Anti-LGBT Groups Push to Bar Sex Ed in Texas

Anti-sex education activists have launched new efforts to keep Texas students ignorant about how to protect themselves from disease and unintended pregnancy. And this time they’re trying to stir up hostility toward LGBT people to do it.

Research from the TFN Education Fund shows that the vast majority of Texas school districts take an abstinence-only approach or teach nothing at all when it comes to sex education. But the largest school districts in Texas — a state with one of the highest teen birth rates in the nation — take an evidence-based, abstinence-plus approach to sex education. That means they promote abstinence while also teaching information about condoms and other forms of contraception. Moreover, a 2013 poll showed that 84 percent of registered voters in Texas supported taking that broader approach to sex education.

But anti-sex ed activists are now targeting at least two large school districts — Fort Worth and Austin — that take an abstinence-plus approach. They appear to be hoping that hostility to LGBT people will help undermine support for sex education in those districts. And this comes as the State Board of Education prepares to revise health curriculum standards — including standards on sex education — for Texas public schools next year.

One group — so-called “Concerned Parents of Austin” — has been attacking the Austin Independent School District’s sex education curriculum in part because it includes information on sexual orientation and gender identity. A Fort Worth group has similarly criticized the sex ed curriculum in that city’s sixth-grade classrooms.

“Children are being taught — at age 12 under the guise of abstinence —about same-sex attraction, gender identity and gender expression,” Zeb Pent, a spokesman for Stand Up for Fort Worth told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last May. From the Star-Telegram:

Pent said the lesson oversteps on the religious values across several religions, including Muslim, Jewish and Christian.

“There is no such thing as gender expression,” Pent said. “There’s male and there is female.”

State law allows parents to opt their children out of public school sex education classes. But Pent complains that Fort Worth ISD’s notice said nothing about sexual orientation and gender identity.

So what does the school district’s curriculum actually teach about that? Pent’s group has posted PowerPoint slides of the lesson (a single lesson out of 18 in an entire unit) it finds objectionable on its website. Some examples:

  • “People who are transgender are born as one sex, but feel more like the other.”
  • “People can have different types of sexual attractions, or sexual orientations. They may be heterosexual or straight, gay or lesbian, or bisexual. Not being sexually attracted to anybody is also normal and OK.”
  • “You may not make the same choices about sex, understanding someone’s feelings about his or her gender, or share the same sexual orientation, but respecting these differences creates an atmosphere of acceptance and support that can help all people understand sexuality, take care of their bodies, communicate clearly and achieve good sexual health.”

None of this is radical, particularly when students likely know about LGBT people from popular media (or perhaps have LGBT friends or are LGBT themselves). But Pent’s group is ticked off that the curriculum teaches students to respect people who are different from them. And they appear to be unimpressed that the curriculum encourages students to talk about sexuality issues with their parents and strongly promotes abstinence.

No surprise, of course, that grandstanding politicians are wading into this manufactured controversy as well.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, currently under indictment for securities fraud, blasted out a press release last week demanding that the Fort Worth school district give parents access to the curriculum. School district officials pointed out that parents already can review the curriculum at their child’s school or in the district’s offices. Parents have that right under the law. But facts probably don’t matter much to a politician seeking reelection. Paxton is more likely interested in fanning the flames of anti-sex ed and anti-LGBT hysteria to rile up his religious-right base (and distract attention from his own legal problems during his reelection campaign).

Expect this newest culture war battle to bleed over into the State Board of Education’s health curriculum debate as well as the legislative session in Austin next year. As we have for more than 20 years, TFN will be working to ensure that Texas students have access to the information they need to protect themselves and make important life decisions — including the decision to respect people who are different from them.