State Board of Education Brings a New Anti-Sex Circus to Town
Anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ, and creationism advocates to help revise Texas public schools' sex education
The State Board of Education has anointed anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ, and creationism advocates to guide the revision of its health curriculum standards, which include sex education for Texas public schools. Though the Capitol remained calm this past session, we are poised for an unwelcome revival of the SBOE's schtick of throwing right-wing bombs into the state's classrooms. "With all of our state's world-class medical and public health institutions, it's inconceivable that board members couldn't find better qualified, less politically divisive individuals for this so-called 'experts' panel," said Kathy Miller of SBOE watchdog Texas Freedom Network. "These appointments are more about fighting the culture wars than making sure Texas students get the facts they need to make healthy and responsible decisions in their lives."
Who is on this wingnut dream team? Austin OB-GYN Mikael Love is often tapped by the state to defend its abortion laws in court and routinely testifies in favor of anti-choice bills at the Capitol. He refers to pregnant women as "host organisms" and believes abortion is only acceptable if the mother's life is in danger. Love doesn't prescribe birth control, instead opting for "natural family planning" at his practice. Another physician, Jack Lesch, is on the board of the Austin-based Medical Institute for Sexual Health, founded by an abstinence advocate who considers comprehensive sex education a failure. And Dawn Riley heads an crisis pregnancy center in Amarillo that offers "mentoring groups" instructing visitors to choose a "purity-based lifestyle/sexuality" and to reject "society's 'norms' that contradict biblical principles." Then there's Feyi Obamehinti, an unsuccessful SBOE candidate who has supported teaching creationism in science classrooms and also backed the Lege's failed 2017 "bathroom bill," an attempt to discriminate against transgender students, saying that the measure "protects all children."
The state's current health education standards and textbooks include no information about sexual orientation and gender identity, TFN notes. The textbooks adopted by the board in 2004 also don't include info on condoms, birth control, or preventing sexually transmitted infections, aside from abstinence. Texas consistently leads other states in its teen birth rate; it is currently No. 4, according to federal data.
It's the first time the SBOE will revisit state health standards in more than two decades. The board is slated to make changes this fall, on a timeline that would see new curriculum brought into classrooms for the 2022-23 school year. Appointing unqualified zealots to dictate curriculum standards is a cherished tradition at SBOE, which has put science standards in the hands of creationists and entrusted social studies to evangelicals who refuse to accept the separation of church and state. Former SBOE Chair Don McLeroy's call to the faithful to "stand up to the experts" has evidently survived to afflict a new generation of young Texans. "It's exasperating to see board members repeating the same mistakes that turned previous curriculum revisions into a political circus," said Miller. "The stakes are just too high for board members to play politics with the education and health of Texas kids. But it sure looks like they're trying to rig the process to reach a predetermined outcome."