in the White House, and we don't want it in our county's schools. It's not partisan politics, it's just people wanting a good life for their families.

Enjoy the videos.

Citizens Committee Chair Comments on the Process

Dr. Carol Plotsky is the chair of the MCPS citizens advisory committee that is evaluating the new sex education curriculum. Yesterday she gave a two-minute presentation to the Board of Education regarding the committee's evaluation of the "framework," which is a first step toward creating a curriculum, a high-level outline of the entire curriculum from preschool to high school. The MCPS citizens committee had recently recommended a framework to the board. Here are her comments in their entirety:
Statement on Behalf of the Citizen's Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development

By Carol A. Plotsky, MD, Chair

Mr. President, Members of the Board of Education, and Dr. Weast, I appreciate this opportunity to speak today on behalf of the Citizen's Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development. You have before you the report of our committee with respect to the framework for health education that you are considering today. You also have the recommendations of the superintendent, which incorporate many of our recommendations.

As chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee, I am here today to share with you the consensus of the committee and, more importantly, the commitment of this committee. I understand that the membership of our committee is the result of a lawsuit and of controversy. It is likely that our committee will have many contentious meetings. However, I want the Board of Education to know that you have formed an amazing committee with incredible talent and knowledge. We came together to address this framework with strong misgivings, expecting confrontation and disagreement. However, we held two meetings in which the discussions and actions were respectful of all opinions and the task we were asked to perform.

Having said that, it is important for you to understand that while, as a group, we made few recommendations to the framework, we also raised many other issues for the health curriculum. Many of these issues were important to a majority of committee members - but which we felt did not need to be addressed in the framework. The school system's staff members who attended our meetings are aware of these recommendations and, hopefully, they will address these issues in the blueprint and the course materials.

The superintendent's recommendations have incorporated most of our changes into the materials before you today. The most significant omissions are the two places in which we added marriage to the framework - in Grade 8 where we suggested a topic "Discuss marriage and family responsibilities" and in High School where we suggested including "marriage, extended family and access to medical care" as support systems helpful to parents. There are several other changes we have suggested that were not incorporated. However, the addition of marriage in these two places was felt to be appropriate and necessary to the framework.

I would ask this Board to look carefully at the recommendations of the Citizen's Advisory Committee in making your final determination of the framework with respect to the Family Life and Human Sexuality Standard and the Disease and Prevention Control Standard. This amazing group of people has given their time willingly and has taken your charge to them very seriously, in order to make sure our children receive the best education possible.

Thank you.

As the citizens committee discusses the new curriculum, this topic of marriage will come up repeatedly, no doubt, and we will walk a fine line. For one thing, marriage can't be a requirement for having sex or a family, if only for the simple reason that gay people can't legally marry in most places. That's just an absolute, if you demand that everybody wait till they marry, you're insulting a large group of people who have been insulted enough already. I won't stand for it, and lot of other citizens committee members won't either. I'm pretty sure that any attempts to insult gay people will be voted down by this Montgomery County group. That's a civilized thing, it's how we conduct a democracy, we vote and then we move on.

Someone recently made a good point: even though a good marriage might be good for you, a bad marriage can do real damage. It's just not good for you to stay in a house with somebody who beats you, or molests your children, or spends the rent money on dope, or has affairs every time you turn around. It's also not better to marry somebody you aren't attracted to in order to placate your social group, as when gay people feel they must marry someone of the opposite sex.

Sometimes it's good to live in an extended family situation, sometimes one parent can handle the whole thing, and there's enough love to make up for the scarcity of time together. And sometimes people find themselves in a situation where they do whatever they have to, to keep on keeping on; I say, bless them, whoever they are, whatever they have to do, and good luck to them.

Same-sex couples often form strong, loving, lifetime relationships, and even though they can't marry legally, this can be the basis of a strong family: who can say that's not a beautiful thing? Some people may choose to live together without registering with the government, and I don't see why they should. It may be that most people in our society marry according to a certain tradition, and that's cool -- I'm in a traditional marriage, I think it's great -- but that doesn't mean it's the only thing, or that this is what everyone should do, or that it's a prerequisite for enjoying the richness of love and being alive.

Dr. Plotsky's comments reflect an optimism that I believe is shared by the citizens committee. Everybody knows there are differences of opinion, they know there will be some intense discussions, but at this early stage it appears that the group members are mature enough to negotiate, to compromise, and to come to an agreement that serves the community well.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Teens Protected Under Kansas Ruling

If you have teenagers, like I do, then you worry about them. They're out of your sight a lot, their friends don't meet your approval, they joke about things you wish they'd never heard of.

The Attorney General in Kansas ... yes, it's Kansas again ... recently had a bright idea. He discovered that some teens are having sex -- well, as we know, about half of them are -- and he reasoned that since it's against the law to have sex with someone under the age of sixteen, every doctor or nurse who sees evidence that a teenager has had sex must report it as rape.

The Wichita Eagle carried part of the story a couple of months ago -- here're some excerpts:
Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, who has concentrated on protecting young teens from sexual abuse, drew a legal distinction Friday between the activities of boys and girls.

Kline's comments about oral sex included stating that it is illegal for boys 15 and younger to perform the act -- but he wasn't sure if the same is true for girls.

He was testifying in federal court about a legal opinion he gave three years ago on teenage pregnancy. The case pits doctors and other health care providers concerned about the privacy of patients against government investigators of sexual abuse.

Kline told a federal judge in Wichita that he sought to protect young girls from unlawful sexual intercourse but that his opinion also would require health care professionals to report other activities to state social services.


[Lawyer from the Center of Reproductive Rights, Bonnie Scott] Jones asked: "What sex act would be legal for a 15-year-old?"

Kline replied: "I've seen references about kissing and telling, but that's not a part of Kansas law."

Jones asked Kline what contact would be acceptable.

"It's difficult for me to say, maybe, kissing and petting," Kline said.

Jones: "Would fondling of the genitalia be included?"

Kline: "Again, it's difficult to say."

Jones: "What do you mean by petting?"

Kline: "Something that doesn't shock the moral conscience."

Jones: "Would you include French-kissing?"

Kline: "I don't believe so."

Jones: "What if the French-kissing occurred while lying on top of each other?"

Kline paused.

"I don't believe so."

Then Kline distilled his opinion: "The rape of a child is abuse."

In Kansas, rape includes voluntary intercourse with anyone 14 or younger. A person may be charged with aggravated indecent liberties for intercourse with someone who is 15 or fondling someone under 15.

On cross-examination by a lawyer from his own office, Kline said his opinion was limited to obtaining records from abortion clinics.

"An abortion provider must report an underage pregnancy," Kline said.

Kline said pregnancy in a girl under 16 is evidence of a crime.

"To my knowledge, that is the entirety of the scope of this opinion," Kline told Camille Nohe, assistant attorney general.

He explained that penetration of genitals is a crime, and that such crimes inherently injure young people and are abuse.

Jones had more questions:

"Is a 15-year-old girl engaging in oral sex on a 15-year-old boy, is that a crime?"

Kline: "If there's penetration, yes."

Jones: "What would be the penetration?"

Kline: "I'm not certain."

Jones cited Kansas law's definition: penetration "however slight, of a male or female by any body part or object."

Is it a crime, Jones asked, "for 15-year-old boy to perform oral sex on a 15-year old girl?"

Kline: "Yes."

Jones: "Is it inherently injurious for a 15-year-old girl to engage in oral sex on a 15-year-old boy?"

Kline: "I'm not certain." Kline's views on teen sex unclear

OK, you can see this gets very difficult. How many movies have teenagers engaging in long, smoochy, moonlight kisses and interminable hugs, fading to you-fill-in-the-blanks? Our society obviously accepts some of it. Once you start asking these kinds of questions, you realize nobody knows where "the line" is. You can see that there is a certain element of sexism in this guy's interpretation of the law, what's good for the goose should not be permitted for the gander (or, whichever one is which).

You can also see that he's trying to use this as a tricky way to hassle abortion clinics. He says they're the only ones who will have to report teen sex. That would mean that some people who need abortions won't be able to get one.

Well, this week a federal judge finally ruled on all this craziness. The Eagle again:
Kansas' chief law enforcement officer misread the law and in doing so threatened the sexual privacy of the state's teenagers, a federal judge in Wichita ruled Tuesday.

In a case watched across the nation, U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten ruled that Kansas health care providers should retain discretion in deciding what teenage sexual activities they report to the state as abuse. Attorney General Phill Kline had wanted most sexual contact involving children under age 16 reported.

Marten pointed out that both sides agreed certain abusive acts should always be reported, including incest, sexual abuse of a child by an adult, and sex involving a child under age 12.

"Therefore, the only issue presented is whether consensual underage sexual activity must be reported," Marten wrote.

Later in the opinion, the judge added: "This case certainly is not about promoting sexual promiscuity among underage persons. Each and every witness testified that underage sex should be discouraged."

"This is the first time a federal court has recognized that the United States Constitution protects the right of young people to keep certain information they give their doctors and psychologists private," [Simon Heller, one of the lawyers representing the health care providers] said.

Kline, however, claimed victory.

"We have defended the constitutionality of the law successfully," he said in a statement released by his office.

Heller said Kline not only misstated Kansas law but also misinterpreted the judge's decision.

"This is only true in the 'Twilight Zone' world that Phill Kline lives in," he said.

Heller said no one argued the 1982 child abuse law was unconstitutional -- only the way Kline said it should be enforced. Judge rules against Kline in teen-sex case

See, everybody wants teens to be safe. All adults hope they will be responsible in their sexual choices, and all parents hope their children will choose to abstain from sex. If they do make foolish decisions, though, there is a possibility they will need medical treatment, for pregnancy, for infection, and in some cases they may need counseling and other services resulting from trauma, regret, fear, and other psychological factors. You don't want to make it impossible for them to see a doctor.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Kansas School Board Member Challenges FSM, Loses

Oooh! There's no sense of humor over at the righthand end of the peanut gallery.

Poor Kansas has to live with these nuts running things:
State Board of Education member Connie Morris took exception Wednesday to a picture of a made-up creature that satirizes the state's new science standards hanging on a Stucky Middle School teacher's door.

Fellow board member Sue Gamble told The Eagle that Morris asked for the picture to be removed.

The creature, called the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is the creation of Bobby Henderson of Corvallis, Ore. It looks like a clump of spaghetti with two eyes sticking out of the top and two meatballs flanking the eyes. Creature's picture irks Board of Ed member

So ... do you get this?

The Kansas state school board member was touring a school, saw a painting of the Noodly Appendage on a teacher's door, and told the teacher to take it down.
The monster's picture has hung on the door since September or October and was put up there as a joke, [science teacher Randy] Mousley said.

"It's a parody," he said. "It's just making fun of anti-evolution."

Mousley said he doesn't teach students about the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Also on the door is a Doonesbury comic strip about science, said board member Carol Rupe, who represents Wichita.

Well, you know, even in Kansas the school board does not have the authority to tell teachers which cartoons are OK to hang on their doors.

It must be tough.

I wonder ... could they say it's a religious symbol, and shouldn't be displayed in the school? Mmm... That does seem to open a can of worms, doesn't it?
The picture was still on the door at the end of the school day Wednesday.

Yes, as it should be.

Just a Little Irony Here

Jerry Falwell has a web site: It's a place he can post his holier-than-thou, gay-bashing, end-of-the-world messages, and the people who like that stuff can read his pearls of wisdom.

But then this gay guy registers the domain name: See, it's got an extra ell in it. And on this site, he talks about how it was when he was young and coming to terms with his sexual orientation, to see Jerry Falwell on TV saying how terrible gay people were. He says: That was the first time in my life that I ever felt unworthy of the love of God.

So he changed Fal- to Fall- (pretty clever, really), and put up a web site.

How do you feel about that? Do you think it's a nice thing, to create a web URL that's almost exactly the same as somebody else's, so that when people want to go to one web site, they accidentally end up at the other one?

Well, Jerry Falwell doesn't like that approach one bit, and he tried to sue the guy. Here's the AP:
WASHINGTON - Evangelist Jerry Falwell lost a U.S. Supreme Court appeal Monday of a case that sought to shut down a Web site with a similar name but opposite views on homosexuals.

Falwell claims that a gay man from New York City improperly draws people to a site by using a common misspelling of the reverend's name as the site's domain name.

A federal judge sided with Falwell, whose ministry based in Virginia but has ties around the world, on grounds that Christopher Lamparello's domain name was nearly identical to the trademark bearing Falwell's name and could confuse Web surfers.

Last year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and said Lamparello was free to operate his "gripe site" about Falwell's views on gays at Lamparello "clearly created his Web site intending only to provide a forum to criticize ideas, not to steal customers," the court said.

The Supreme Court has now refused to take Falwell’s appeal of that ruling.

Falwell's attorneys have fought over domain names in the past. Three years ago, an Illinois man surrendered the domain names and after Falwell threatened to sue for trademark infringement. Supreme Court declines Falwell Web appeal: Evangelist had been trying to shut down Web site with similar name

Is there an ethical problem here? Does Jerry Falwell think it's wrong to use somebody else's name for their web site? Is it a dirty trick? members are giggling to ourselves over this one. Why? Here -- click on this link: It's just like our URL, except where we're "dot-org," this is "dot-com." Common mistake, we do it ourselves sometimes when we're not thinking.

Look what you get.

The morally self-righteous, holier-than-us, family-values-loving, anti-gay, traditional-maorality-advocating, school-district-suing Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum did the same thing to us that this gay guy did to Jerry Falwell. They did this more than a year ago. I'm sure they thought it was a Real Smart thing to do, real clever.

Whatever, it looks like you found us, so we're okay.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Presto -- State Changes Site, Health Person Not Needed

The CRC has been howling that the citizens advisory committee can't evaluate the HIV section of the curriculum because there's nobody from the county health department on the committee. We've talked about this a few times here. The state law says "The local school system shall use an existing committee or appoint a committee comprised of educators, representatives of the community including parents/guardians of students enrolled in a public school program, and the local health department... etc." MCPS lawyers determined that that word "or" in the middle meant that the citizens committee did not need a public health person.

The CRC noted another state web page, however, that explained COMAR: "As stated in the regulation, local school systems can use the existing system wide citizen advisory committee for both the family life and human sexuality and HIV/AIDS prevention education provided that this committee has a representative from the local health department."

I had confirmed this, and linked to it HERE. If you search Google for the phrase in quotes "committee for both the family life" you'll get a couple of hits for this blog and a link to the Maryland state web site that contains the phrase.

But guess what: that phrase doesn't exist there any more.

Unfortunately, the Google cache for that site doesn't exist any more either, so we can't really compare to see if it's changed. It's funny, Google still points to it, and you can read this wording on Google, but it's not in the cache, and when you go to the site there's nothing there about needing a health person on the committee.

Here's what I think happened:

MCPS sent a letter to the state school board, asking for clarification. Their letter noted the COMAR wording and the discrepancy with the explanatory web site.

It appears that the state, upon seeing the discrepancy, resolved it by changing the wording on the web site.

The wording of the COMAR is clear -- if you use an existing committee, it doesn't need to have a public health person on it.

Teaching Erotic Techniques?

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum seem intent on trying something that is doomed not to work. You know how they love to go to court; well, they think they have a case over some wording in the Maryland regulations, but I can't imagine that any reasonable person would see it their way.

There's an AIDS epidemic in this country, and about half the new cases are found in men who have sex with men (MSM) -- not necessarily "gay men," the acronym MSM is intended to include guys who don't think of themselves as gay but do have sex with other guys. If this seems weird, think of men in prison, fifty percent of whom have sex with other guys, very few of whom are gay. The highest risk of transmission of the AIDS virus is through anal sex, partly because the tissues of the rectum are very absorbent and also because anal sex may cause abrasions that allow the virus to enter the bloodstream even more easily.

I would think that this would be a good thing to warn students about. A recent CDC survey found that about six per cent of Americans have had anal or oral sex with another person of their same sex -- we can't break those figures down, who did what with who, but it's not trivial, when you're talking six percent -- let's say half, let's say three percent had anal sex, of a population of 300 million people, we're talking about 9,000,000 people engaging in this high-risk behavior. In our little county of about a million people, that's thirty-thousand people having same-sex anal sex (which is not a pretty phrase, but the English language fails us here). If we are going to teach sex-ed with the object of addressing serious public health issues, then I'd say, we ought to teach students about how AIDS is spread, so they can learn to avoid risky behaviors.

Unfortunately, such a plan comes up hard against 1.prudishness and 2.bigotry.

Here's the CRC's idea: Section 13a. of COMAR, the Maryland State regulation, states: Erotic techniques of human intercourse may not be discussed. The CRC has said before, and they're still saying, that if you use the words "anal sex" in a classroom, you are "teaching erotic techniques."

For instance, the previous condom video had a sentence something like, "Remember always to use a condom for vaginal, oral, or anal sex." The CRC hit the ceiling over this, shouting to anyone who would listen that the school district was "teaching erotic techniques."

Listen, I am keeping a grip here, a sense of decorum, y'know, because, well, I can just imagine if they were really teaching erotic techniques in the schools. I'm not going there, but ... There is some crazy stuff out there in the world, crazier than anything some school district would decide to teach middle-and-high-school students in a health class. I can just imagine ... uh, never mind ...

Using the word "anal sex" in a classroom is informative and just might save somebody's life. You'd have to be absolutely nuts to actually believe that saying those two words amounted to "teaching erotic techniques." In my opinion.

Regarding those two objections. The first one is easy, and I am a little sympathetic to it. Some people just might be uncomfortable, out of a sense of modesty or prudishness, about their children hearing the words "anal sex" in school. To this I can only say, I'm sorry the world has come to this, but there is a real danger out there, a real disease that has infected millions of people, and I don't want your kids, or mine, to catch it. And this is how it is passed, so, indelicate as it is, the teacher may have to mention it.

The second objection is insidious. Look, you know as well as I do that the CRC doesn't care how some silly clause of COMAR is interpreted. The reason they don't want to use the phrase "anal sex" in class is that they would like to take this opportunity to teach that gay people are dirty and carry germs. They have actually proposed that the class should teach that "homosexual behavior" spreads AIDS. But that's easily dismissed -- dressing up like Donna Summer and singing "Bad Girl" on Karaoke Night is not going to spread AIDS.

Being gay does not have anything to do with it. A monogamous gay couple has the same risk as a monogamous heterosexual couple, when it comes to contracting HIV.

According to the CDC, "Recent risk behaviors [for MSM] associated with high HIV incidence were having >5 male sex partners during the preceding 6 months, having unprotected anal sex with men, or having injected drugs."

See, you've got to say it. The problem is not anyone's sexual orientation, the problem is engaging in particularly risky behaviors. There's no guarantee that a person won't catch HIV in some innocent way, which I can't think of, whatever, there're no guarantees in this world, but there are some behaviors that are just so risky that they should be avoided. Unprotected anal sex with a noncommitted partner is one of those things, it's just Russian Roulette, and people who are likely to try it should know about the risk.

I don't know what the answer is here. The community will have to decide if this is too much, using the term "anal sex" in a sex-ed course. Personally, I'm okay with it, my kids watch South Park, y'know, this isn't going to shock them. I understand that these are things that polite society has avoided talking about, and that there may be some embarrassment associated with the concept, and if we decide to avoid it for that reason, well, I disagree but understand.

On the other hand, if some people want our kids to be taught that "being gay" or "homosexual behavior" is dirty, gross, and causes you to get sick and die -- we don't need that. It's simple bigotry, no need to dress it up or pretend anything else.

The CRC wants to pretend that it's against the law to mention anal sex in a public school. That's absurd, and any intelligent person can see that. But we do know that there are out-of-town lawyers who just love to take taxpayers' money capriciously, and the CRC is on-board with the frivolous lawsuit thing. It may cost MCPS something to do the right thing, but that's not a good reason to fail to teach the facts to our children.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Light Blogging for Spring Break

Hey, right now I'm sitting in an Internet cafe in Amesbury, England. I've been busily vacationing in London and here in the Southwest corner of the country, having a great time but I haven't been anywhere near an Internet connection.

I doubt there will be anything new on the Vigilance blog during MCPS spring break ... it's possible that some hotel that advertises "wireless" will actually have it in the room I'm staying in, but generally I'm having too much fun goofing off to blog a lot.

Don't worry, we'll light a fire under 'em when I get back.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Looking Back, Looking Forward

It's good every once in a while to stop and look at where we are in the ongoing saga of the revision of the sex-ed curriculum in the Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools. There's always something to hold our immediate attention, and sometimes we forget what we've accomplished and how far along we have actually come.

A little history. Through most of 2004, beginning the previous year, a citizens advisory committee reviewed and evaluated curricula for 8th and 10th grade health classes dealing with sexuality. As the process went on, some conservative members of the group attempted to introduce a number of anti-gay and anti-safe-sex topics and resources, and they were outvoted by the mainstream members most of the time. Several committee members sent a letter to the school board in the spring of 2004, complaining, listing materials that had been rejected, arguing that they were unfairly treated, that the committee was biased, etc.

In November, 2004, two things happened. The presidential elections on the 2nd resulted in the return of George W. Bush to office, and a school board vote on the 9th unanimously adopted the new sex-ed curricula.

A certain segment of our county's population felt that the Bush election (though the vote went against him two-to-one here in Montgomery county) was a mandate that called for immediate takeover of the school board. A web site sprang up,, and people posted the most unbelievably vile comments on the message board. At one point a leader of that group had to apologize to the school board for personal threats that had been made there. The group closed off their message board from the public, after it had become a favorite source of humorous material for various sites on the Internet, yay-hooism at its most ... refined.

That group held an organizational meeting on December 4th, 2004. Some of us more progressive parents had heard about it through a school listserve, and attended the meeting. We didn't know one another, but just attended individually. As the meeting went on, and people stood up to complain about the "sodomites" and "deviants," we ended up catching one another's eye, and within a week of that meeting we had our own first meeting of Teach the Facts. One of our group was a web developer, and I had some experience with blogs, so we started this web site. Others in the group were organizers, energizers, go-doers, think-it-throughers.

Our goal was straightforward. We supported the curriculum that the other group wanted to eliminate. The curriculum itself was very moderate. It was going to talk about sexual orientation for the first time, and it was going to have a video that showed how to use a condom. The sexual orientation discussion was informative and, it seemed to us, uncontroversial. Some people are gay, some are bi, some are straight. No sordid details, nothing that made it sound cool or especially attractive, stuff just existed, and here's what it's called.

It turned out to be a pretty simple task we had, mainly we just created a public presence for the tolerant and inclusive point of view. A lot of people checked out our web site, and joined our Yahoo group, and we kept the blog moving, something new every day or so. In this county, most people agreed with us on this. The rightwing web sites tried to call us "gay advocates," but, well, most of us aren't gay, not that it matters. And we don't really promote any gay stuff, we just think gay people deserve the respect and rights that the rest of us have, and that they should be depicted accurately in the public school curriculum. If anything, we are an "education advocacy" group.

As the year wore on, the anti-MCPS group, calling themselves the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum or CRC, tried all kinds of things, letter-writing campaigns, talk radio, they connected with the big rightwing organizations. But no matter what they did, it backfired on them. When they sent letters they ended up being reprimanded by the county PTA for misusing the school's student directory. When they held a "town hall" meeting, their speakers were so over the top that the group had to issue a statement that they didn't really agree with them. They were caught several times lying in public comments to the school board, and in various other situations, not that that discouraged them any.

To make a long story short, in May 2005 the CRC and PFOX, an organization that claims to support "ex-gays," that is, people who say they have stopped being gay, filed a lawsuit, and won a temporary restraining order. In negotiations, the school district agreed to start over in developing a new curriculum with a new citizens committee, guaranteed the two groups seats on the new committee, and paid $36,000 to the suers' lawyers.

As love and respect for the Bush administration increased across the country, the CRC continued to, uh, just a minute, that didn't happen. As the administration showed itself to be incompetent at war and nation-building, homeland security, and everything in between, support for the CRC's approach coincidentally began to dissipate. Where they had a couple hundred people at their March meeting, in November they got around twenty, including several from our group. You could still find the occasional anti-gay politician somewhere to claim support for them, but really, their followers mostly lost interest. The Family Blah-Blah groups liked them, and continued to publish their press releases as fact on their web sites, and that was about it.

This winter the school district assembled a new citizens advisory committee, including members from the two anti-MCPS groups, and a team of experts, including a group of area pediatricians, has now proposed a high-level "framework," a very general outline of an entire new curriculum, from pre-K to high school, and the committee has been evaluating it. I represent on the citizens committee, in case you didn't know that. Just last night the committee approved the new framework, with some amendments, after a grueling meeting.

Next, the framework will be formally presented to the school board, and the district will work on the next stage of the curriculum, called the "blueprint." This is slow-motion bureaucracy at its finest.

Of course I've left out many of the exciting adventures that have befallen us on the way, but this is where we are now. If you want to know about The Talk Show That Wasn't, or the story of The Purloined URL, or any of the others, look back in the blog archives. There's a bunch there. At present, the CRC is complaining about some nit-picky rules, and I imagine they'll continue to do that. Who wants to bet they won't sue again?

There are a couple of interesting things at the moment. The pediatricians who are working with the school district noted the names of a couple of textbook sections they liked. The CRC complained to the school district because they couldn't find one of the books. Well, it's not part of the curriculum at this point, anyway, but they wanted to see it. So the members of the citizens advisory committee received copies of the sections in question, and ... oh my. It turns out that the people who are developing this curriculum are much more progressive than the group that produced the last one, the one that got thrown out.

This is turning into a classic case of "be careful what you wish for." The CRC and PFOX worked themselves into a dither over the previous proposed curriculum, which was very mild and innocuous, and they wanted to start over. But, you know -- there was no reason to think that a new curriculum would be more conservative than the last one.

In yesterday's citizens committee meeting the CRC/PFOX members had proposed nearly forty changes to the framework. I hope I'm not overly condensing this when I say that the group mostly rejected anything that made it sound like you had to be married to have sex, and anything that put gay people in a negative light, and accepted recommendations that contained sound medical advice or promoted families and marriage without restricting the definitions of those concepts. Eleven of the CRC/PFOX changes were accepted, so they can't really cry that the group was against them or anything. Lots of the votes were close.

Though the new curriculum is making progress, we expect the few remaining members of CRC to throw up roadblocks at every turn. Watch for out-of-town lawyers to show up at the last second. Watch for the school district to be prepared this time.

The moral here is that you can't let up. A small minority of people tried to hijack the process here in Montgomery County, as they have successfully done in some other places. And the thing is, they'll work day and night, they'll organize and network with the big Family Blah-Blah organizations, they'll say anything and do anything to get their way ... and you can't let them. For more than a year now, Teach the Facts has been putting out the word, speaking in public, talking with the press (you saw us in the Wall Street Journal last week, right?), and generally supporting common sense and fairness in our schools. And we're not getting tired of this, not at all.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Respectful Discussion Offends Radical Religious Groups

You remember that a couple of weeks ago the First Amendment Center issued some guidelines for how public schools should develop curricula dealing with sexual orientation. We blogged a few things about it, mainly because the anti-MCPS group PFOX tried to make people believe that the guidelines somehow validated their point of view. Their press release was titled "SEXUAL ORIENTATION CONSENSUS GUIDELINES INCLUDE EX-GAYS."

Of course the guidelines said nothing about any "ex-gays," just that all sides of a controversy should be represented in the process of curriculum development.

Well, this is funny. At first, the religious right tried to embrace this document as supporting their side, saying it included their anti-gay views. Now that they've given it some thought, though, they are realizing that honest, open discussion is probably not going to serve their side very well.

From the Christian web site Agape News:
A Christian attorney is denouncing a new agreement reached between a homosexual advocacy group and the Christian Educators Association on how to deal with the issue of sexual orientation in public schools.

The Christian Educators Association International (CEAI) and the pro-homosexual Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) have collaborated on a document called "Public Schools and Sexual Orientation: A First Amendment Framework for Finding Common Ground." The document urges school officials to "take seriously complaints of name calling, harassment, and discrimination," and to avoid discriminating against student clubs because of their political or religious message.

Steve Crampton, chief counsel with the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy (AFA Law Center), finds the collaboration between the Christian group and the homosexual advocacy group disturbing. He says while he supports civil debate on issues relating to homosexuality, he has serious concerns about Christian educators coming to the table with a group like GLSEN.

"I think GLSEN is a grave danger to our kids," Crampton explains, "and so, to the extent you reach out the hand of friendship, or in this case, 'common ground,' you are doing a disservice to the community, and especially to the innocent kids in that community."

The pro-family attorney says Christians have no business legitimizing a group that is "all about advocating teenage homosexual sex." AFA Law Center litigators "have been involved in matters that have grown out of GLSEN conferences, in which graphic descriptions and instructions in homosexual sexual practices have taken place under GLSEN's purview, indeed sometimes with taxpayer dollars at stake," he contends. Pro-Family Lawyer Criticizes Christian Educators' Collaboration With GLSEN

I have always objected to these guys' obsession with sex. It's like they imagine that all gay people do all day is have sex. Saying that GLSEN is "all about advocating teenage homosexual sex" is just bizarre -- in truth, GLSEN is about getting gay and straight people together so they can see one another's point of view, and in the long run to increase tolerance across the boundaries of sexual orientation. It has nothing to do with "advocating teenage homosexual sex."

Another thing I have always objected to is the way these guys lie, but ... what can you do?

Further down in the article is this lovely quote:
The AFA Center for Law & Policy has been battling GLSEN's agenda for years, an agenda that promotes what Crampton describes as "a sinful and destructive lifestyle that threatens the very existence of our society."

Do you get that? If the straight ones accept the gay ones, the "very existence of our society" is threatened? I never realized that hatred of gays was what held our society together.

Let's just say, I refuse to accept that.

It's also fun to see what the World Net Daily, a radically conservative web site, says about the guidelines:
A recent agreement between several national groups on how to handle "sexual orientation" in schools is unacceptable, misleading and may actually cause more problems than it purports to solve.

The document, "Public Schools and Sexual Orientation" was released by the First Amendment Center in conjunction with the Christian Educators Association International and GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.Since I have researched and reported on homosexuality in the schools for more than a decade through the organization I head, Mission America of Columbus, Ohio, I read this announcement with shock and dismay. My first reaction was, "GLSEN? How could a group of genuine Christian believers sit down at any table with that organization?" Christian education group caves to homosexuals

You can read the guidelines HERE. I haven't dwelled much on the document for several reasons. First, look, if you could get people to agree to be decent and respectful to one another, you didn't really have a problem in the first place. Second, it's just common sense, if you want to form a policy about a difficult and controversial topic, you're going to have to have input from all sides, even if one side doesn't get what they want. They get to make their case, at least, and maybe some good can come of it. Third, it's not binding, it's only a suggestion, along the lines of "Why can't everybody just get along?" Schools can choose to follow these guidelines, or not.

This article goes through a lot of ugliness, I'm not going to publicize their views here, you can follow the link if you're interested. I would classify this as "psychotic," but it passes for common sense in this day and age.

But let me show you the last paragraph, which is really what this is all about:
Because of such poisonous nonsense, I have come to the conclusion that Christians who are at all able to do so should remove their children from public schools and that committed Christian educators should teach elsewhere. There's almost no way to ensure an education that even remotely resembles truth, in an atmosphere of such compromised leadership and moral confusion.

I don't think most of us realize what the agenda is here. The religious right wants to destroy public education, so they can be subsidized for sending their kids to religious schools. The attack in Montgomery County has been nothing less than this -- it's not an effort to improve public education, the intent is to undermine and disrupt it. Because public schools are accountable to voters in the long run, they are obligated to teach such crazy things as "facts" and "critical thinking" and sometimes even "tolerance" -- can you imagine that? If people could just send their kids to schools that teach what the parents believe, they could get around these unfair restrictions.

This is dangerous, dangerous stuff -- and to think, it starts with a proposal that people should be decent to one another and listen to each other's arguments. How objectionable is that?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

PFOX Kicked Out of Another Convention

Normally I wouldn't use WorldNet Daily as a news source, but they're the only ones who seem to have this story. They point to CRC's Poster-PhD Warren Throckmorton as their source, well, I suppose he'd know.
A group that believes people with same-sex attractions can abandon homosexuality was evicted from the Virginia Schools Counselors Association annual convention.

PFOX, Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays, said school counselors at the event in Richmond, Va., last week objected to some of its materials and insisted the group leave.

Blogger Warren Throckmorton said PFOX was registered officially as an exhibitor at the conference, held at the Holiday Inn Select Thursday and Friday.

But the counselors association's current president, Tammy Davis, and past-president, Carol Kaffenberger, requested to meet PFOX Director Regina Griggs and insisted the group and its members had to leave.

Griggs said that after some discussion, the school counselors said two of PFOX's brochures were OK, one on bullying and another on teens. But the group, nevertheless, was told to leave because offering only two brochures would not be worth their time.

At that point, the hotel staff intervened and demanded the PFOX people leave, Throckmorton said.

One of the staff began to dismantle the table and police were called in.

PFOX members said they were willing to remove anything deemed offensive but were ushered out anyway. 'Ex-gay' group booted from conference

It's easy to say you should listen to both sides of a story, or that all sides of an issue deserve equal attention. It's only fair, right? The result is that the ordinary person reading the news encounters people telling the truth and people lying, and because of "fair and balanced" reporting, you can't tell which is which.

And so ... here's PFOX, the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays. Oddly enough, I have never heard of anybody at PFOX actually having an "ex-gay" family member, but whatever. Essentially, PFOX is a hoax. It's a clever idea to confuse people by making them think that gay people can just decide not to be gay any more. Cuz really, most straight people have never given this a thought, and don't have any idea what to believe. So if you can make enough noise, with your "Change is Possible" billboards and your Agapepress fake-news stories and your TV appearances, people will start to believe that being gay is just a choice somebody makes, and since it does seem kind of gross, guys kissing guys and all that, it seems like a bad choice. From there it's a short leap to justifying discrimination and hatred. Sorry to say it, but that's where it goes.

Some scientists had an article last year called "One side can be wrong." Wow, what a concept. Just think, it might be that in some debates there is a correct point of view, and an incorrect one. Maybe everything isn't just contrasting opinions, but sometimes facts and fictions.

The idea that gay people can decide to become straight is a fiction. It doesn't happen. You know it doesn't happen. You didn't choose your sexual orientation, nobody does, nature is bigger and stranger and more awesome than we can ever imagine.

PFOX exists to create confusion. If somebody actually did change their sexual orientation, they wouldn't go out and put up billboards. If you were gay and now you're not, you're "straight," you don't go around telling everybody you "used to be gay." You say you used to be gay to convince other gay people that they should change, and to convince haters that their hate is justified, since gay people choose to be that way. There's no science of "ex-gays," no evidence that change really happens. It's a concept made up by a nutty religious-right organization to promote their viewpoint, and because people are decent and believe they should hear "both sides" of any issue, these guys get air time.

I went over to Throckmorton's blog to see what he said. Nothing new about this story, but something in the comments caught my attention. A commentor named Rob said what I'm saying:
Should PFOX present material? No. PFOX exists only to confuse the entire issue. Should a group be allowed to present material to lite skinned blacks on how they can pass as whites or latinos? Of course not. Credible organizations don't support the views of PFOX. Should we allow groups supporting voodoo to setup tables and tell students how their practices an help them to excel at their studies? Dr Throckmorton might think so, but people not guided by mysticism would disagree.

And then Throckmorton's response is telling. In part:
I suppose one might say PFLAG exists to confuse the issue.

PFLAG is the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. It's a group that exists to help families stay together and love one another, when a child grows up gay. It's a hard situation for parents, who are quite likely surprised by this turn of events, and probably don't know what to make of it, how to feel, what to believe. PFLAG is not a hoax, it fills a need, it's a real, positive, active organization.

PFLAG doesn't exist to "confuse the issue," as Throckmorton says. And the fact that he would attempt to put PFOX and PFLAG side by side, to say that one is doing what the other does, shows just how corrupt the reasoning is that underlies the whole "ex-gay" scheme. This is not fair and balanced, this is putting a hateful hoax alongside a real, caring organization, and trying to create doubt about which is which.

As for the Virginia Schools Counselors Association, I say: good for you.