Dear Dr. Cruz,
I was disappointed to receive a letter from Dr. Goodnow stating that despite an overwhelmingly favorable vote on the SHAC Health Subcommittee’s recommendation to move forward with the proposed revised human sexuality and responsibility curriculum, there will be a one-year delay in implementing this curriculum.
I was at the June 6th SHAC meeting where the proposal was presented and have been at almost every SHAC meeting during the 2017-18 school year. During the public comment period of each of these meetings, I have used my two minutes to share my support, as well as the support of the almost 1,000 members of the Informed Parents of Austin Group, for comprehensive sex education that is inclusive of the needs of LGBTQ students.
During those public comment periods I have also listened to the comments from “Concerned Parents of Austin” (CPA) attendees who oppose comprehensive sex-ed and LGBTQ inclusion programs.
The CPA group is affiliated of Mass Resistance Texas, an extremist anti-LGBTQ group which tries to brand itself as “pro-family.” The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Mass Resistance Texas as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. They have spent the past year fighting the bathroom bill, working to remove Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools Program from AISD schools, and protesting libraries that carry books with even the slightest reference to LGBTQ topics. Their representatives have also made it their mission to fight LGBTQ inclusion programs in Texas schools.
The materials that the Concerned Parents group have distributed at the SHAC meetings I have attended come from three extremist groups.
- Family Watch International (FWI): The Southern Poverty Law Center has also labeled FWI as an extremist/hate group: “Family Watch International works within the United Nations and with countries around the world to further anti-LGBT and anti-choice stances. Founder Sharon Slater promotes anti-LGBT pseudoscience that includes the falsehood that homosexuality is a mental disorder derived from childhood trauma, and that so-called “conversion therapy” can effectively eliminate same-sex attraction.”
- The Medical Institute: The CPA also handed out brochures intended to “educate” kids about why condoms don’t work, which were developed by Medical Institute, based in Austin, TX. According to an article in The Nation, “The newly renamed Medical Institute (formerly known as the Medical Institute of Sexual Health), for example, touts itself as being founded to confront the global epidemics of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections…Although this may sound innocuous, the Medical Institute is a hard-core abstinence-only organization. Its advisory board reads like a Who’s Who of purity pushers. Even W. David Hager–a former Bush appointee to the FDA’s advisory board on reproductive health, who suggested prayer as a cure for PMS and whose ex-wife alleged in The Nation that he had repeatedly raped her [“Dr. Hager’s Family Values,” May 30, 2005]–is listed.” You can find additional information about The Medical Institute’s spread of misinformation in this article from Slate.com.
- The Institute for Research and Evaluation: CPA also quote extensively from “The Institute for Research and Evaluation” a group which is dedicated to removing comprehensive sex-ed programs in favor of abstinence only programs. One of their clients is LifeGuard, an Austin based “sex-education” provider.
According to your Strategic Plan for 2015-2020, the top three AISD values are:
- Whole Child, Every Child
- Physical, social, and emotional health, and safety
- Equity, diversity, and inclusion
The Concerned Parents group and any group with the mission of promoting the idea that gender is binary and that LGBTQ students, parents and staff are unnatural and immoral are completely at odds with these values. Human sexuality curriculum that does not cover the unique needs and issues of LGBTQ students further isolates these students, putting them at even higher risk for low attendance and higher risk for suicide. It also results in another generation of cisgender students who lack awareness and understanding for their LGBTQ classmates.
In addition to the LGBTQ students who will suffer from this one-year delay in receiving medically accurate, comprehensive human sexuality instruction, all AISD students are at risk of and additional year of increased rates of sexual abuse, not understanding their own power of consent, or taking part in unsafe sexual activity which results in a sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy.
I understand that you have to balance the input of parents with the needs of students, but I’m also confident that you will come out of this one-year comment period knowing the same thing you already know: there is a group of vocal people who believe that giving students the tools and language to understand their own bodies will damage their innocence. There are also groups of people who believe those who are LGBTQ are immoral or unnatural. A one-year delay will not change either of these things. Collecting the input from these groups over the course of the next year will not give you any information you do not already have.
Parents like me look to AISD leadership and AISD committees like the SHAC board to compile all of the most recent and accurate research to help guide curriculum decisions that benefit the entire AISD student body. Parental input is important, but a vocal minority should not supersede the advice from the subject-matter experts who understand the importance of human sexuality education.
I am disappointed that in this instance, AISD leadership did not lead from a place of those first three values of your mission, especially around students’ health and safety as well as diversity and inclusion.
Informed Parents of Austin
Note: I started writing this letter to AISD’s District Superintendent, Dr. Cruz after receiving a letter from Dr. Goodnow, Associate Superintendent of Academics and Social & Emotional Learning for AISD, informing me that AISD will be delaying the implementation of its new, comprehensive, human sexuality curriculum by a year. (Letter shown below.)
I’m sharing it here because I want to ensure that in addition to Dr. Cruz, other parents are also aware of the campaign of misinformation and hate around this topic. Although there are parents and teachers with legitimate questions about AISD’s proposed human sexuality curriculum, there is also a larger, organized, very vocal group, (many of whom do not even live in Austin,) who are working hard to ensure that students do not have access to scientifically accurate information about their bodies, their health or their sexuality, especially if those students are LGBTQ.
If you would like to show your support for comprehensive human sexuality education and programs that support the needs of LGBTQ students and families, you can contact:
Dr. Cruz: firstname.lastname@example.org
Social & Emotional Learning: Dr. Goodnow: email@example.com
School Health Advisory Council: firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com
Director of Academics: firstname.lastname@example.org
Board of Trustees: email@example.com