Dear Anti Sex Ed Crowd:
Greetings and salutations! I bet you’re surprised to hear from me. After all, you’ve spent some time lately calling me a terrible mother (on television no less) because I advocate for a much-needed update to Nevada’s sex education standards — originally passed at the height of the AIDS-panic-1980s — that at its core is a mandate for abstinence-only scare-tactics about diseases on your privates. But we’ll get to that.
Maybe because Mother’s Day is right around the corner, I’ve been thinking about you and your unsympathetic, aggressive campaign against bringing comprehensive sex education to Nevada. Surely, you only compare things to Hitler and Nazis when they really, really deserve to be villianized as lacking any moral compass whatsoever. You don’t just go around TEXT SHOUTING onto the public record that sex education in schools is a PARENTAL COP OUT unless you have some solid data to back that up, right? I mean, that would be an irresponsible abuse of the standards of basic human decency and decorum that we live by in a civilized society. And, I know you’d never be one of those people who physically threaten violence when someone tells a story you disagree with at a public hearing. Because that would be immoral.
You’re very fond of talking about morality. It makes me wonder what would Jesus do if He saw you up on that moral-high-ground perch you’ve climbed onto. Not a lot of passages in the Bible about Jesus telling people to judge others — at least, not in the Bible I read at church every Sunday.
But with all your wisdom about morality, I’m sure you know that comparing a bill about school curriculum to Nazi genocide is immoral. They’re not even in the same league, and it belittles the real suffering of people who went through the Holocaust. Stop that. The same goes for calling whole groups of people terrible parents because they advocate for public education. That is immoral. Threatening violence against another person simply because you disagree with them, well, we know that’s immoral. Because if I’ve learned one thing from the pictures of dead fetuses you like to send me, it’s that you have a reverence for life. Your zest for life is so super-charged, it elevates a fetus above a fully formed, sentient woman any day of the week (twice on Sunday)! Now that’s a respect for life!
When I was sitting in church this past week, I was thinking about you. And yes, it’s a real-deal, Christians-who-love-Jesus United Church of Christ church. I was thinking about how you might be sitting in church at that same moment, reading or listening to scriptures from the Bible and nodding affirmingly to whatever sermon you were hearing. I was sitting next to my husband of almost 16 years (we’re high school sweethearts even!) and our beautiful daughter, the joy of our lives. Probably not that much different than what you do on Sundays either, right? So, I was thinking about you as my reverend was talking about forgiveness and grace; that we as Christians are charged to live by example and to take God’s shining light into the world. We are charged to give of ourselves, to lift up the down-trodden, and to go forth humbly because none of us are without sin. I was nodding. I was saying, “Amen!” But secretly, I was thinking about you. And I was wondering how I could ever forgive you for the things you are saying, not just about me, but about our neighbors and fellow Nevadans.
How can I forgive you for hating me and everyone I am trying to lift up — when we have never even met? Would you say those things to my face? Would you call me those names in front of my two-year-old? After all the times you’ve called me an evil whore, a baby-killing slut, and godless jezebel who will feel the fires of hell — and that was before you started calling me a bad mother — I must admit to struggling mightily to find a way to turn the other cheek. Again. And again. I struggle to just ignore you, let alone forgive you.
Because I can’t understand, let alone forgive, a person who would deny others a right to a complete public education. How can I forgive a person who wants to use my religion as a bludgeoning tool? How can I forgive a person who speaks on the public record about how homosexuality is “deviant behavior” and a “lifestyle choice” — as if Jesus made a distinction between who was worthy of His love and forgiveness and who was not? How can I forgive people who work to stop education that could save lives? Do you really think God approves of leaving young people in ignorance of their bodies? Do you really think that God wants young people to get diseases or have unintended pregnancies that they are not emotionally or financially ready for? If you so revere life, why wouldn’t you want to save lives by making sure people know how to protect themselves? Why wouldn’t you want to make sure there are less abortions because there are less unintended pregnancies causing them?
The only answer I can see is that you have absolutely no idea what the concept of morality is.
Because willfully denying people education that can save their lives — and make no mistake, understanding safer sex practices helps stop the spread of diseases like AIDS that kill people — is a public health issue. It is immoral to stand by and let people die out of ignorance. You are not just enabling ignorance, you are encouraging ignorance and that is true immoral behavior! And even as I feel the power of the Lord in my life as I write this, I feel certain that God weeps when people die of preventable diseases.
But let’s set the diseases aside for a moment. Because disease is not the only symptom of an uneducated, ignorant community — and let’s be clear that is what you are advocating when you rally against sex education. There is more to the health and well-being of a person than just worrying about diseases. Let’s look at teen pregnancy. Nevada has the fourth highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. And you are fond of negating that statistic with the fact that our teen pregnancy rate has declined by nine percent. True. But that’s why we’ve gone down from being first in the nation to being fourth. Are you really proud of still being in the top five worst states for teen pregnancy? Is that really something to applaud? Whoopidydoo! We’re not the worsty-worst!
How about asking yourself why we are so terrible at helping our youth prevent unwanted pregnancies? I’ll tell you why: Abstinence-only. Nevada’s current sex education curriculum requires a unit on AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases as well as “sexual responsibility,” with an emphasis on abstinence. And while comprehensive sex education standards also emphasize abstinence, the difference here is that Nevada’s current law only gives abstinence information. In most cases, there is little to nothing about birth control. There is nothing about what consent means — and why a lack of consent to sex is the definition of rape. And that’s if — and only if — you happen to live in one of Nevada’s 17 counties in which there is actually a designated educator for the sex education unit. According to testimony in the 2011 Legislature for a similar bill, by their own admission, many Nevada counties do not have a sex education curriculum or designated educator for their curriculum. They are willfully breaking the current law. So, I guess the students in those counties are just, well, screwed. Is it moral to treat students unequally? I thought the point of public education is that the standards are equal, so all people are treated to an equal education.
Abstinence-only is not only demonstrably a failure in Nevada, it’s a failed sex education system across the board. A Congressional study already confirmed that abstinence-only education does not work and the American Academy of Pediatricians has recommended a comprehensive sex education approach, which includes but is not limited to abstinence education. Indeed, studies show that medically accurate, comprehensive sex education actually results in a delay of the first sexual experience. Probably because when young people get all the facts, they realize that they are not ready for sex!
So, if you’re goal is to prevent kids from having sex, then teaching kids comprehensive sex education is actually exactly what you want!
But I can just hear you now, shaking your fist at the computer screen, saying, “But I don’t want the schools to teach my kids about sex. That’s my job!”
And I say to you: Go forth and teach your kids sex education! I hope you know what you’re talking about. Do you know what to say about sexting? How about cyber-bullying? Rape? What does herpes look like? Can boys get HPV? … Whew! It’s a lot to cover on your own. Good luck!
The reason why I can happily wave to you as you trot off to not-talk-to-your-kids-about-sex-because-it-scares-you, is that there is an escape hatch for folks like you built right into the law. You can opt-out of letting your kid(s) get educated! In fact, it’s probably one of the few times in your parenting career when you will face little-to-no shame for willfully removing your child from the classroom. Think about it. You can’t opt your kid out of math, science, or reading, but you can opt them out of sex ed? What a country! That’s because there is no graduation requirement to have sex education in Nevada. And, like I said before, you can totally opt your kid out!
Now, you may have heard that the proposed comprehensive sex education law, AB230 in the Assembly, is changing the parental permission standards. True. It’s going from a permission slip to be allowed to be IN class to a permission slip to be taken OUT of class. Right now, Nevada is one of only three states with an opt-in requirement, meaning that parents actually have to sign a permission slip to allow kids to have sex education. About four percent of students end up sitting out of sex education simply because they forgot to get the permission slip to their parents (or forgot to return it). So, really we’re talking about the four percent of kids who are missing out on education that their parents want them to have just because of a paperwork problem. That’s the dumbest reason ever for a kid to miss a class!
The other thing I can hear you screaming at me is that the new comprehensive sex education bill would “take away local authority.” Or, actually, the exact opposite. AB230 has a requirement for a local committee to oversee and approve regular updates to the curriculum. It’s actually pretty much the same thing we have now. I know, I’ve sat in on the Clark County committee before. True story: They didn’t want to allow a text book because it had a drawing of human anatomy. So, there’s your local control, working hard to control any kind of enlightenment whatsoever.
And don’t get me started on the hypocrisy of people from rural counties with legal brothels that pay their property taxes being against sex education. (Not that all rural folks are against sex ed.) What do you think the people at the brothels are doing? How is it possible that you can drive right by the brothel that pays for your fire department services and turn in to a meeting to talk about how we should never, ever, ever, ever talk to kids about penises and vaginas? It boggles my mind. And you do realize that rural counties have a much higher rate of teen pregnancy than anywhere else in the nation, right?
And come on, those are just red herrings anyway. Be honest now. You are just terrified about talking about sex with your kid(s). You don’t want them to learn that there are different people in the world, some even that you judge to be “bad” people. But just because you don’t like those people, it doesn’t make them disappear from existence. Just because you don’t like thinking about your child having sex, it doesn’t make them not have sex. Please! If that worked, I wouldn’t be alive! Yes, I am the product of a teen pregnancy statistic! (Cue: Gasps)
Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. I can feel you judging my mother right now. Yes, she was a teen mother. She also dropped out of college and raised me in poverty because of it — two things that are highly correlated to teen pregnancy, in fact. But right about now, I bet you’re sort of wishing she’d had that abortion when she was pregnant with me. Because then maybe you wouldn’t have to put up with this pain-in-your-ass prochoice, Christian, suburban, married, stay-at-home mom (really, we have so much more in common than you like to think) who keeps talking about why our state needs comprehensive sex education. I was there on April 1 when you were testifying before the Assembly committee about “unwed teen pregnancy” being a “natural punishment” for premarital sex. As if my childhood wasn’t hard enough, I have had to deal with people like you my whole life talking about my very existence as a punishment for my mother’s bad decisions. What was that thing the reverend said on Sunday? Oh yes: Judge not, lest ye be judged. But thanks for belittling my existence by implying that in my case there was no “miracle” to my conception, but rather a Job-like sentence made flesh, from a wrathful God. Thanks for that. On behalf of all “bastard” children everywhere, I thank you for your charity, kindness, and loving spirit in God’s name. You’re really nailing it.
That sort of brings me back to where we started when I sat down to write this letter. I wanted you to get to know me, your apparent foe. Because from what I can tell by what you are saying about me online and on TV and on the public record in legislative meetings, you don’t know me at all. You’ve created a sort of convenient caricature of me, and people like me. You’ve cast me as a godless sodomite who seeks to destroy the fabric of our society by advocating that public education has a minimum standard that includes sex ed curriculum that is medically accurate and age-appropriate. You’ve vilified me as a terrible mother because I recognize that not all families are whole and functional. Indeed, not all people are whole and functional. Some of us are ill-equipped to tackle big topics like sex education with our kids. And not everyone is as lucky as me to have friends who work as professional sex education instructors. Does it make us bad parents if we seek outside resources to shore up our weaknesses? I don’t have a clue how to teach my daughter Calculus. If she expresses a desire to learn it, am I a failure as a parent because I can’t teach her myself? I seem to recall some of you testifying that you checked out materials from the public library to teach your own kids sex ed. So, you can access publicly funded educational materials, but if we seek to make that available to everyone in a classroom setting, we’re abdicating our parental responsibility?
No. You’re wrong. You’re a hypocrite. You do not have the moral high-ground just because you throw God and Jesus’ names into the mix. You do not know more about being a parent than me because you have more children than me. You do not know what is best for my daughter. I do. And in the face of you hurling insults and mischaracterizations at me, I still respect you enough to make sure that you can legally decide what you think is best for your child(ren). It doesn’t matter if I think you’re wrong in how you raise your kids. I respect that you have that right. I was perfectly happy to turn my cheek again and again. Because unlike you, I don’t claim to know what’s best for your child(ren). I don’t take some imaginary moral high-ground and call you a simpleton or a fear-monger or a closed-minded bigot because you’d rather teach people to hate those who are not like them than to just simply acknowledge that they exist, without judgement (as that guy Jesus commanded). I don’t shame girls for having sex or making decisions about their bodies. I don’t threaten people with violence because they do not agree with me. I don’t create a culture of fear in the classrooms of young men and women so that they are too afraid to ask the important questions that need asking. The questions that can lead to valuable information that maybe, just maybe, might save a life. I advocate for comprehensive sex education because I want my daughter to have comprehensive sex education.
I think standing in the way of education is morally bankrupt. I think standing up and judging people (for their purported mistakes, like being raped) in a public forum is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. And I think that just because I believe in Jesus and I have a path that is right for me, that does not give me the right to force other people down that same path. I don’t demonize those who have a different faith (or none at all) than me. That’s not my business. And it’s not yours either.
You claim to be standing up for your beliefs. I’m doing the same. I’d like to think we can each have our opinions and debate them in a peaceful, respectful way. But that would require you to be a peaceful, respectful person. Everything you show me is quite the opposite. You want to attack any person who is not exactly like you, who does not believe exactly like you. That’s not the country we live in. We live in a country founded on the idea that people have a right to worship as they please, and to pursue happiness. You don’t get to decide what everybody else believes and what makes everybody else happy. And whether you believe in God or little blue fairies, it doesn’t change the fact that comprehensive sex education saves lives and prevents pregnancies (which in turn, prevent abortions and we all know how you feel about abortions).
It’s too bad that you don’t like comprehensive sex education, but that’s your right not to like it. But I’ll be damned if I let bullies like you silence me or anyone else from advocating for it. Because when you try to smear us or brand us as bad people, you are being a bully. And you are trying to keep me quiet. But I have right to say my piece.
And just one more thing: I want you to look around for a moment. I want you to remember the children, those very same little humans you are always claiming to be doing everything for. They are watching us. They are watching us have this debate. What are they learning from you right now? What are they learning about how to have a civilized, peaceful debate with somebody? What are you teaching them about your own ethics and morals right this minute when you call me a whore or a terrible mother because I disagree with you? Is that good parenting? I think actions speak louder than words, my friend.
I know we are far from finished with this debate. Going forward, I do hope for one thing: That we can have this debate as respectful adults, not children on a schoolyard. I hope that when we disagree — and we probably will — that neither side resorts to petty name-calling. But I really hope I never, ever again see a group of so-called Christians sit in a public hearing and make jokes during testimony from a rape survivor. That is grotesque cruelty. Be the people you say you are. Act as you believe God would want you to act. Really and truthfully think about what that means. Does God command us to go out and bully others to think like us? Or, does He ask us to lead by example in humble service to the world? Let’s discuss this thing as peacefully as possible. Open your heart to new possibilities and understanding. And at the end of the day, let’s remember that we are each other’s neighbors.
And for the love of God, stop calling names to those who are on the opposite side of the issue as you! There’s nothing morally superior about that!