TAMPA, FLORIDA — More than 2,500 residents of Hillsborough County submitted a formal petition requesting the school district pull its sexual education curriculum due to objectionable material. The curriculum includes direct links to progressive organizations Teen Connect Tampa Bay and Amaze. HCPS is the third largest public-school district in the state and seventh largest in the nation, with more than 300 schools and 218,000 students.
Terry Kemple, founder of the Protect Our Children Project, spearheaded the challenge almost immediately after the Hillsborough County Public School (HCPS) board voted 5–2 in favor of adopting the curriculum on September 20. Several other groups in the Tampa area helped galvanize resistance efforts, including County Citizens Defending Freedom (CCDF), Mom’s For Liberty Hillsborough County, Tampa Tea Party, Embrace Life 911 and a few local churches. The petitions primarily challenged the 7th grade curriculum, listing 10 objections to the content and one regarding the opt-out form’s lack of detail in the curriculum overview for parents.
One complaint reads: “State Statutes specify abstinence be taught as the expected standard for sexual activity. Anyone reading this curriculum can plainly see that abstinence is paid lip service. All the vignettes and the role plays students are to participate in are focused on having sex. Not one [of the lessons] give any attention to the benefits that are in addition to not getting pregnant or contracting STDs.”
PUSHING THE ENVELOPE
Among the complaints, Kemple and parents feel that many of the topics presented to 12-year-olds are prematurely introduced. Lessons for 7th graders feature detailed drawings of male and female anatomy and an optional card game in which students match the sex organ with its function. Elsewhere students are introduced to the different types of sex, including oral sex, anal sex, vaginal sex and outercourse.
HCPS instructs teachers to show students the Amaze video on birth control, which informs them that they can go to a “family planning clinic such as Planned Parenthood” for access to birth control “preventing unwanted pregnancy.” The video immediately follows up a brief mention of abstinence by employing pathos over logos, stating, “Remember: it’s all about what feels right for you.”
The Amaze videos included in one of the 7th grade lessons are titled “Anatomy: Assigned Sex at Birth” which feature cartoon sketches of naked teens while underscoring the importance of distinguishing between sex and gender.
In addition to the videos, Kemple argues that the curriculum itself also introduces and normalizes gender confusion for impressionable 12-year-olds. Teachers are instructed to draw a clear distinction between biological sex and gender by giving students the disclaimer that “not all students’ gender identities will match their sexual anatomy.”
A suggested script for teachers reads: “You will notice that this lesson refers to ‘male’ and ‘female’ anatomy. We use these terms for clarity’s sake to refer to biological sex or the sex a person was assigned at birth.”
The curriculum uses role play to teach students assertive communication. Students are broken up into groups of 3 or 4 and the boys and girls practice together talking through different scenarios.
After the co-ed discussion is completed, the groups are told to send two volunteers to the front of the classroom to read from different prompts, including one that says “If you’re not willing to do it with me, then I’ll just go find someone who will.” Teachers are instructed to have students applaud the volunteers after they have finished role playing.
“This is mentally programming with rewards, same thing Weight Watchers and other people use, for a manipulation to evil,” Julie Gebhards said of the role play scenario at the September 20 HCPS board meeting. Gebhards, a regular speaker at board meetings who pulled her kids out of HCPS schools two years ago, went on to cite a survey from Barna Group conducted in 2015, which found that four out of ten students felt that “contraceptive-focused sex ed classes make sex seem like an expectation.”
TEEN CONNECT TAMPA BAY
The 7th grade curriculum also includes an assignment for students called “Teen Connect Scavenger Hunt Worksheet.” The directions instruct students to “search the [Teen Connect Tampa Bay] website to learn about sexuality and gender identity.”
Teen Connect Tampa Bay’s website provides easy access to direct links for other progressive organizations, including Planned Parenthood and over a dozen national, state and local LGBTQ advocacy groups.
The blog on the Teen Connect website includes titles such as “Why Transgender People Need Access to Healthcare.” Others celebrate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or “Project Condom,” a runway-style fashion show in which 60 percent of dresses worn had to be made of condoms. There is also an instructional blog that guides readers on how to use Plan B, also known as “the morning after pill.”
Beyond what is explicitly included in the curriculum, parents are concerned with the chosen third-party resources and the possibility they serve as a gateway for students. HCPS utilizes videos from Amaze.org and lists the entire website under “Additional Teacher Resources.”
Amaze’s YouTube channel has an array of videos covering the latest progressive talking points on sexuality and gender. Video titles include “How the Boner Grows,” “Puberty and Transgender Youth,” “How Many Times Can a Person Masturbate in One Day?,” “Does Penis Size Really Matter?” and “Females and Masturbation.” In a video about porn, the narrator states that “looking at pictures or films of naked bodies or people in sexual behaviors is perfectly normal.”
In another video called “Range of Gender Identities,” two children tell their parents at the dinner table that “Back in your day, most people understood the world in terms of just boys and girls. But now, we know gender is more complex than that.” After the father admits he’s still confused, the mother joins in, adding “That’s okay. You don’t have to fully understand someone to respect them.”
Amaze’s homepage features a video entitled “Abortion With Pills: What is it?” that promotes self-managed chemical abortions, stating that they “can give someone an important feeling of safety and of being in control of their own choices.” No mention is ever made of the developing fetus in the womb of a pregnant woman.
Other Amaze videos make statements like “There are also people who identify as non-binary. They may experience their gender identity as neither exclusively male or female, or in between, or beyond both genders.” According to Amaze, asking someone’s pronouns is “a basic sign of respect for a person’s humanity and identity.” Acceptable pronouns include “Xie, Hir or a whole host of other options.”
By listing Amaze as a trusted “resource,” with no disclaimer or warning, Kemple argues that HCPS offers a tacit endorsement of the site. Teachers are left to their own discretion in determining which videos from Amaze might be appropriate for young students, and can point to the curriculum for cover if they are caught showing one of the aforementioned videos.
SIECUS: SEX ED FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
Hillsborough County Public Schools’ curriculum is aligned with “National Sexuality Education Standards” as established by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, more commonly known by its acronym, SIECUS – which was founded in 1964. The organization’s slogan is “Sex Ed For Social Change,” revealing a deeper agenda than simply teaching teenagers about the birds and the bees.
So, what social change does SIECUS want? According to their own website, they draw parallels between sex education and a broad set of other, seemingly unrelated societal phenomena. They see sex education as a “golden opportunity to create a culture shift – tackling the misinformation, shame, and stigma that create the basis for many of today’s sexual and reproductive health and rights issues [...]” SIECUS identifies those issues as reproductive justice, LGBTQ equality, sexual violence prevention, gender equity and – perhaps a bit surprising in this context – the “dismantling of white supremacy.”
In an article on the SIECUS website, Executive Director Christine Soyong Harley writes: “[Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE)] is more than just teaching young people how to have safer sex. It’s also key to dismantling the systems of power, oppression, and misinformation that allow today’s biggest sexual and reproductive health and rights injustices to exist in the first place. CSE is LGBTQ inclusion. […] It debunks harmful gender stereotypes. And it empowers each of us to claim the right to our own bodily autonomy.”
SIECUS is supported financially by the WestWind Foundation – a nonprofit which focuses on two seemingly disparate and unrelated areas – namely to “fight climate change and improve access to reproductive healthcare.” The foundation, based in Charlottesville, Virginia, was created by venture capitalist Edward M. Miller and his wife, Janet. Their daughter, Kristi Miller Mahoney, seems to be the one who runs the foundation’s operations. Miller Mahoney is also associated with Tufts University, and she serves as program manager for another radical nonprofit with major impact on sexual education: Amaze.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Florida statute 1006.26 requires that within 30 days of receiving the petition(s), “the school board must, for all petitions timely received, conduct at least one open public hearing before an unbiased and qualified hearing officer.”
The statute goes on to state that “the hearing must provide sufficient procedural protections to allow each petitioner an adequate and fair opportunity to be heard and present evidence to the hearing officer. The school board’s decision after convening a hearing is final and not subject to further petition or review.”
Kemple said he personally delivered approximately 2,500 petitions to HCPS and believes around 200 additional petitions were submitted as well. If 2,700 speakers were each given just one minute to speak, and everyone showed up, the hearings would exceed 45 hours.
Hillsborough County Public Schools did not respond to The Florida Standard’s request for comment.