Silence equals death. Once a slogan for AIDS activists, today it articulates the stakes in a legislative battle over sex education in Utah's public schools. HB363, Health Education Amendments, has passed the House and Senate. Gov. Gary Herbert should veto it.
The bill is an effort to silence teachers from giving Utah teens accurate information about sex, contraceptives and homosexuality. It would even empower school districts to withdraw any education at all about human sexuality. In fact, withholding this vital information could result in death for some teenagers and undoubtedly would result in life-altering consequences for countless others, including unplanned pregnancies, STDs and even increased suicides.
Supporters of the bill want to deny Utah teens the knowledge that would assist them in making appropriate decisions, including abstinence. Unplanned parenthood will be just one consequence of purposeful ignorance about sex.
Unfortunately, more teenage pregnancies will likely lead to abortions. Silence about safer sex will do nothing to reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases among young people. The archaic and unconstitutional stigma on homosexuality will stain our community, promote the bullying of vulnerable teens, and contribute to the epidemic of suicide by gay teens.
These are some of the reasons HB363 is not only unwise, but dangerous, even immoral. The ban on information about sexuality endangers the lives of vulnerable children by prohibiting teachers from providing responses to spontaneous questions from students that might constitute "advocacy of homosexuality" or "the use of contraceptive methods or devices."
These restrictions are unconstitutionally vague and ambiguous. Would a teacher violate this mandate by confirming for a student that the use of condoms significantly reduces the risk of pregnancy and the transmission of many diseases? If a student comes out to a teacher, can the teacher express support for the student? What about counseling a student about coming out to his parents? Would that be "advocacy of homosexuality" in violation of the proposed law?
The Utah Legislature should not command its schools to pretend that contraception, pre-marital sex and homosexuality do not exist. These issues are simply facts of life, and public schools should prepare students to live in the real world by providing age-appropriate information.
Parents should also educate their children with the facts and provide a moral framework. Churches, too, have a role in instilling moral values. Unfortunately, not all parents are willing, able, or comfortable providing both factual information and moral constructs. And not all children have religious training as part of their upbringing.
All available statistics indicate that the current sex-ed curriculum is well received by the vast majority of parents. Very few parents take the steps necessary to "opt out." In fact, the current law requires "opting in" as an additional safeguard for parents who want to shield their children from the sex-ed curriculum.
The next generation deserves nothing less than the truth from our schools. Every teen whether straight or gay should be empowered with facts to make good decisions, stay healthy, pursue meaningful relationships, and enter into family life. The State of Utah should not muzzle teachers and intimidate educators from combating ignorance and counseling vulnerable teens. Silence about sex, contraception, and homosexuality will lead, sadly, to avoidable cases of disease, despair, and even death.
Again, HB363 has passed the House and the Senate and has been sent to the governor for his signature or veto. If you are concerned about young people having information to make good choices, contact the governor's office at 801-538-1000 or 800-705-2464, or email via http://www.utah.gov/governor/contact and urge him to veto the bill.
Carol Spackman Moss is a member of the Utah House of Representatives representing District 37 in Holladay.