Even though a majority of Texans support evidence-based sex education, religious right advocates have lobbied against teaching contraception in schools.
On a Monday morning in late April, Marcia Lamb’s 6-year-old son, Braeden, is running around the playground at Austin’s Zilker Park, making the most of an unusual reprieve from school. Braeden and Marcia drove from Corpus Christi that morning to participate in a “Sex Ed Sit Out,” a nationwide event to protest the “sexualization” of kids. The Austin sit-out and picnic was organized by Lamb’s sister, Caryl Ayala, who is cofounder of Concerned Parents of Austin, a conservative group that opposes what it calls the “radical sex ed and LGBT agenda being introduced in schools.”
Along with three other parents, Lamb sits in a lawn chair underneath a shady tree and explains why she’s picnicking for sex ed-free schools. “They’re normalizing choices that are against my beliefs and what’s clearly in the Bible,” Lamb says as she peels a grapefruit. She favors abstinence until marriage and opposes inclusion of LGBTQ “lifestyles and choices” in classrooms.
Ayala, who in 2016 left her job as an Austin public school teacher over her opposition to the school’s sex ed policies, says sex ed should be left to parents. She believes that Texas schools are teaching kids “how to have oral and anal sex” and “indoctrinating our children in transgenderism.”
Polling has shown that the majority of Texans support teaching about contraception in high school. But religious-right advocates like Ayala have lobbied lawmakers against expanding evidence-based sex education statewide, and bills to do so didn’t even get a hearing last session. Most school districts don’t teach comprehensive sex ed — even as Texas’ teen pregnancy rate is among the highest in the country.
“These folks end up going to local school boards, complaining to teachers and principals,” said Dan Quinn, communications director at Texas Freedom Network, which favors comprehensive sex education. “Activists like this often wildly exaggerate facts, if not completely misstate them, to scare parents into thinking something nefarious is going on.”
In 2017, Texas Freedom Network released a report showing that more than half of Texas public school districts taught abstinence-only in the 2015-16 school year, and a quarter taught no sex education at all. Over the next couple of years, the State Board of Education will consider changes to health textbooks for the first time in more than 10 years. Currently, schools must emphasize abstinence, and the textbooks, which Quinn says are “stuck in 1950,” promote “gender stereotypes and lies and misinformation about contraception.”
Parents in Texas can opt their kids out of sex education. That’s what Lamb did for her two older sons, currently in high school. Ayala’s friend from church, Janie, who declined to give her last name, is moving her grandkids to an Austin charter school to avoid any “LGTBQ curricula.” She says her granddaughter attends a “princess class” taught by Ayala at Oak Meadow Baptist Church, which “promotes purity, not confusion.” But, she’s quick to add, “we don’t hate. We have a neighbor who’s gay. … We love our neighbors. But it’s a sin.”
Lamb agrees. “I want to teach [my son] our values about it, our biblical Christian values,” she said. “There’s not a single word of hate in it.”