Luke, an electrical engineering sophomore, realized he was gay his freshman year of high school. When it came to topics such as sexually transmitted diseases, the only health resource he had was the internet. Luke said he wishes he could have learned about the existence of different sexual orientations before high school.
“It would have probably helped me realize my own sexual identity earlier because I didn’t fully (identify) as gay until I was in 11th grade,” Luke said. “Knowing that was an option earlier would have reduced the amount of time that transition took.”
On Monday, the Austin ISD Board of Trustees unanimously approved a revision to sexual education curricula for grades three through eight. New additions to the sexual education curriculum include introducing the male and female reproductive organs in third grade, as well as introducing the concept of sexual orientation and sexually transmitted diseases in fifth grade.
Several speakers Monday night made public comments in opposition to the revision. David Walls, vice president of Texas Values, a conservative advocacy group, said many Austin parents were “furious” over the “lack of transparency” and “radical nature” of the revision.
“It is not appropriate for any school district to push a sexualized agenda on elementary school children,” said Walls, an AISD parent, in an email.
Mike Parent, director of UT’s Gender, Sexuality and Behavioral Health Lab, said in his gender and sexuality course, many students from Texas high schools enter his class without adequate sexual education.
“They typically enter with … not only lack of knowledge but sometimes outright incorrect information about topics in sexuality because Texas is typically an abstinence-only state in most public schools,” Parents said. “Most of their information is only about STDs, and most of it is flat out wrong.”
A quarter of Texas school districts do not teach sexual education in any form, according to a 2015-16 study by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. The fund also found 58 percent of school districts teach abstinence-only when it comes to sex, and 17 percent of districts — including Austin — teach “Abstinence-Plus,” which includes information on how to use condoms and other forms of contraception.
UT alumnus Christopher White, who graduated in 2006, is the interim director of Widener University’s graduate program in Sexuality Education. White said LGBTQ people continue to face health inequality due to inadequate sexual education curricula.
“We continue to see higher rates of unintended pregnancy (and) STDs, including HIV, in LGBT relationships and individuals because we’re not addressing sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in a way that is helpful or useful in most sexual education programs,” White said.
Luke also said learning about different sexualities earlier would have changed his views towards gay people. He said his school encouraged heterosexuality as the norm, making it harder to come to terms with his identity.
Students will learn to identify sexual harassment in fifth grade, according to the new curriculum. Parents said students need to be introduced to the topic of personal safety in kindergarten.
“Most offensives against children, by grade five, have already occurred,” Parents said. “Children far before that need to be taught about the basic ‘bad-touch’ kind of thing … If you wait until fifth grade, you’ve missed more than half of assaults against children, which is terrible.”
Editor’s note: Luke’s last name was omitted to protect his privacy.