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January 4, 2015

The homophobic "hate group" trying to suppress sex education at Acalanes High School




In catching up on the controversy about sex education classes at my alma mater Acalanes High School, I came across a couple blog posts on the women's interest blog Jezebel. The posts depict our local high school district as being run by a pack of bigoted, homophobic sexual hysterics who are terrified that Planned Parenthood instructors are encouraging ninth-grade students to have sex and to experiment with being gay or transgender.

Lafayette may as well be situated on a “time-space glitch,” wrote Mark Schrayber. “Is there something in the water?”

I'm a 1981 graduate of Acalanes, and my father taught at Acalanes and was superintendent of the Acalanes Union High School District. My son attends another high school in the district. 

Part of me is amused that Lafayette, Walnut Creek (where I live and grew up) and other communities served by the school district have provoked hissy fits by pundits at Fox News and other conservative outlets.

But it's really not something to laugh about. How our kids learn about the mechanics of sexual health and the personal and societal dimensions of sexuality is serious business.

“Sex Education is possibly the most important course that can be taught to adolescents,” writes Acalanes High student Danny Ennis in the Blueprint, the school’s newspaper. “Without this class students would be reliant on awkward ramblings from their parents trying to inform but not condone sex, the lunch table rumor mill, and the wild, wild west of the Internet–so full of good information but also home to much misinformation.”

Adds another Acalanes student, Casey Lee, writing on the website xoJane.com, "My parents NEVER talked to me or taught me about sex. ... Being aware of and comfortable with our bodies and their functions are important messages, and the potential consequences of ignorance are too dangerous." 

Of the parents raising a fuss, some say they just want the district to keep them better informed about the course content. Fair enough. It shouldn't be that hard to work with the district and come up with ways for them to be better informed. 

But others have a basic problem with Planned Parenthood probably because it supports individual choice on abortion and reproductive health. Or, perhaps they have a problem with any program that gets kids talking honestly about sex and sexuality, including issues around consent, readiness for sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. 

In any case, a small group of parents protesting is one thing. But what parents and students in this community should be concerned about is that these parents have allied themselves with the Pacific Justice Institute, a Sacramento-based legal organization. 

PJI may bill may bill itself as a generalist religious liberty advocacy group, but the organization specializes in combating efforts to protect gay rights and the rights of LGBT youth, especially in California public schools, according to Media Matters.

In fact, PJI is listed as a “hate group” by the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, the international nonprofit organization that monitors the activities of hate groups. Other hate groups on the center's list? The Ku Klux Klan and various neo-Nazi and racist skinhead groups.

PJI’s executive director Brad Ducas has become a well-known voice of anti-LGBT "fear mongering," calling homosexuality “dangerous and destructive." He has also represented clients who claim that "ex-gay" therapy is necessary to save youth from "a path of death and destruction,” Media Matters says. 

Ducas gained notoriety during the 2008 battle over California’s Proposition 8. He was filmed at a “Yes on 8” rally, comparing the defeat of marriage equality to the defeat of Nazi Germany. 

I should point out that Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda and Walnut Creek – the towns served by the Acalanes district – are hardly islands of anti-gay social conservatism. Contra Costa County Election results from 2008 showed that voters in these four towns overwhelmingly opposed Proposition 8, which temporarily banned same-sex marriage in California. In Lafayette, the "no on 8" votes outnumbered the "yes" votes 3 to 1. 

The controversy at Acalanes High began in October when a Walnut Creek mother raised concerns about Planned Parenthood teaching the classes, the Contra Costa Times reported. The mother Camille Giglio is said to be an ardent of Planned Parenthood and its pro-choice position. She said she represents a group of likewise concerned parents called No to Irresponsible Sex Education (NOISE). 

She accused Planned Parenthood of recruiting future clients, teenagers who presumably, in her view I guess, will go out and have lots of sex, get pregnant and go to Planned Parenthood for all their abortions. "They're accessing students to find present and future clients without parents understanding what is going on in the classroom," she said. 

The sex education courses for the freshman class took place the week of October 6. It’s the same course that’s been taught at the school for 10 years, Superintendent John Nickerson told the Times. “Our board has long supported comprehensive sexual health and HIV/AID prevention," Nickerson said.

Nickerson and Principal Allison Silvestri told the Times it is common practice to contract this curriculum out with Planned Parenthood because their people are more up-to-date than instructors at the school, and are often more comfortable talking with teenagers about the subject matter. 

Planned Parenthood has been in the business of providing comprehensive sex education for nearly 100 years. The organization says its comprehensive sex education covers a wide array of topics that affect sexuality and sexual health and is grounded in evidence-based, peer-reviewed science. 


Silvestri added that the school gave parents 10 days notice that the unit would be taught and provided information about topics covered. She said the instruction complied with the state Education Code.
Ducas and his PJI swooped in December to raise concerns about specific materials used in the class, which PJI and the NOISE parents said were encouraging ninth-graders to have sex. 

Fox News raised objections that the materials include a checklist entitled "Sex Check! Are You Ready for Sex" which asks students such questions as whether they have condoms and if they could handle a possible infection or pregnancy. Another worksheet reads like a "how-to" on obtaining a possible sexual partner, and offers possible statements like "Do you want to go back to my place?" and "Is it OK if I take my pants off?"

Matt McReynolds, a staff attorney with PJI, said: “I don't think there is any context in which these things are appropriate for 13- and 14-year-olds.”

Hmm. I wonder what professional expertise McReynolds has in sex and health education. Is he aware that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 20 percent of American ninth graders are sexually active? 

I would hazard he's as knowledgeable on the topic as Acalanes student Casey Lee, or Jezebel writer Schrayber who wrote: "Sounds like these worksheets, which literally ask students if they're prepared to face the consequences of an unexpected dalliance behind the bleachers, aren't inappropriate at all." 

But PJI and Fox News had objections on another topic: a gender identity chart called "the Genderbread Person," a figure resembling the holiday cookie that introduces students to concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity and defines terms such as "agender," or "bigender."

Do these parents and their legal allies seriously fear that that their kids will want to try out being gay or transgender because – I don’t know – a Planned Parenthood instructor told them that it’s OK to be gay or transgender.  Really? How bizarre is this line of thinking, given the potential bullying, harassment and rejection that LGBT kids sometimes face in society. Why would any young person go in any of these directions unless they were naturally inclined to do so?


The Times says the Acalanes School board listened to parents and students speaking for and against the course at a December meeting; the district is taking these comments "seriously,"Nickerson told the Times. The board will likely take up the issue again in April or May. PJI has also put in a public records act request to see if there are any other issues it will want to raise.

In the meantime, I want to return again to the points raised by the Acalanes students. Ennis pointed out that there have been numerous studies over the years showing that teenagers who receive comprehensive sex education are less likely to get pregnant or engage in high-risk behavior. 

Teen pregnancy rates in the United States peaked in 1990. Since then, the rates of teen pregnancy, birth and abortion have reached historic lows in all states and among all racial and ethnic groups. Ennis cites a study from the University of Washington showing that teenagers who receive some type of comprehensive sex education are 60 percent less likely to pregnant or get someone else pregnant.
A federal study from 2007 found that abstinence-only programs had “no impacts on rates of sexual abstinence,” Ennis wrote.

The Guttmacher Institute is a policy center that sometimes collaborates with Planned Parenthood, the National Institute of Health and other entities on advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights through research, policy analysis and public education.

In a September 2014 policy review, "What is Behind the Declines in Teen Pregnancy Rates?" the Institute found there is  “clear evidence” that comprehensive sex education programs – the kind advocated by the Acalanes Union High School District and provided by Planned Parenthood – can change behaviors. "Such programs have been shown to delay sexual debut, reduce frequency of sex and number of partners, increase condom or contraceptive use, or reduce sexual risk-taking," the review states. 

Ennis makes a point that perhaps the NOISE parents and their PJI legal advocates prefer to deny: “Sex is not going away. The fact is that humans, especially teenagers, will want to have sex, from as early as 9th grade. Suppressing sex education isn’t just wrong, it’s naive and it’s dangerous.”

6 comments:

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

Thanks for posting this. I had no idea this was going on, as I don't get the Times. My daughter graduated from Las Lomas last year, and I for one am glad that she received this education when she was younger. It gives me faith that when she's ready to be sexually active, she will have some good information on staying safe.

Anonymous said...

Tsk Tsk.

I too am a grad of AUHSD, and live within Acalanes boundaries. I have a Harvard MBA and advised 3 US Senators and a CA governor, but am not a lawyer. From the filings I read I think this behavior was way out of line and the people responsible should be disciplined. In a software start-up that ran, the first 3 people I hired were gay, so please don't try the "homophobic" label as a tactic on me.

By the title of your write-up, you showed obvious bias going in. You used a time honored and obviously dishonest debate tactic. Rather than deal with the facts set down by an officer of the court (a lawyer), you tried to discredit the messenger. That behavior normally means you can't argue the facts.

The bottom line here is that some "teachers" in a position of authority tried to force 13 year old FRESHMEN in high school to provide their position on a "sexual spectrum." There is another politically correct law this should run afoul of: sexual harrassment. It is illegal to make "verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create a hostile or offensive work environment." This is for adults. If a mature adult was asked in organization for this kind of information, they would make themselves and their organization. Yet you think that this is okay with a bunch of kids who are certainly uncomfortable with this issue and not mature enough to understand what is going on. I have counseled college kids that have been forcefully propositioned by gays for sex and it has had the affect to make them think they were gay because they were picked out. This is a subject where parent's desires should be respected.

I don't like to have the gay lifestyle thrown in my face, just as I don't want any other kind of strange heterosexual lifestyle imposed upon me. Sex is a private matter. I tolerate the gay lifestyle, but I don't have to embrace it or the culture so often stereotyped on TV today.

Education in this area should be done carefully and with parents desires in mind. It shouldn't be a "lowest common denominator" evolution. I have seen too many kids traumatized by this kind of stuff.

Your write up avoided the facts and just went onto denigrate parents as "homophobic." That is disrespectful of the parents. Upset parents would logically pick the most rabid lawyer to defend their kids privacy and sexual integrity. Most people would pick the best lawyer to represent them. That is what these did, and you disrespected and denigrated them for using their Constitutional rights.

Shame on you for your intellectual dishonesty. Try arguing the facts next time, not engaging in hyperbole.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous, would you please contact us parents who have exercised their parents rights and used the Ed Code to question this District's implementation of Planned Parenthood's sex positive presentation that overstepped Ed Code boundaries to our freshman? We have nothing against anyone. We just want the education code followed. Let us know.

Martha Ross said...

Dear Anonymous Feb. 9,
I show my bias going in? Of course, it's a blog. Your say I engage in dishonest debate tactics, don't argue the facts and throw around hyperbole? Are you sure you aren't talking about the Pacific Justice Institute?

As for such statements: "I don't like the gay life-style thrown in my face." I just have to say it reveals your bias and an interesting -- there's no other word for it -- fear. Sorry, those of the "gay life-style" are so scary for you.

Jeffrey M said...

Dear Anonymous (Feb 9) - seriously? An MBA and an "advisor" to a few politicians does not make you an expert on anything, obviously. You have to earn that title, and from your response you appear to be lacking in common sense.

The "I have a black friend so you can't call me racist!" argument does not fly, as your following comments are clearly biased against LGBT people. With comments like these you label yourself as homophobic. (I don't like to have the gay lifestyle thrown in my face, just as I don't want any other kind of strange heterosexual lifestyle imposed upon me). Your tolerance of the gay lifestyle is lacking.

Also, you make some pretty severe, ill informed accusations. Who said students were "forced" to participate or had to disclose this information to others?

What does any of this have to do with your accusation that college kids are "forcefully propositioned by gays for sex?" - you should check out stats for hetero sexual harassment and assault and compare to the anecdotal case you supposedly refer to. Not that you have ANY credibility at this stage.

It is not even worth going on. You are so clearly hateful and anti-gay that your list of politicians, unless they are republicans, and your three gay employees would be well served to stay clear of your bigoted personality.

Why not get some information before you go spouting off and making a fool of yourself.

Oh, and congrats, the hatemongers who are stirring up this whole issue want to be your friend. Go figure.

AND, BTW the law that informs sex ed in this state has two primary objectives 1)To provide a pupil with the knowledge and skills necessary to protect his or her sexual and reproductive health from unintended pregnancy and STDs; 2) To encourage a pupil to develop healthy attitudes concerning adolescent growth and development, body image, gender roles, sexual orientation, dating, marriage, and family. (http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/se/)

So, seems to me that the gender and sexual orientation discussion is within that intent of the law!!

Get informed or shut up!

Valerie Troutman said...

Sorry it took me so long to find this. I've lived in Lafayette my whole life. Are there any posts from kids who were actually there? I ask cause I'm young enough to remember that they're the primary source, then teachers, then no one else.