Sex, Lies, and Teenagers: Abstinence-Only Sex Education Erases the Existence of GLBT Youth and Fills Kids' Heads with Untruths. Some Parents Have Had Enough

Article excerpt

At a town hall meeting about sex education in Maryland public schools last March, Scott Davenport told the crowd he felt scared when he stood up to speak. "It just felt like you were a Jew in Germany in the 1930s," recalls the gay father of an eighth-grader and a 10th-grader in the Montgomery County school district.

A group of conservative religious parents had invited antigay groups like Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays to the meeting in the largely liberal Maryland county. They complained that an updated sex-ed curriculum "normalized" gay men and lesbians by implying that homosexuality is a biological trait. They also argued the program did not do enough to stress sexual abstinence until marriage. Under pressure from the groups, the school board voted in May not only to scrap the homosexuality component but to kill a seven-minute video demonstrating how to use a condom.

Emboldened by recent political advances, far-right Christian organizations are successfully censoring gay-friendly sex-education lessons across the country. Some are replacing pro-gay materials with antigay messages, while others encourage counselors to refer young gays to "ex-gay" programs, which teach that homosexuality can and should be changed. At the same time, the Bush administration is funneling hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into abstinence-until-marriage sex-ed programs that ignore gay youth altogether. "A lot of abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula doesn't address gay and lesbian youth as being something that exists," says Jessie Gilliam, program manager for Advocates for Youth, which promotes inclusive sex education.

"Over the years, some of the more overt [antigay] biases about sexual orientation have been removed," says Martha Kempner, director of public information for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. "But the subtle bias is always there. They're teaching abstinence until marriage, and if you're a young person who knows you're gay, you also know you're not allowed to get married."

Eleven of the 13 most popular abstinence-only programs blur religion and science, teach gender stereotypes, and contain scientific errors, according to a report by U.S. representative Henry Waxman of California. One curriculum falsely tolls students that they can catch HIV through sweat and tears. Another wrongly says 50% of gay teens have HIV. "A little minority of religious nuts can change everything," says Jim Kennedy, a straight parent who helped form the group TeachtheFacts. …