The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Let’s Talk About Sex

Or not, as the case may be. I haven't blogged about the controversy over Montgomery County's sex-education curriculum lately, but it looks like the board of education stood up to PFOX's bullying and approved the curriculum. (In fact, one board member was heard to say "I believe we will be sued. That's okay. . . . Bring it on.") The folks over at Vigilance have done such a good job of covering it that I'm wasn't sure I could add much. Most recently, they've posted links to the curriculum documents.

What brought the story back to mind for me was this Washington Post piece that reminded me of just what it was like to be growing up gay and going to school during a time when the subject couldn't even be talked about. This year will mark 20 years since I graduated from high school, and 26 years since I came out. (Yup. I was a prodigy in that sense.) And it reminded me just how difficult it was to get any information when I was coming out. It also made it clear how far some people would like to turn back the clock.

The initiative to place Montgomery at the forefront of the explosive national debate about teaching sex in schools began with a citizens committee, which reviewed the county's family life and human development curriculum five years ago and recommended that the Board of Education lift its virtual ban on discussing homosexuality in class. Teachers could bring up the topic only in response to a student's query.

The old curriculum, which is still in place across the county, "was ignoring the reality of the world we live in," said school board member Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase). "Before this, we were silent."

The structure of state regulations about sex education speaks to the delicate balance between providing lessons to children about sexuality, discrimination and public health and respecting the religious and moral values of parents.

I guess I'd forgotten about those days, or pushed the memories far enough back in to my mind that they don't surface often. They're not good memories. That was mostly a time when I had lots of questions and no information or support for my burgeoning sexual orientation, which had always been there but became clear around the time that puberty hit. I didn't have anyone to talk to at home. The most my folks would do was to recommend I read up on Sodom and Gomorra. When I told them about the harassment I was getting at school, and what the kids were calling me, the response I got was "Well, you're not. Are you?" Believe me, I knew what the "right" answer was.

And at school? The subject came up. Probably because I brought it up. And I remember being told at some point that the rules were that teachers could not bring up homosexuality, or lead a discussion on it, but could only address it in response to students questions. Which means if I hadn't brought it up, it wouldn't have come up. And that was after I changed schools, because I couldn't take the harassment I faced in my old school anymore.

I remember it created an atmosphere in which I didn't think I could trust anybody. Once I returned to class visibly upset after several male classmates had shoved me around and called me names in the bathroom. My teacher noticed and asked me what was wrong. I told her about the shoving and name calling, but didn't tell her what I was called. I didn't think I could. Not safely, anyway. The teacher, who was also African American, assumed it was about race, and took us all out into the hallway for a "talking to."

I didn't correct her. Would she have stood up for me otherwise? Would she have been able to? I don't know, but I'll never forget the looks on the faces of my classmates as they filed back into the classroom. I had the teacher on my side, if only on false pretenses, so they left me alone. I'm not sure what I would have faced if I hadn't had at least that pseudo support.

It was my own resourcefulness that saved me. In 6th grade, I became a library assistant, after I realized that it would get me off the playground and away from my tormentors during recess. Thus, I learned how to find my way around a library. It wasn't long after that I went to our public library and found the section on homosexuality and the book that saved my life.

That was more than 20 years ago, and evidently that's the way it was in our school district until just 5 years ago. That's the way it still is in some other school districts, like Washington state where 23% of school districts ban discussion of homosexuality. That's what people like the folks at PFOX want to take us back to. And beyond, if they can. Let's keep in mind that one focus of their objections was the "Respecting Differences" section of the curriculum, and what's at stake for LGBT youth when tolerance isn't part of the curriculum. Let's keep in mind these are the same kinds of people who oppose suicide prevention for gay youth.

And it's not just gay kids that are at risk, by the way. As this AlterNet piece points out "abstinence-only" sex-education, advocated by the same people who oppose teaching tolerance regarding homosexuality, may also be putting young women at risk. (Young heterosexual women, that is.) And don't think that's not by design because, after homos, heterosexuals are next on the fundamentalist's hit list if they don't tow the fundie's line on sexual morality. (Remember, rape, AIDS, unwanted pregnancy are not the enemy to as far as they're concerned.) If our children don't get accurate sex-education, they'll pay for it later.

The sad truth of why things stayed the way they were in Montgomery county, and are still that way in Washington state and in countless other school districts comes down to something Ed put rather well on his blog, regarding a school board objecting to a showing of An Inconvenient Truth because, "The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD." Bill says:

In my experience, a great many school boards actually have people who think like this on them. And if they don't, they have people like this they have to cater to. Either way, it is appalling to me that someone this clueless has any influence at all on what is taught in schools. Unfortunately they do, all over the country.

I know something have changed since I was in school. There's lots more information. There's the internet. There's gay people on sitcoms. There's gay/straight student alliances in some schools. But there are also kids who are in the same boat I was in, growing up a skinny, effeminate, black, gay boy. In the south. During the Reagan era.

In 2007, that just shouldn't be. And to anyone who thinks it should be, and that it's their job to make it that way, I can only echo the words of one of our board of education members. "That's okay … Bring it on."


  1. Terrance I wish I could have been there for you during those time when you having a hard time in school. Mom and Dad where not equip to handel what you where going thourgh. They did the best they could. The thing you have to remeber how mom and dad where brouth up. Mom and Dad are from the old, old, school. I whis I had stayed in contact more while I was away. I don’t know you’ll remeber but once while I was home on leave I ask if you where gay you told me no. I don’t think you were quite sure. I heard about the time dad found the books on homosexuality that you had from the libaray and you told him they were somenone elses. I feel that mom and dad knew you were gaybut they didn’t want to admit it. I have know for a long time. I knew it was a matter of time before you came out. I’m happy for you now. You have a wonderful life. I know Augusta dosen’t hold great memoriers for you. Just remember that there alot of people here that LOVE YOU. In life it’s not so much playing the hand were dealt, but HOW be play the dealt.

    Love Always

  2. I spent 13 years in the Montgomery County Public School system, from 1984 to 1997. Six of those years I shared with my best friend who lived down the street. I have only hazy memories of health class, including a time in 8th grade when we role-played (I use that term loosely) various straight and gay teenagers to understand how STIs can propagate through a social group. I remember reading about sexual orientation in my 10th grade health book, but beyond that we didn’t discuss it much — and certainly there was no mention of gender identity. I would go to the public library and look up books on ‘gender identity disorder’ but there wasn’t much there at the time. It wasn’t until the internet came along that I really began to understand what it means to be transgender — and that it could lead to a happy and healthy life. The internet really changed everything — let me meet other kids who had transitioned genders, showed me how to get hormones on my own and empower myself. And that’s how I came out as trans, soon to learn that my best friend had come out as gay.

    The great ignorance of PFOX’s argument is that we are somehow going to prevent kids from discovering this self-knowledge by hiding it from them — in the age of the internet, in the age of GSAs and openly queer friends, as if 10th graders possess no critical thinking skills of their own and will only believe what we do or do not reveal to them. It reminds me of George Lakoff’s description of the Republicans’ “strict father” worldview, where the world is full of evil that children must be protected from. Well, good luck to them; their job is only going to get harder. But from a health standpoint, this strategy goes completely against the harm-reduction approach that has proven effective in so many fields. You can’t stop people from engaging in risky behaviour, but you can teach them how to do it more safely with caution and self-awareness.

    I like to think of my time at MCPS as not nearly as negative as it might have been, but not as positive as I might imagine. MC is already a pretty progressive environment, and I wonder if the health classes that I so vaguely remember had much of an impact on me at all. It’s rather amusing, now, to see PFOX ham-handedly engaging with trans issues that used to be under-the-radar for those groups. By the time I was in 10th grade I was well aware that gender dysphoria is technically a mental disorder, as they’d like to teach us, but I was comfortable enough with myself to think of it as a gift rather than a pathology. They’d do well to have more faith in the students. They’re not exactly the innocent vessels the religious right likes to imagine them as.

  3. This is unbelievable. An institution for learning and social interaction…wants to keep to a Biblical standard (you know, back when people did’n’t know where babies came from, and the world had only four elements), in our 21st century.
    Kids are taught about autopsies (taboo back in the day too), about physiology as well as anatomy and what our pieces and parts do. Kids take Blackberry’s, the space shuttle and organ donation and racial integration for granted….BUT GOD FORBID!?!!!
    They EVER learn about homosexuality?
    That being gay is ambisexuality really. The other side of the same coin, and not a matter of morals, but natural selection too.
    And yes, you’re right T, females are kept back in the patriarchal/control worldview by PFOX’s standards.

    Religious cultures are OFFENDED by the functions of the female body. Even the SIGHT of it!
    Hence the frump, body bagging and other forms of ‘virtuous’ clothing to protect female chastity.
    As IF…
    They don’t even have faith in the intelligence and discourage compassion in young people searching for honesty from the adults.
    Kids know bullshit when they hear it. They know when their intelligence is insulted. They are kinda feral that way for the survival of the species, doncha know.

    Females and gay folks are supposed to be shadows. Unspeaking, following along, silent and without substance.
    If we don’t notice them, they aren’t there.
    It’s easier just to ignore them, if they are beyond control and cruelty.
    The straight world would prefer to teach there is inherent superiority in heterosexuality, and no merit whatsoever in homosexuality…or homosexuals.

    Same bullshit that was taught when white/male supremacy was being sold to blacks and females.
    Single characteristic discrimination and prejudice has no room for questions and education regarding the truth of that.
    There is no supremacy of one human being over another…the jury that gets no opportunity to see the evidence or doesn’t want to…is’nt allowed to render a verdict, or in no place to now, are they?
    Our children live in an exciting age, where literacy and critical thinking have accelerated the technological age by quantum leap.
    This is NO time to render 4th century values concerning gay people on this generation.
    The values of honesty, kindness, the search for information and education…will ALWAYS ring true.
    And for everyone.
    Were certain values left to the same people over all this time…
    there would still be slavery, women unable to attend college, become mentally damaged for lack of realizing their full potential.
    It IS a gift to be gay, to be not gay…the greatest gift would be to accept this as a matter of natural and symbiotic to our race’s survival together-instead of apart.

  4. You’ll be interested to read what they’re saying in Dubai about what sex ed should be used for: teaching the gay right outta you.

    In other words: there is no such thing as sex ed in schools, and there ought to be, because then we can teach them not to be gay.

    Whatta world.