Wisconsin's push against teen sexuality

Wed. March 21, 2012 12:05 PM by Alex Sennello

Madison, WI - On Wednesday, March 14th, with a 60-34 vote along party lines, a new bill passed in Wisconsin, which could endanger students with abstinence only education devoid of any information on STI and pregnancy prevention strategies.

The author of the bill, state Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), made statements to the press saying that the previous policy did not "leave room" for the "important message" of abstinence education and that the measure was all about "healthy behavior" and "choosing a healthy lifestyle."

While not mandating abstinence only curriculums, the measure requires that abstinence until marriage be referenced to as the correct way to be sexually healthy, and removes the language of the previous policy which required schools to inform students of contraceptive methods and sexual barriers.

Essentially, Wisconsin schools are now required to teach abstinence ideals and basic mechanics, but are given the choice of whether or not they want to deny students potentially lifesaving information like how to use condoms and dental dams to prevent HIV transmission with future partners.

This bill, which would join Wisconsin with about a dozen other states which permit abstinence only curriculums that do not cover sexual barriers or information on sexually transmitted diseases, was introduced to the legislature in response to a 2010 Democrat sponsored bill which required all Wisconsin public schools to cover information on safe sex.

The policy contradicts medical and statistical information on the subject. Milwaukee schools began teaching about contraceptives and sexual barriers in 2008 and subsequently, teen birth rates fell from 46.73 per 1000 in 2008 to 35.7 per 1000 in 2010.

This is only one of many events in a string of attacks against youth health and sexuality; Tennessee is currently considering adopting a bill sponsored by the same individuals behind the "Don't Say Gay Bill" which, if enacted, would prohibit conversations on queer subjects in schools, which would sanction fines against health educators who as much as condoned sexual activity outside of marriage.

Similarly, Utah was poised to pass a bill which would completely ban the teaching of anything but abstinence education and the discussions of homosexual relationships, the measure passed both Utah's house and senate before being struck down by veto on March 16th, 2011.

Critics argue that leaving students in the dark, abstinence only education contains additional risks to queer youth as they face a substantially higher risk for both unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections than their majority counterparts.

Even if abstinence until marriage curriculums had statistical and logical bases to stand on, the lessons would still remain exclusionary and dangerous to the majority queer youth as most states, more frequently the more conservative ones that favor abstinence education, do not recognize same sex marriages as being legally valid.

Legislation like Tennessee's recently stalled "Don't Say Gay Bill" and the vetoed Utah push to teach abstinence only curriculum in all public schools would, if passed, remove all chances of queer students from learning the vital information that is unique to their needs as sexual and gender minority persons.

A number of other states, including Illinois, have policies that explicitly or implicitly express that heterosexual marriages should be treated with specific reverence, or that heterosexuality should be treated as the expected norm.

However, most existing legislation completely ignores queer related subject matter, and as a result of this, things like factual information on sexual and gender identity that could help both majority and minority youth are only covered in a small fraction of public institutions -- transforming life saving sexual education from being a right by all young people to a heterosexual and cisgender privilege.

Article by Alex Sennello, a GoPride.com contributing youth journalist. ChicagoPride.com and the GoPride.com Network welcomes contributions by community journalists. Contact the editor for more information.