A bill to revamp sex education classes for Colorado students initially passed the house Tuesday after a rigorous debate.
The measure aims to make instruction more culturally sensitive. The biggest update would be to add information for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, and people with disabilities
Representative Crisanta Duran (D-Denver), the main sponsor of house bill 1081 [.pdf], says Colorado’s sex education curriculum is outdated and doesn’t meet the needs of all students. “I am concerned about transmission of disease. I’m concerned that when young people engage in sex activity they can protect themselves. An abstinence only approach is not working,” said Duran.
The state currently has a patchwork approach to sex education and some school districts don’t teach the subject at all. For Representative Dominick Moreno (D- Commerce City) the bill is personal. His sister got pregnant in high school, and he’s also a gay man.
“I know from experience how lonely it can be knowing that you’re somehow different from other kids in your class and not being able to have that conversation with your parents,” he said.
Tuesday’s floor debate lasted well into the afternoon and Republicans offered a number of amendments. They want to let parents opt their children into the sex ed program instead of opt out of it. Representative Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) successfully passed an amendment to make sure sex isn’t taught in K through 3d grade.
“There’s an appropriate time, but we don’t need to be teaching sex ed to first graders. They should be learning how to read. Now you’re going to teach them how to have sex?” McNulty said.
Democrats voted for McNulty’s amendment even though they said it was unnecessary. The real crux of Republican objections centers on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender issues.
“When is it appropriate to teach homosexuality to my 7-year-old?” said Lori Saine (R- Dacono).
“Some things are offensive to some folks and the parent is best able to make that determination, absolutely,” she said.
Representative Stephen Humphrey of Windsor says the bill is also insensitive to religious families.
“The problem with this bill is that in the name of science and public health takes sides. In our state run tax payer funded public schools, this bill picks winners and losers and undermines the natural rights of parents to teach their faith values as they see fit.”
Several openly gay Democratic lawmakers expressed support for the change.
“I’m a gay mother and a gay grandmother,” said Representative Sue Schafer (D- Wheat Ridge). “I want you to know there are gay children in kindergarten, they were born that way. They didn’t get infected by anything. There are gay parents in the schools,” she said.
Supporters also point out that schools would have some flexibility on what to teach and the bill wouldn’t ban a discussion on abstinence. Participation is voluntary, but school districts would need to follow the guidelines to apply for federal grants to pay for the program.
A final vote is likely later in the week.