Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays has joined forces yet again with Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and Family Leader Network in opposition to the Montgomery County School Board in Maryland. PFOX and its allies were unsuccessful in their efforts to stop the piloting of what they deem a “controversial” sex and health curriculum last fall, and they’ve recently petitioned the Maryland State School Board to block the full implementation of the lessons in all Rockville, Md.-area middle and high schools for the coming school year. The coalition threatens to sue the county school system if they don’t get their way, claiming that the school system released factually inaccurate information, did not put out material for public review before approval, and violated students’ constitutional rights including freedom of speech and the right to freely exercise religion.
A federal judge ruled in May 2005 that the curriculum’s teacher resource materials singled out specific religions for condemnation of homosexuality. The curriculum has been completely overhauled since that time.
The entire health unit is written to be delivered over a 12-day continuum in 45-minute sessions. However, it is the two-session piece of the whole titled “Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality Lesson” that is the focus of the coalition’s efforts. I took the time to print out and read through the Grade 8, Lesson One and Lesson Two portions of the curriculum and, surprise, surprise, I’m just not finding the “controversy”. The coalition’s concerns are detailed at the CRC website and one of their biggest problems with the eighth-grade lessons is a supposed inconsistency. The curriculum states:
“Sexual orientation is innate and a complex part of one’s personality.”
and then in a later paragraph,
“What causes sexual orientation? Almost certainly there is no single reason why some people are homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual. According to the American Psychological Association, sexual orientation results from an interaction of cognitive, environmental, and biological factors.”
The coalition says that these two statements are inconsistent and a significant portion of their threatened lawsuit is based on these grounds. I don’t agree. We are, after all, innately sexually oriented, and the causes of which orientation we become are many and varied. What’s inconsistent about that? The curriculum could possibly do a better job at segueing those concepts, but I don’t find them difficult to reconcile. It’s not lawsuit difficult.
The 10th-grade version of the curriculum is quite a bit meatier, specifically with regards to the “coming out” process. And, as one can imagine, the coalition wishes to take the cleaver and grinder to those parts. There are several undocumented personal narratives which briefly describe the coming out process of a sampling of orientations, including one transgender story. I suspect the stories are undocumented because they are generic enough that they could be told as they are by literally thousands and thousands of folks without changing one jot or tittle — much like ex-gay stories the world over, or tornado victim stories, or near-death experience stories. It seems some stories are just human stories and overall, humanity responds in very general ways in given circumstances. Which is why I think these stories are important for 10th graders to hear. I’m showing my age, but 10th graders in today’s culture are a far cry more sophisticated, out of necessity, at dealing with these sorts of things than I would have been in 10th grade. Also, the curriculum is specific in its purpose for sharing the stories. The lesson culminates with the students working in groups to discuss ways to make their school a safe and accepting environment for students of all genders and orientations. This is practical stuff in today’s society.
Of course, PFOX has stated numerous times that the curriculum discriminates against ex-gays by not including any of their stories. And I must wonder, do they really want to go there? With a fudged 30-percent success rate being reported by Exodus, a fair representation would include one successful ex-gay story and two that were unsuccessful. As much as PFOX likes to think so, ex-gay is not a seperate orientation unto itself.
The CRC website also erroneously states that the curriculum teaches that sexual orientation is fixed in adolescence and that students are encouraged to label themselves early as to their orientation. Here’s the paragraph on which they base these claims:
Adolescence is marked by a growing awareness of sexual orientation. Although most people are heterosexual, a significant number of people identify themselves as homosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Most people that are gay, lesbian, or bisexual report feeling “different” at a young age even though they may not have had a name for that feeling. People can identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender at any point in their lives. Some people come out at a young age; others wait until they have been adults for many years. For many people coming out is liberating and empowering and makes them feel whole, healthy, and complete. To identify oneself as gay or lesbian can be very difficult given that many people do not understand sexual minorities. Regardless of their sexual orientation, all students should use good judgement and wait to have intimate sexual activity until they are in a committed, permanent relationship.
The 10th-grade curriculum also includes a video demonstration of the proper use of a condom. While I wasn’t able to view that video, I did take a look at the response discussion and activity materials. It appears to be a pretty straightforward step-by-step demonstration, walking the viewer through from the opening of the package to the disposal of the used prophylactic. Apparently, there are three vital steps involved in the proper application of a condom, and the first one involves a bit of pinching. Who knew?
However, it’s not the pinching that has PFOX and their cohorts in a tight over the disease prevention portion. The curriculum repeats numerous times that the only way to be 100 percent certain you will remain disease and pregnancy free is through the practice of abstinence. Abstinence and condom use are not matters subject to sexual orientation. But the coalition insists that the curriculum should emphasize statistics highlighting the risk of HIV infection specifically associated with homosexual activity. I suppose they could also include the very low risk of pregnancy associated with gay sex. While they’re at it, I’d suggest they break it down by gender and show students the statistics proving that the very safest sexual orientation, disease AND pregnancy-wise, is lesbianism.
For those of you faced with a bout of insomnia, or like me, possibly just very interested, here’s a link to the full 132-page document which includes all the resources, lesson plans, and revisions agreed upon after the pilot was implemented last fall.
I believe it’s ignorance of one basic truth that drives much of the fear-induced activism of PFOX and those working with them to try and prevent this very necessary curriculum from making it’s way to public school students. Here’s one final quote, presented to students in the 10th grade curriculum, which speaks to the heart of that fear.
Educating all people about sexual orientation and homosexuality is likely to diminish anti-gay prejudice. Accurate information about homosexuality is especially important to young people who are first discovering and seeking to understand their sexuality – whether homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. Fears that access to such information will make more people gay have no validity; information about homosexuality does not make someone gay or straight.
American Psychological Association, 2006