Students taking sex education in Maryland’s Montgomery County public schools this fall won’t be discussing homosexuality, not unless a student raises a hand to ask about it–and even then, the teacher will have to keep it brief. Nor will students be watching a new video called Protect Yourself!, which uses a cucumber to demonstrate how to put on a condom. (Copies of the video now gather dust in administrative offices in Rockville, Maryland.)
In fact, students taking sex ed in Montgomery County will not see any of the new material from a curriculum unveiled last fall that might have been an alternative educational model to others, developed in this age of abstinence-only funding and national legislation to ban gay marriage. According to the new curriculum, not only was homosexuality something you could talk about, being gay could be a legitimate sexual identity. Thus, adolescent experimentation (“sex play”) with members of the same sex was “not uncommon.” And if you were the son or daughter of a gay couple, that was OK, too: The curriculum included same-sex-parent households as one of nine on a list of “types of family.” The permission-only curriculum–developed for eighth and tenth graders over three years by a twenty-seven-member Citizen’s Advisory Committee that included people from Planned Parenthood, the Daughters of the American Revolution and numerous religious groups–might not have introduced groundbreaking ideas about sex and gender, but it was a leap forward for a county whose aging curriculum combined an emphasis on abstinence with an implicit “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to homosexuality.
On November 9, 2004, the Board of Education gave its unanimous approval, scheduling the curriculum to launch in six “pilot” schools the following spring. A final version would be implemented in the fall of 2005.
The curriculum never reached the pilot stage however. No sooner had the school board given the green light than an assembly of right-wing activists formed to block it, mobilizing under the banner Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and launching a sensationalistic campaign that accused the curriculum of having a “pro-gay agenda.” Claiming it encouraged students to “self-identify as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual,” and citing what it deemed were inaccurate statistics about STDs, CRC quickly caught the attention of the right-wing Washington Times, eventually being covered by everyone from the Washington Post to Bill O’Reilly.
By spring, the county was mired in controversy. In late April it decided to remove some of the more controversial aspects of the curriculum, including the language about same-sex “sex play.” But it wasn’t enough. Days before the new curriculum was to enter classrooms, the CRC, joined by a Virginia-based group called Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), sued the school board. The central charge: “endorsing a homosexual lifestyle.”
In a stunning ruling on May 5 (the day before classes were to begin), a federal judge sided with the plaintiffs, invoking their First Amendment rights and writing, “The Revised Curriculum presents only one view on the subject–that homosexuality is a natural and morally correct lifestyle–to the exclusion of other perspectives.” A restraining order was placed on the curriculum. The Florida-based religious nonprofit–and Jerry Falwell brainchild–Liberty Council, which provided pro bono legal representation for the lawsuit, called the ruling “the most significant curriculum decision ever rendered.”