Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sex education fuelling culture wars in US



Sex education fuelling culture wars in US

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A man waves a rainbow flag as he rides by the US Supreme Court which released a decision that says federal law protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination in Washington,DC. AFP

Sex education fuelling culture wars in US

Swelling mobilisation by US conservatives over what is taught in schools has led several states to push for new curbs on what educators can discuss related to sexual and gender identity – opening yet another front in the country’s rolling culture wars.

Schools have increasingly become flashpoints for political confrontation in the US, with heated standoffs throughout the pandemic over masking policies, and regular flare-ups over sensitive questions of race, history and sexuality.

The most recent battle is playing out in Florida, where a bill that passed a key hurdle in the Senate Tuesday would ban teachers from discussing questions of gender identity or sexual orientation with students below a certain age.

Derided by its opponents as the “Don’t say gay” bill, it has the backing of Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for president in the next election.

Groups from the local level up have condemned the bill as anti-LGBTQ, while the White House weighed in Tuesday by vowing to protect students from such “harmful” legislation.

“Across the country, we’re seeing Republican leaders take actions to regulate what students can or cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and most troubling, who they can or cannot be,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

Republicans say they too are motivated by a desire to protect children – from subjects they believe to be inappropriate for a young age.

But Brandon Wolf, press secretary of the non-profit Equality Florida, believes that by framing these questions in such a way, the new law would harm children beginning to identify as LGBTQ, by suggesting that “just by their existence, they are inappropriate”.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Swelling mobilisation by US conservatives over what is taught in schools has led several states to push for new curbs on what educators can discuss related to sexual and gender identity. AFP

“This will kill kids,” warned Chasten Buttigieg, the husband of Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, in a tweet directed at Governor DeSantis.

Buttigieg cited a survey from the Trevor Project indicating that 42 per cent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide last year, asking: “Now they can’t talk to their teachers?”

Natasha Poulopoulos, a pediatric psychologist in Miami, makes the case that being able to discuss sex and gender issues “in a safe and open space is actually reducing suicide attempts.”

“It’s not to encourage kids to be talking about sexual activity,” she says, but rather have them “reflect on what they feel internally and who they may be attracted to”, and that “it’s okay to talk about these things”.

Parents’ rights

On the other side of the debate, Tina Descovich, co-founder of Moms for Liberty, a group that supports the Florida bill, denies it amounts to “discrimination”.

“It is allowing parents to raise their children.”

Descovich cited the example of a woman whose 13-year-old had met with school counselors about their gender identity without notifying her, including to decide “which restroom she was going to use”.

“We think that is wrong,” Descovich said.

“I think that that is a discussion for the home, and I think there’s age appropriate discussions,” she added.

Sign of the tensions around the issue, a California mother named Jessica Konen has sued her local school district, arguing that two teachers encouraged her daughter, then in sixth grade, to use a male name and pronouns without discussing the issue with her.

The California Teachers Association, which refused to discuss specifics of the lawsuit, noted that it is “concerned about a political climate right now in which outside political forces fuel chaos and misinformation and seek to divide parents, educators and school communities”.

Recruited

Bills similar to the Florida measure have been introduced across the country.

In southwestern Arizona, teachers would be required to tell parents if their child brings up their gender identity.

In midwestern Indiana, a bill would make schools ask parents’ permission before discussing sexual orientation or transgender issues.

In the central state of Oklahoma, proposed legislation seeks to ban school library books focused on “sexual preferences” or “gender identity”.

Activists have seen this playbook before: In the late 1980s, after sex-ed courses were updated to address the HIV epidemic, similar legislation spread across the country, out of fear children would be “recruited into homosexuality”, recalls Clifford Rosky, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Utah.

Despite a trend in recent years of repealing such laws, Rosky says, they remain in place in six states including Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.

In Florida itself, meanwhile, the law today is clear: schools are instructed to teach “the benefits of monogamous heterosexual marriage.”

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Education’ a priority traffic-law penalty

    A top National Police official on June 21 neither rejected nor confirmed the authenticity of a leaked audio message, which has gone viral on social media, on a waiver of fines for a number of road traffic-related offences. General Him Yan, deputy National Police chief in

  • Siem Reap’s $18M zoo said to educate public, help wildlife

    Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium Co Ltd has invested $18 million in a zoo in Siem Reap province, which will be opened in October to educate and promote animal conservation as well as attract national and international tourists. Currently, the Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium is building the

  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • Chinese firms unveil preliminary results on metro, monorail for capital

    Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol and representatives from China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and its parent company, the state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC), met on June 24 for talks on results of the firms’ preliminary study on a potential metro

  • ACLEDA, WU to enable global money transfers

    Cambodia's largest commercial bank by total assets ACLEDA Bank Plc and global money transfer firm Western Union (WU) have partnered to offer customers cross-border money transfers to 200 countries via “ACLEDA mobile” app. In Channy, president and group managing director of ACLEDA, said the June 22 agreement

  • Aeon, Micromax partner again for third mall

    AEON Mall (Cambodia) Co Ltd and a locally-owned Micromax Co Ltd have entered into a partnership agreement to develop fibre optic infrastructure for $200 million Aeon Mall 3, which is expected to be opened in 2023. The agreement was signed on June 20 between Masayuki Tsuboya, managing director of