Our View: The Sex-Ed That Dare Not Speak Its Name

February 26, 2013

As a matter of practical politics Democrats prefer to pass the controversial bill with as little fanfare as possible

Anyone listening to last week’s lengthy debate on HB 1081 could be forgiven for concluding that Colorado schools are teaching students that babies come from the stork.

State Rep. Crisanta Duran, the bill’s sponsor, railed about the need to reduce the teen pregnancy rate, insisting that Colorado needs comprehensive human sexuality education because “the abstinence only approach has not worked.”

Huh? As several legislators pointed out, Colorado already has comprehensive human-sexuality education that includes both abstinence and information for teens who are sexually active. The program was approved in 2007 after an extensive process that included hearings, testimony and debate.

Of course, Duran (D-Denver) undoubtedly knows this. Duran should also know that teen pregnancy rates in Colorado have fallen below the national average since the program was enacted.

The reality is that Duran focused on teen pregnancy because she didn’t want to dwell on the issue at the heart of HB 1081, which is homosexuality. The bill offers grants to school districts to expand their sex-ed curriculum to encompass gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered.

That’s a fair topic worthy of serious discussion, and yet it was clear last week that neither House Democrats nor House Republicans wanted to go there. Democrats may rule the legislature, but as a matter of practical politics they’d prefer to pass the bill with as little fanfare as possible so as not to rile traditional voters in their districts.

Republicans, meanwhile, are still smarting from the walloping they took in November after angering gay-rights advocates by refusing to vote on a civil-unions bill. That’s not the only reason they lost the House, but it didn’t help, and the last thing the GOP wants to do is give Tim Gill another excuse to open his checkbook.

As it turns out, there are many other reasons to oppose HB 1081, and state Rep. Amy Stephens (R-Monument) hit on just about all of them: the lack of accountability or benchmarks; the bypassing of the state Department of Education; the limited parental involvement; the infringement on local control, and the unspecified role of special-interest funding.

When a House Republican finally did mention the word “homosexuality” about three hours into Tuesday’s debate, Duran practically rejoiced, crowing that, “Now, finally, we’re getting to what is actually objectionable in this bill.”

“Let’s get to what this bill is really about and what is really offensive about it,” said Duran. “And what is offensive about it to some of my friends across the aisle is that it is inclusive.”

The irony is that Duran has done everything she can to festoon the bill with shiny objects aimed at distracting the public from the H-word. The bill mentions gays and lesbians in the middle of a laundry list of “communities,” including “communities of color” and “immigrant communities,” as well as the disabled and sexual-abuse victims.

That’s why it was incredibly awkward for Democrats when state Rep. Janak Joshi (R-Colorado Springs) introduced an amendment that would have required the expanded curriculum to take into account “cultural diversity.”

Joshi was referring to immigrant communities such as traditional Hindus and Muslims. Democrats defeated the amendment. They’re all for cultural diversity, just not that kind of cultural diversity.

A couple of Democrats did deal honestly with the substance of the bill. State Rep. Dominick Moreno (D-Commerce City), talked about growing up “knowing that somehow you’re different from other kids in your class, and not being able to have that conversation with your parents.”

“Sometimes the kids don’t have the benefit of having parents that are willing to have those conversations with their children, and so our schools fill that gap,” said Moreno. “And let them know that although they may be questioning, that that’s okay, and that there are people just like them out there in the world.”

It would behoove other Democrats to follow Moreno’s example. There are legitimate issues that should be addressed before the bill becomes law, such as exactly what the newly expanded sex-ed curriculum would include at every grade level. Instead of dismissing those who ask as bigots or Neanderthals, Democrats should be prepared to answer.

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