Adults scarred by sex ed website April 27, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Health.
Tags: abortion, adolesence, language, mariatalks, roger hollander, sex education, slang, teen age, tracy clark-flory
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Alarmed lawmakers are trying to shutter MariaTalks.org for its crude teen slang. Who are they protecting, exactly?
I could not visit MariaTalks.com fast enough when I heard that Massachusetts lawmakers were calling for the state-funded sex education website to be shut down over its use of vulgar language. “The language that is used on this site is disgusting,” said Representative Elizabeth Poirier. “There are words that I would find difficult to speak.” State Rep. Marc Lombardo added, “This website uses inappropriate and crude language to describe sexual acts.” Oh goody, I thought. I’m usually amused by examples of the frank sex talk that disturbs full-blown adults — but in this case the offensive language thoroughly disappointed.
The site, which is run by the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, centers on the fictional character Maria, an 18-year-old who dispenses sexual health information in teen-speak with the help of her aunt who is an OB/GYN. Maria has a diverse group of friends who accurately reflect the range of teenage experience that you see in the real world: Some are abstinent, some are sexually active; some are gay, some are straight; some have protected sex, some do not. The edgiest language can be found in a section of the website that explains various sexual acts in technical terms, alongside the slang translation kids are more likely to have heard. It’s a sweet, albeit sometimes awkward, adult attempt at “speaking their language.” For example: “digital sex” (“fingering/hand job”), “cunnilingus” (“going down on her”), “clitoris” (“clit”), “fellatio” (“giving head” or giving a “blow job”), “erection” (“hard-on”),” “anal sex” (“butt sex”), “anus” (“rectum” or “butthole”). Yes, they said “butthole” — I hope no one needs a paper bag to hyperventilate into.
The other issue that triggered local politicos’ protest is, of course, abortion. The site acknowledges that termination is an option for pregnant young women and that abortions are “safe and effective” — all of which is without a doubt factually correct. Before abortion is even mentioned, though, adoption and parenthood are listed as options — and yet state Rep. Colleen Garry calls it part of “a blatant agenda by the liberal part of our society to introduce children to sex and give them the opportunity to have an abortion without their parents’ involvement.” You know us liberals, we just can’t wait to pressure teenagers into having sex and to corrupt their innocent ears with “disgusting,” “inappropriate and crude” sexual slang.
This is one of those cases that reveal just how profoundly the war over sex education is influenced by adult fears of sex. Teenagers aren’t the issue here — they’re the ones generating this apparently horrifying slang, after all — but rather the alleged grownups who want to stick their fingers in their ears, hum a pleasant little tune and protect themselves from the scary and complex reality of human desire. When I read Rep. Poirier’s remark that “there are words that I would find difficult to speak,” I genuinely and affectionately think: Poor darling, if only your youthful curiosity had been met with support — and awkward adult attempts at speaking your language — instead of shame and reproach.
Can California gays make it legal? March 5, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights.
Tags: California, constitutional law, dennis herrera, Gavin Newsom, gay marriage, gay rights, harvey milk, human rights, lesbian rights, marriage equality, minority rights, proposition 8, roger hollander, same-sex marriage, san francisco, tracy clark-flory, tyranny of the majority
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AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez Helen Zia, right, and Lia Shigemura are married by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera at City Hall in San Francisco on June 17, 2008.
Attorney Dennis Herrera explains why he’s confident he can convince the Golden State to send Proposition 8, the ban on gay marriage, packing.
By Tracy Clark-Flory, www.salon.com, March 5, 2009
March 5, 2009 | SAN FRANCISCO — It’s time to pop the big question: Will California marry gay couples? That’s the proposal the state Supreme Court will consider on Thursday, when arguments begin against Proposition 8, the recently passed measure that outlawed same-sex marriage, just months after it was legalized.
No one’s done more to spur the court to say “I do” than San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. The 46-year-old doesn’t exactly have the “it” factor of the city’s celebrity mayor, Gavin Newsom, who kicked off the city’s wedding spree five years ago. But Herrera, with his blunt features and everyday mannerisms, is a bit like the wizard behind the curtain, pulling the legal levers to keep this political show going.
When San Francisco was ordered in 2004 to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Herrera immediately hit back with a historic lawsuit against the state. In the years since, he’s led the charge of a legal battle that seemed to be won in May 2008 when the state Supreme Court decided to overturn the ban on gay marriage. But then Proposition 8 made it to the November ballot and passed with 52 percent of the vote. Herrera, among many others, brought a suit against the measure, arguing that it shouldn’t have made it to the ballot in the first place.
He recently spoke with Salon in his stately office overlooking City Hall’s front steps, which have hosted thousands of same-sex newlyweds, about the significance of this high-court decision.
What are the key arguments that will be made in the legal challenge to Proposition 8?
Well, for us, it’s really quite simple. We’re saying that the process for putting Prop. 8 on the ballot was fundamentally flawed; the proper procedure was not a constitutional “amendment” but a constitutional “revision.” For the electorate to change the nature of the equal protections clause of the California Constitution, it would require a constitutional revision. That means that you need a two-thirds vote of the Legislature before you can even put it on the ballot — that’s not what happened in November. Prop. 8 was instead treated as a constitutional amendment and brought directly to the voters.
Prop. 8 also drastically altered the structure of state government; it stopped the courts from applying the equal protection clause of the California Constitution to a protected class of citizens, those being gay folks.
How is it even up for debate whether Proposition 8 should have required a constitutional revision, when the Supreme Court ruled in May that marriage is a fundamental right?
There isn’t a heck of a lot of case law on what constitutes a revision versus an amendment in California. But, because there is a fundamental right at issue that involves a protected class of citizens, we’re saying you can’t make these changes through the amendment process.
What is the strongest argument Proposition 8 backers have against you?
There isn’t a lot of jurisprudence in this area. What they have been saying all along is, “Oh, well, this goes against the will of the voters.” That’s a politically attractive argument, but it ignores that we have a representative democracy, not a direct democracy. The courts are empowered to make determinations about who’s entitled to constitutional protections and, sometimes, they are called upon to ensure that the minority is free from the tyranny of the majority.
If the court doesn’t strike down Proposition 8, should we worry that any minority right could be taken away by a simple majority of voters?
Yes, it’s a distinct possibility. If the courts aren’t allowed to be the arbiters of what equal protection under the law means, what do our constitutional guarantees mean? In that case, any politically disfavored group in the future — women or other minority groups — could have their rights taken away by an adroit and effective political campaign. I don’t think that was what was envisioned when we created our constitution in California.
What would a loss in this case mean for the 18,000 couples who married during the four months gay marriage was legal in the state?
The court will most likely render an opinion on that. It’s our position that there’s no language in Prop. 8 that says it was retroactive, so those marriages are valid.
What did you think about the racially charged finger-pointing after the measure passed?
Obviously, I was disappointed that it passed and I know there has been finger-pointing at a variety of groups, but I like to look at how far we’ve come. Tremendous strides have been made both legally and politically, in terms of educating folks about the issue of marriage equality. That was reflected in the fact that the vote on Prop. 8 was so close.
Do you think the popularity of the film “Milk,” and its recent Oscar wins, has changed public opinion about gay marriage?
Real-life examples educate people. The progress that’s been made over this last decade has largely been thanks to introducing people to individuals that they know, in their family or their neighborhood, who are gay and just want the opportunity to be in a recognized relationship with the person that they love.
The legal back-and-forth over gay marriage has spanned five years now. Will it ever end?
With respect to this case, we’ve only made state law claims — so, what the Supreme Court says here will be the definitive word. That’s not to speak to what happens in other jurisdictions across the country or any federal claims that are raised.
Some might say that, as a straight Catholic, you’re a somewhat unlikely advocate for same-sex marriage. How is it that you’ve become such a dogged defender of gay rights?
Oh, I just think it comes down to my being a believer in equality. The extension of that is ensuring equality for a whole class of citizens that have been denied it for much too long. If you’re a lawyer who believes in the rule of law and civil rights, I don’t see how you can respond any other way.
I was probably involved in this issue before I even realized it. The year before we directly dealt with the issue of marriage equality, my office led the charge to extend the title of spouse to same sex couples with respect to property tax reassessments after the death of a domestic partner. That was the issue right there and we didn’t even realize it at the time.
Has being an outsider to the gay community helped your mission?
It might be that seeing gay marriage defended by a straight married man led some straight people to look at the issue more closely. If that’s true, I’m happy to have served that purpose.
Mayor Newsom was criticized for so radically tackling the issue the way he did in 2004. Could he have taken a better approach?
I’m not going to criticize his approach. It certainly got people focused on the issue and has been complementary to what I’ve done on the legal side; they were mutually reinforcing.
On that note, hours after San Francisco was forced to stop issuing marriage licenses, you filed a lawsuit against the state — but your job certainly didn’t require you to. Why did you decide to keep fighting this legal battle?
Because I knew that it was the only way we were going to get the issue dealt with. We had the lawsuit ready, because I knew the court wasn’t going to get to the heart of the issue. We were already involved in it; if you go to battle, you better be prepared to take the fight to its logical conclusion.
Did you have any idea that the battle would go on for so long, though?
Did I think we’d be sitting here five years later? Probably not. But the wheels of justice sometimes grind slowly.
Can you predict an outcome in this case?
I never do that. But I’m confident that we have a very strong argument. When you look at the concept of constitutional protections and what the courts have traditionally been empowered to do, I don’t see how you can come up with any other decision than in our favor.
What’s your next move if the court doesn’t strike down Proposition 8?
I don’t know at this point. We’ll review our options, consult with our partners who have been involved in this legal battle alongside us for the past five years, and then we’ll make the decision that we have to make. But I’m confident that justice is on our side and that we’ll have this dealt with once and for all.
Texas: The state of sex (mis)education February 27, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Education.
Tags: abstinence, abstinence only, Children and teens, condoms, education, gender stereotypes, health, politics, pre-marital sex, roger hollander, Sex and relationships, sex education, sexual orientation, stds, suicide, texas, texas education, tracy clark-flory
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I wish this were a bad joke — the unfair caricature of Texas that you might see on a Prius’ bumper sticker — but it isn’t: a whopping 94 percent of school districts in the lone star state teach only abstinence, according to a new report. Worse yet, the review by two professors at Texas State University found that “sexuality education materials” used in the state “regularly contain factual errors and perpetuate lies and distortions about condoms and STDs.” They also found that classes promoted gender stereotypes, sexual orientation biases, shame and fear. Oh, what fun!
Disturbing as they may be, those top-line summaries of the findings are nothing compared to excerpts included in the report (PDF) from actual teaching materials. Suicide is a favorite scare-tactic: One program predicts non-virginal students’ miserable future, “You know people talk about you behind your back because you’ve had sex with so many people … Finally you get sick of it all and attempt suicide.” There are fun skits about suicide, too. In one, titled “Jumping Off the Bridge,” the moral of the story is put like so: “Giving a condom to a teen is just like saying, ‘Well if you insist on killing yourself by jumping off the bridge, at least wear these elbow pads — they may protect you some?’” (Got it: Handing out condoms = assisted suicide.)
Pre-marital sex presents a triple-threat, though: If you don’t kill yourself, you’ll probably die anyway — and if you don’t die, you’ll probably kill your sex partner. In response to a question about having pre-marital sex, an abstinence-only education video warns: “Well, I guess you’ll have to be prepared to die. And you’ll probably take with you your spouse and one or more of your children.” (Noted: Pre-marital sex = murder-suicide.) Boys are warned that they might kill their girlfriend by having sex: If you give her HPV, she’ll “probably end up with a radical hysterectomy, cervical cancer, and possibly death.” (So, you know, sure, go ahead and have sex, you murderer.) A curriculum for wee little sixth-graders exclaims: “WARNING! Going on this ride could change your life forever, result in poverty, heartache, disease, and even DEATH.” Another cautions in all-caps: “FOR OUR YOUNG PEOPLE TO ENGAGE IN SEX NOW IS LIKE PLAYING RUSSIAN ROULETTE WITH ALL BUT ONE CHAMBER FULL!”
Suicide, death, murder? These programs gotta be pretty good at scaring teens out of having sex, right? Mmm, not exactly. Texan teens “rate well above national averages on virtually every published statistic involving sexual risk-taking behaviors,” according to the report, and the state has the third-highest teen birthrate in the country.