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Teens rally for sex education

Published March 6, 2010 5:24 pm

Politics » Student organized rally after bill failed in committee
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Jennifer Trujillo didn't think she could get pregnant the first time she had sex.

But that's what happened when she was only 16. It wasn't until she transferred to an alternative school for young mothers that she was shown a detailed sex education film.

"If I had seen that film when I was in regular school, it never would have happened," said Trujillo, now 29.

Stories such as Trujillo's are the reason more than 100 students and parents marched Saturday through downtown Salt Lake City to the Capitol. There, they delivered letters to lawmakers, urging them to consider changing sex education in Utah. West High School senior Emma Waitzman organized the rally after a Senate committee refused to hear a sex education bill.

The bill would have clarified state law to help teachers understand they are allowed to teach about contraception. Now, some teachers avoid the topic out of fear of accidentally breaking state law, which prohibits "the advocacy or encouragement" of contraception. The bill also would have directed the State Office of Education to develop materials on contraception for teachers to use and would have made those materials available for parents to review.

Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, the state PTA, the Planned Parenthood Action Council and others worked on the bill, but ultimately no one on the Senate Education Committee was willing to make a motion to consider it.

"Obviously, there are a lot of people for it, and the senators didn't listen to us at all, so now we're forcing them to listen," Waitzman said. "If the legislators don't listen to the public after this, then they just don't represent the people."

After the committee meeting, several senators said they couldn't support the bill for various reasons. Committee chair Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, said he didn't see a need to change sex education in Utah saying, "The data, the outcomes that currently we see in Utah compared to other states that have a much different view of high school sex education, Utah's doing pretty well."

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said after that meeting he didn't think classrooms were the place for such instruction and he'd rather see such courses offered online.

But the teens and parents who marched to the Capitol had a much different take. They wore blue T-shirts proclaiming "Right to Know" on the front, and "Sex Ed" and a list of sponsors on the back. They carried signs saying "Teach me! I want to know," and "Knowledge is power." They ate sugar cookies and cupcakes decorated with the names of sexually transmitted diseases and phrases such as "health" and "sex ed" in frosting.

As they marched up State Street from Library Square to the Capitol, they chanted "What do we want? Sex education. When do we want it? Now," and "One, two, three, four, ignorance no more." Passing drivers honked in support.

Many of the teens heard about the rally through word of mouth, text messages and Facebook.

"I think this is one of the most important subjects we could learn," said Narnia Brockman, a sophomore at the Academy for Math, Engineering and Science. "If it's not going to be taught in the home it needs to be taught somewhere."

Renee Widdison, a University of Utah senior, said it's a "tragedy" that students don't learn more in high school.

"The leaders of the state are living in a fantasy world where no one has sex until they're married and then they get married and know everything they need to know," Widdison said.

Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Holladay, created a bill similar to Urquhart's but said he doesn't plan to push it forward this session.

"We ran into a stone wall in the Senate and there really wasn't any appetite to debate this over in the House," he said Saturday. Instead, he said he hopes to work with the State Office of Education to clarify the curriculum and might bring the bill back next year.

Still, the teens said they're committed to the cause.

Though Trujillo didn't march with the group -- she just happened to run into them while visiting the library -- she told her story to Waitzman and commended the group for taking a stand on behalf of teens who wish they knew more.

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Where does sex education legislation stand now?

Neither Sen. Stephen Urquhart nor Rep. Lynn Hemingway plan to push their bills to clarify sex education any further this session. Hemingway, however, said he'll likely try to work with state education leaders to clarify the curriculum.