Riddle: OC Board of Education Crusade Against the California Healthy Youth Act Draws Protest

Choosing to cast shame and doubt upon transgender, gay and lesbian children as a weapon to gain political power, the utterly ignorant or heartless (you choose) conservative majority on the Orange County Board of Education (OCBE) is continuing its months-long effort to forestall, even halt, the implementation of the California Healthy Youth Act (CHYA) – a comprehensive sexual heath and HIV-STI prevention program mandated by the California Legislature in 2015 – in our local middle and high schools.

In doing so by falsely fueling, stoking and enflaming LBGT fears among many culturally and religiously concerned parents, this county education board — tasked to enrich, nurture and protect our children — is simply depriving the great majority of maturing teens from learning the information and decisional tools necessary to navigate their way to understanding their own emerging sexuality and social responsibility, as well as acknowledging those changes in others.

While many parents would wish otherwise: More than 60% of teens are sexually active by age 18; rates of STIs are growing in California and are highest between ages 15-24; California’s teen birth rate is higher than that in other industrialized countries; and over 80% of births to teens are unintended. That’s according to a report for the California Assembly Education Committee in 2015.

More troubling, the OCBE continues to welcome and support CHYA-distain on LGBT youth who themselves suffer high rates of bullying, emotional pain, depression — even suicide, as well as frequently receiving school-yard mockery and violence as they too grow into adulthood.

To be sure, CHYA by no means focuses only on “gender” issues.  It covers a broad spectrum of teen sexual health information needs, as well as coping strategies, related to HIV-SDI prevention, adolescent relationships, abstinence, intimacy abuse, sexual harassment and trafficking, parenting, contraceptives, abortion, and community resources available to teens for health care services.

So why – when CHYA is a binding California law that went into effect in January 2016 — would the Orange County Board of Education be wasting its time and our tax dollars to prevent kids from receiving comprehensive sexual health education?

The Board’s president, Ken Williams, during recent public meetings, has told us exactly why he’s so anti-CHYA.  In April, he directly railed against the law’s passage by the Legislature, saying “I’m troubled … by the ruling class in Sacramento dictating to parents what they can and cannot teach their kids … this is very, very fascist-like.”

The Legislature, Williams said, is saying to kids and parents that “You will listen to this [CHYA information] even if it disagrees with your religious values.”  Then, in May, Williams said that even if CHYA is the law “I think we have to redefine the letter of the law … we don’t want to disobey the law …but… at least for me … because of my biblical background, Matthew 18:6 … where Christ said … whoever offends … these little ones which believe in me it’s better that he would have a millstone hanged around his neck and that he would drown to the depth of the sea.”

So there you have it. But bear in mind two additional things:  First, the OCBE is an agency of the state whose duty is to implement the education laws passed by the state for the good of all children; and second, parents of school children who wish to do so may “opt-out” – for any reason or none — their child from any or all of CHYA’s lessons.  CHYA is not forced upon anyone.  Thus wrongly, even though CHYA is the law and that board members swear an oath to carry out the duties of their elective office, Board President Williams and his majority colleagues appear to favor those parents and their “little ones which believe in me” to the detriment of all others.

In short, the Board’s conservative majority is attempting hold CHYA hostage — to withhold vital sexual health information from all teens — based upon those members own personal, cultural or religious antipathy toward LGBTQ children. This Board majority appears ready, willing and persistent in ginning-up and exploiting the anxiety and disapproval by a minority of parents who apparently fear that if CHYA’s lessons are taught in the classroom their child may or will somehow become confused, attracted by or even recruited into some kind of gender-bent identity when all that is intended is that they and their parents simply come to understand and, hopefully, live in peace with diversity.

It’s on those accounts that an organic coalition of groups and individual parents, teachers and school health educators will gather outside the Orange County Board of Education offices, at 200 Kalmus Drive, Costa Mesa, at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, September 26thto protest the OCBE majority’s utter cruelty to LGBT kids as well as the Board’s total waste of taxpayer dollars to carry out this ill-conceived crusade, and to STAND UP and SPEAK OUT in support of implementing CHYA now.

Lynne Riddle, who comments here solely as an individual, is a retired federal judge, and continuous community activist for reproductive Justice.  Currently she holds positions as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy and Instructor in law, both appointments at UCI Law School.

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org