We know that sex education works — providing people with essential information on their health, bodies, relationships, sexuality and more. Nonetheless, some state and local elected officials have used their power in recent months to intimidate educators and school officials to restrict this necessary instruction.
In some cases politicians are even working to entirely block students’ access to resources on STIs, abortion, LGBTQ+ lives, and other sex education.
School officials caught in this political crossfire have endured public anger and threats. In some cases, politicians have even made surreal calls for prosecution against them, as if it were criminal to provide evidence-based sex education programs and to give students access to certain long-approved textbooks and library materials.
These attacks have increased in recent months around the country:
In Texas, avowed abortion opponent Gov. Greg Abbott smeared two books available in school libraries — a graphic novel about gender identity and a memoir of abuse in a same-sex relationship — as “pornography” and ordered education officials to refer “any instance [of those or similar materials] being provided to minors … for prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.”
Another Texas politician, State Rep. Matt Krause, launched an investigation into school textbooks and library materials on “human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases … [and] sexually explicit images.” Rep. Krause directed schools to report the possession of any of more than 800 titles — including nearly a dozen books about Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made access to safe and legal abortion a constitutional right.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster lashed out because one public school had a copy of the book ‘Gender Queer: A Memoir’ — a title also smeared by Abbott in Texas. Gov. McMaster commanded state police to investigate whether “sexually explicit materials of this nature” had put educators in violation of state law.
An Ohio mayor called for the indictment of every member of his town’s school board. While demanding board members’ resignation, the mayor baselessly condemned a book used in a high-school class for college credit — ‘642 Things to Write About' — as “essentially child pornography.”
A sheriff’s department in Campbell County, Wyoming, referred local library staffers to county prosecutors after residents objected to sex education books shelved in the teen and youth sections. Prosecutors refused, after investigating, to file charges. Among the titles were books on LGBTQ+ lives — such as ‘This Book Is Gay’ by Juno Dawson — and materials such as ‘How Do You Make a Baby?’ and ‘Sex Is a Funny Word.’
Lawmakers in Florida have enacted a law that aims to suppress discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary schools. The law — which some lawmakers opposed to it say could even silence students with LGBTQ+ parents from discussing their families — would make school districts that are suspected of violating it subject to lawsuits by parents for monetary damages.
Who’s responsible for these attacks? Some of the blame goes to politicians who oppose sex education — and to media organizations that have spread lurid, false narratives about books in school libraries.
Pictured above and below: Examples of some of the lurid bombast about sex education in right-wing media outlets.
Many of the politicians taking broadsides at sex education, despite its value in helping young people acquire the knowledge they need to have healthy relationships and prevent STIs and unplanned pregnancies, have also worked to block access to safe and legal abortion. Texas State Rep. Matt Krause — who is targeting over 800 books in school libraries — co-sponsored S.B. 8, the law that has ended access to legal abortion in Texas after six weeks of pregnancy. The state’s governor, Greg Abbott, signed S.B. 8 into law, causing widespread chaos and harm to Texans. In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster signed a six-week abortion ban into law in 2021, attempting to block access to abortion at a point before many people know they’re pregnant.
Why would politicians harm the health and well-being of their constituents by undermining sex education? We’ll discuss this in a follow-up post, along with what you can do to fight back.