By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
The Montgomery County Board of Education approved new sex-education lessons yesterday for the eighth and 10th grades that teach what it means to be homosexual but say little about how people become gay, resisting pressure from a divided community to define homosexuality as nature or nurture, right or wrong.
Approved by a unanimous vote, the lessons mark the first time Montgomery schools will introduce the topics of sexual orientation and homosexuality. The materials, including a new 10th-grade condom-demonstration DVD, will be field-tested in a handful of middle and high schools in spring, barring intervention by the courts.
Some school board members said they expect a lawsuit from the same community groups that persuaded a federal judge to halt a version of the curriculum in spring 2005. U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. found that the curriculum presented one view of homosexuality, "that homosexuality is a natural and morally correct lifestyle," to the exclusion of all others.
"I believe we will be sued. That's okay. . . . Bring it on," said board member Sharon W. Cox (At Large).
Leaders of the protest groups said yesterday that they would consider their legal options and signaled that they have the same objection to the new curriculum as to the old one: They say it offers one viewpoint, favorable toward homosexuality, anal sex and premarital sex. Observers on both sides have predicted that "viewpoint neutrality," or lack thereof, would eventually form the basis of a lawsuit.
"Absolutely nothing is allowed to be said that is negative about homosexuality," said Ruth Jacobs, an infectious-disease specialist and member of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, which, with Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, sued to block the curriculum in its first incarnation.
Defenders of the previous curriculum hailed the new one, which explores the range of sexual orientations and gender identities, defines harassment and discrimination and teaches tolerance regardless of sexual orientation. Board of Education President Nancy Navarro applauded the group's 8 to 0 vote, which, in the face of potential litigation, "sends a message that we stand firm on the balanced approach that we have taken with these revisions."
About 15 opponents of the curriculum appeared at the board meeting, carrying signs that read, "Children's health before political agendas" and "Not viewpoint neutral."
The opposition groups say that if lessons on sexual orientation are taught at all, they should include perspectives that homosexuals can change, that transgenderism is a mental disorder and that anal intercourse is dangerous. One representative from each of the two opposing groups sat on a 15-person advisory committee that recommended dozens of additions and changes to the curriculum.
Others on the committee lobbied the school board to insert stronger statements in the curriculum in support of gay, lesbian and transgender students. Yesterday, that campaign narrowed to a request that a single sentence be added to the lessons, instructing that mainstream medical and mental health organizations have concluded that homosexuality is not a disease or a mental illness.
The suggestion divided board members, who split 4 to 4 on a motion by Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) to instruct teachers to provide the statement upon a student's request.
School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast reminded board members that the curriculum, written by his staff, had been built on specific academic objectives and tailored to "circumscribe our liability."