By Jamie Barnett, MBA, CISSP | October 2, 2018
Parent Volunteer, Palo Alto Parents 4 Sex Ed
October is #LetsTalkMonth. I’ll be tackling some great topics with my kids—healthy relationships, equity, inclusion, ethics, domestic abuse, technology. We’ll also be talking about #MeToo. (Full disclosure: I have these talks with my kids pretty much all year long.)
This is a month dedicated to frank conversations between teens and tweens and the adults they trust—conversations that explore sexual health and all of its related topics. I’m giving this year’s campaign extra oomph, and I hope you will too, whether you’re a parent or not. Thousands of parents, educators, administrators, social workers and students in California and around the country are joining in. Why? Because—believe it or not—many of us are fighting for our kids’ rights to have these conversations as part of our schools’ sex education curricula.
I live in California, where the California Healthy Youth Act requires that schools provide a medically-accurate, comprehensive and inclusive sex ed curriculum. Surprisingly, even with this law in place, when and even whether to include this kind of information as part of sex ed is a subject of debate in some communities.
My home town of Palo Alto, long considered a bastion of common sense and evidence-based policy, got caught up in this scuffle last year. A vocal minority agitated to ignore mountains of evidence from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Pediatrics. They upended our top-rated sex ed program because it “seduces kids,” “promotes sex and alcohol,” and “will turn my kids gay.”
Fortunately, Palo Alto fought back. Parents, teachers, administrators, medical professionals, social workers, board members and students joined together. We organized, wrote letters and spoke out at school board meetings. Ultimately, we were able to secure our program. Not all districts in our state were so fortunate. Several have had their programs shuttered, watered down, or changed completely, all in violation of our state’s law.
When it comes to well-designed sex education program like the one we’re using, it turns out parents weren’t really the issue. Yes, some parents may initially feel reluctant or uncertain about the program. When they take the time to learn about our district’s sex ed program, dig into post-program student survey data, and see the positive outcomes in their own children, most come around completely. Others find a middle ground with our district.
So why did this all become so adversarial? A well-funded fundamentalist group is working hard to undermine our sex education programs here in California. They have actually been featured on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s roster of gay hate groups. They promote Christian prayer in schools and support cruel “conversion therapy” for gay and transgender kids.
This group, and others like it, work to stoke parents’ fears. They aim to dismantle district sex ed programs. Their ultimate goal is to overturn sound state laws and policies like California’s. They promote abstinence-only approaches, or no sex education at all.
These campaigns have been highly damaging to local communities throughout California and in other parts of the nation. This is why it’s so important to take every opportunity we have to speak up for our sex ed programs and emphasize that these programs are evidence-based, science driven, and enjoy outstanding support from parents. More than 93% of parents support sex education in high school, for example, and support is widespread among Democrats and Republicans alike.
Because of what we’ve been going through here in California (and throughout the country), we are elevating the conversation during #LetsTalkMonth. We are moving beyond its original intent of raising awareness about kids’ sexual well being. We are rallying in favor of conversations and education that are comprehensive, factual, and inclusive of kids of all genders and sexual orientations. We are conveying our values of respect, tolerance and honesty. We are celebrating the strength of our numbers and are creating networks of support to stand up and speak up when a community’s programs are attacked and what parents truly want is undermined by outside organizations.
In Part 2 of this post, I’ll share some specific steps, strategies and resources for the #LetsTalkMonth effort. Our initiative is positive and upbeat—in fact, our secondary hashtag is #MyHope, because when it comes to sexual health, our hope is for our kids to grow up happy, healthy and thriving. Whatever your roles—parent, educator, policy person, researcher, provider, student—I hope you will join us to support sound sex education in your district, your state and across the nation.
Jamie Barnett, MBA, CISSP, is Parent Volunteer, Palo Alto Parents 4 Sex Ed. She is also a marketing specialist with extensive experience in startups and technology enterprises, and she is a passionate and engaged volunteer in her community. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.