Sex, Lies and Politics

Article excerpt

Throwing a bone to its sex-obsessed religious base, the GOP has slipped an abstinence activist into its convention mix of mostly moderate speakers. Miss America 2003 will put a smiley face on President Bush's bulging chastity industry, for which he has allotted $273 million in his 2005 budget, plus a third of the $15 billion global AIDS-relief package.

The ascendancy of abstinence-only under Bush has not only altered funding priorities; it has sanctioned a climate of hostility toward sexual health professionals, who increasingly face harassment, intimidation and marginalization if they stray from the abstinence-only-unless-married line. For example, in the spring of 2003 a Tennessee teacher's thirty-year career nearly derailed after she commented on an abstinence video shown to her seventh-grade health class (her comments, presumably critical, were not made public). Charged with incompetence and insubordination, she was retrained and reassigned. Or take the Florida teacher who was suspended after his students used a banana to demonstrate how to put on a condom; he couldn't make the meeting where school officials fired him because his wife was in labor.

Even abstinence educators face right-wing wrath if they depart from the movement's dogma. University of Arkansas health science professor Michael Young, co-author of the award-winning "Sex Can Wait" curriculum, has been targeted by conservatives simply because he adheres to a law dictating that abstinence education be medically accurate and neutral on religion and abortion. Young was vilified by Focus on the Family and the Abstinence Clearinghouse for conducting a university-approved survey asking state abstinence coordinators how they define "sexual activity." "I've been involved in controversy forever," said Young, a Southern Baptist deacon, "but I never before felt I could lose my job." After an aide to US Congressman Dave Weldon smeared Young last year, the state dropped its contract for "Sex Can Wait."

Unlike buttoned-down Young, the bearded, free-spirited University of Kansas professor Dennis Dailey seems just the 1960s throwback conservatives love to slam. A single student complaint spun into accusations that "Dr. Dailey's a pedophile," a dozen death threats and hundreds of ugly e-mails. The offended student turned out to be an intern for hard-right Kansas State Senator Susan Wagle. "It doesn't matter if what you're doing is good or bad," said Dailey, honored for teaching excellence when under fire. …