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Montgomery Mother's Stand On Sex-Ed Begins at Home

Michelle Turner, picking up daughter Madeline, 10, from school in Wheaton, organized a group that helped derail revised sex-education curriculum.
Michelle Turner, picking up daughter Madeline, 10, from school in Wheaton, organized a group that helped derail revised sex-education curriculum. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

Hers was not an especially religious upbringing, she said. Her mother explained the facts of life to her when she was a sixth-grader, after two pet mice in the family mated and their babies were born. As for homosexuality, she said, back then "it was just something that you heard about, with your peers. . . . I know that people joked about it, and people would get ridiculed."

In the early 1980s, when her first marriage was falling apart, Turner said, a friend introduced her to the Mormon church, and she was baptized in 1984. Through the church, she met Grant Taylor Jr., a Montgomery native who was born into the faith. They married in 1985.

She said she has volunteered in Montgomery classrooms since her oldest child, from her first marriage, was in kindergarten 20 years ago. In 2003, the school board appointed her to the 27-member citizens committee that oversaw rewriting of the sex-ed curriculum. Turner said she was one of only a few members who argued against teaching students that homosexuality is biologically determined (as many medical experts have concluded) without presenting the opposing view.

The revised curriculum has an opt-out provision, but opponents have said that separating students from their peers in school stigmatizes them.

Turner said the curriculum should "let the kids know that while some individuals choose to live this lifestyle, that is their choice. They have that freedom as a citizen in this country. However, if they feel uncomfortable with the same-sex attraction . . . they don't have to accept it as a given."

She added, "I will admit there could be a possibility" that in rare instances, people are born homosexual -- such as a cousin of hers.

"He's gay, and he's a great guy," she said. "He's a hairdresser. He's very artistic, very good at what he does, men's and women's hair. Fabulous decorator. And I remember playing together when we were young. . . . My brother was always into trucks and guns, knives and swords. . . . Steve was much quieter. He was much happier hanging out with the girls."

After the board adopted the curriculum in November -- intending to use it in six schools this month, then systemwide next year -- Turner organized a meeting of opponents. "I anticipated no more than eight to 10 people coming to my house on a Saturday morning," she said. "We'd have doughnuts and juice and talk about it. . . . We'd write letters, make some calls." But when dozens of people said they planned to attend, she moved the gathering to a community room.

Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum was born at that Dec. 4 meeting, with Turner as president. The lawsuit was instigated by the Virginia-based group, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, represented by a conservative legal foundation based in Florida. Turner said her group joined the case shortly before it was filed.

And in federal court May 5 in Greenbelt, she said, she was "ecstatic, jumping up and down with joy and exuberance" when a judge temporarily enjoined the school board from using the curriculum. Officials then shelved it at least until the end of the calendar year.

"I don't think they're purposely promoting the homosexual agenda," Turner said in her home. "I think they're just very liberal, and this is a liberal area. And they just assumed that this was something everybody wanted to hear about."

She shrugged.

"Maybe they just figured nobody was going to bat an eye at it, and life would go on."

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