SB5, DOMA & Prop 8- SHUT DOWN!

Today has been one of the most memorable Wednesdays for legislative victories in my arena, ever! I honestly do not remember a time when we’ve had so much good news about such bad legislation. Not only have we had a citizen filibuster shut down an outrageous abortion law in Texas, the Supreme court made MAJOR rulings in favor of marriage equality. This sexuality educator is thrilled! (Although maybe it would have been better spread out, so we can relish the wins over time. But I’ll take it any way I can!)

SB5

Senator Wendy Davis answers questions from Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, with major support from her fellow Democrats Leticia Van de Putte, Senator Kirk Watson, Senator Royce West and Senator Rodney Ellis (read more about the power players in the filibuster), led the charge against some abhorrent TRAP laws that would have imposed unnecessary regulations on Texas abortion clinics, thus forcing the closure of all but 5 in the entire state. The bill would also ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Her inspirational filibuster prevented the vote on what would have been a sure-fire pass on SB5. The Twitterverse was AFIRE with supporters (and a few dissenters), proclaiming that they #standwithwendy in her awesome pink sneakers.

Supporters of Wendy Davis, in orange, filled the Senate building.

Although, not as vocal as the protesters/supporters that were AT the senate. At about 11:48pm (CT), the crowd started cheering so loudly, it delayed the vote until after the 12am deadline. Lt Governor David Dewhurst called for a vote anyways, which kept supporters (and Wendy Davis) on their toes, but it was eventually deemed invalid due to the fact it was taken after the deadline. Want a great recap of the day, including memes and tweets? Check out Buzzfeed’s post, The Internet Celebrates Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’ Filibuster. A more journalistic approach can be found on my ever-fave, Huffington Post.

DOMA

Since March, the Human Rights Campaign has led the charge raising awareness about the DOMA Sumpreme Court rulings.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law in 1996 by good ‘ole President Clinton, has been a MAJOR barrier for achieving marriage equality. The law basically said that one state did not have to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. In the case United States v. Windsor, Windsor sued the government after being charged estate tax on her partner, Spyer’s, property, which should would not have to do if their marriage was legally recognized. From here, the tale is tough for this not-so-much-a-lawyer sexuality educator to tell, so I recommend the Washington Post’s rundown on what you need to know about the case. What’s especially outstanding about this ruling, is the strong language used in the majority  opinion issued by Justice Anthony Kennedy…

The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity…By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

It is such a relief to see a Justice of the United States Supreme Court uphold the value of human rights. Suzanne Goldberg’s got it right in her post, that the real victory here is “the direct, clear way that the Court seems to understand why DOMA is such an egregious violation of the constitution’s equality guarantee under the Fifth Amendment.”

Prop 8

The Supreme Court also ruled on the 2008 California ballet measure, Proposition 8, which created a state constitutional amendment declaring that marriage is only between a man and a woman. In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the court ruled that they will not make a ruling, and the case will be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. What does that mean? The ruling in the Lower Court of Appeals stands, and same-sex marriage is back ON in CA. Again, I will admit my non-lawyer status (although my mom DID tell me to think about law school! yeah right, that legalese makes me dizzy) and direct you to the Huffington Post for more details on the legal process involved.

What does all this mean for fearless sexuality educators like myself?

One thing is that HOPE springs eternal. We so often do this work amidst setbacks, institutional barriers, and the FEAR that what we do is for naught. But days like today help us maintain our strength, and remind us to be steadfast and vocal for what we believe in. If we don our orange, stand up against injustice, and speak up for what we believe in, we can accomplish our goals.

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Beware “Gateway Sexual Activity”!!

On Friday, May 11th, Governer Haslem of Tennessee signed legislation preventing teachers from condoning “gateway sexual activity”.  Although it is unclear how this will actually play out on the ground, it seems like the open and honest discussion of really any sexual activity will be shut down completely in Tennessee classrooms. These so-called gateway activities include touching genitals, oral and anal sex, although some have gone so far as implying that holding hands and kissing will also be outlawed from conversations.

If you know me at all, you know I clearly object to this legislation on every level.  Why, you may ask? Just a few, gut reactions:

  • Limiting conversations will limit learning.
  • The more restrictions a teacher has on what they can/cannot say, the less comfortable they are teaching, and the more the students will learn that sexuality is something you cannot discuss.
  • This legislation has FEAR written all over it…”be afraid of going too far, because you can’t control yourself!!”  We should be teaching that everyone has a choice to be in control of themselves…let’s teach responsibility and how to make informed decisions, not ‘don’t do this because it’s dangerous and scary’.
  • Teachers should not be in the business of condoning in the first place- they should be providing information about what happens (or could happen) in real life and helping students develop skills on how to respond in effective ways.  It’s not about “you should do x,y,z”, it’s about “How will you decide?”
  • Talking about something in a classroom doesn’t mean a teacher condones it.  If so, we’d need to stop teaching about slavery and genocide. Just because a sexuality educator describes what oral sex is, the risks involved and how those risks can be reduced does not mean he/she wants all the students to go out and have oral sex as a homework assignment!!
  • And seriously, isn’t it 2012?

So, what do teachers in Tennessee do, now that this restriction will be in place?

  • The problem seems to be with the ‘condoning’ part, so be extra mindful of how you frame your messages.  If you never tell a student what they should do, you can’t be accused of condoning anything!
  • You might find yourself asking even MORE questions to the students, to keep the learning very student-driven.
  • Provide direction on how to find resources independently- instruct students on qualities of a good resource.
  • Have a frank conversation with your administrator about how this legislation will affect your classroom.
  • Identify acceptable messages, and see how you can align all of your lessons with those messages.
  • Hold a meeting with parents before sex ed starts…best put your approach out there!  And remind parents that THEY are the primary sexuality educators of their children, and encourage them to engage in regular conversations about relationships and sexuality.
  • Pray that the legislation will be shot down!!!!