Sex education in Hawaii middle schools will only be available on an opt-in basis, thanks to a scathing campaign by one of the state’s most notoriously homophobic politicians.
For months now, Rep. Bob McDermott (below) has railed against any and all pro-LGBT measures in his state. He filed a lawsuit to try to halt marriage equality in Hawaii — and failed — and whined about the Southern Poverty Law Center lending a “Teaching Tolerance” curriculum about diversity and acceptance to Hawaii schools.
Now, for his latest feat, he’s targeted the federally-funded sex education program Pono Choices, which is geared toward middle-school students. The program was developed to help reduce teen pregnancies and prevent STDs, but McDermott takes serious issue with its definition of sex — or, more specifically, the fact that it offers a definition of sex at all.
According to Pono Choices, the curriculum defines “sex” using medically accurate terms, in compliance with Hawaiian state legislation about factual and age-appropriate sex ed. Here’s how HRS 321-11.1 defines medical accuracy:
“Medically accurate” means verified or supported by research conducted in compliance with accepted scientific methods and recognized as accurate and objective by professional organizations and agencies with expertise in the relevant field.
Easy enough, right? Using these guidelines, the program offers the following definitions of sex:
Sex, in the Pono Choices curriculum is defined as:
- Oral Sex: mouth on genitals. (genitals includes the penis, scrotum, vagina, vulva, anus),
- Vaginal Sex: penis enters vagina, and
- Anal Sex: penis enters anus.
Sex is defined as such because this is how sexually transmitted infections are transmitted.
These are not step-by-step instructions on how to have anal sex; they’re medical definitions of behaviors that can lead to STDs. You cannot teach about STDs — something kids should absolutely learn about well before their late teenage years — and not provide a basic definition of sexual transmission. But McDermott isn’t okay with that:
Holding up an enlarged copy of a student’s worksheet provided by a parent, he said he’s troubled that students are being asked to define such terms as anal sex and oral sex.
“I am a little uncomfortable saying this, but this is what your children, your 11-year-old children, are being taught. To me, this is outrageous because it robs them of their innocence and it’s not appropriate,” McDermott said. “I can assure you my 11-year-old girl knows nothing about anal sex, and one of the reasons is because she’s not exposed to Pono Choices.”
In January he took his tantrum a step further, releasing an 18-page report demanding the program be eliminated. Ever the homophobe, he was especially outraged that the program mentioned same-sex sexual behavior:
In the report, McDermott complained the sex ed curriculum was “simultaneously normalizing anal sex and homosexual behavior” and after taking the course students “might be under the impression that homosexuality and lesbianism are quite common.” He objected to the program’s “implicit endorsement of homosexuality” and the presentation of “homosexual behavior as the equivalent of male-to-female relationships.”
According to ThinkProgress, Hawaii suspended Pono Choices briefly after McDermott’s initial complaints, but an internal review found that it met department standards and had “positive outcomes for students.” When he wouldn’t back down, the state Department of Education put together a volunteer panel to review the program. Even then, they largely approved of it and produced only a few small suggested changes.
Nonetheless, the DOE decided to change the requirements for offering the curriculum to students. Rather than opting out, parents must now opt in to allow their kids to participate. This is a way of presenting the information as controversial right from the get-go, meaning that, inevitably, fewer students will ever access the program at all.
All this because one Republican legislator is so deeply disturbed by his daughter learning the medical definition of different kinds of sex.
By the way, here’s why Pono Choices teaches about sex between people of the same gender, in case it’s not obvious:
Pono Choices is an inclusive curriculum that provides both same sex and different sex examples. Activities focus on the behaviors of the individuals in the examples, regardless of their gender. The curriculum teaches that you can get an STI from anyone, regardless of their gender and your gender.
Hawaii’s teen pregnancy rate is 93 pregnancies per 1,000 women ages 15-19, according to Pono Choices, higher than the national average (and the 10th highest rate in the United States). The state also has the lowest rate of teen condom use in the country. Teaching kids about their bodies and about contraception is not mobilizing a gay agenda — it’s necessary preventative medical care. Sexual education is worthless if it’s not comprehensive, and that means addressing all kinds of sex, not just the ones supposedly sanctioned by the Bible.
Rep. McDermott can have whatever backwards view of LGBT people he wants — he’s on the wrong side of history, but he has the right to his opinions — but it’s not at all fair for his views to dictate vital health education. Here, we have an elected official who would rather endanger thousands of young people than accept that gay sex happens. That’s terrifying. It’s unacceptable to block teenagers from potentially lifesaving information because of your own personal bigotry; explain that to your daughter, sir.