State sex ed laws leave students bewildered about options

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Michael Prewett

A beautiful photo of light installation art depicting two people.

By Anne Daniel, Harding Charter Preparatory High School

The annual Healthy Lifestyles talk has been considered a tradition, almost a rite of passage, for the freshman class every January. But under a more modern lens, the traditional talk may not be reaching all students equally.

Sophomore Vinny Langworthy is a transgender male and is bisexual. He shared concerns about the talk he received this past January.

“[The Healthy Lifestyles talk] made me feel excluded,” Langworthy said. “I felt like not a lot of the information was pertinent to me.”

Assistant Principal Joe Hughes said the administration does what they can to support students on the sensitive topic.

“We [the administration] don’t have any guidelines for any groups of individuals so that way anyone can partake in it,” Hughes said. “Anyone with a different gender or sexual identifications can ask questions at any time.”

Due to Oklahoma’s “No Promo Homo” laws public schools are not allowed to talk about same-sex relationships in a positive connotation. These laws are also found in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina. Oklahoma specifically does not currently require any sexual education at all in public schools.

“There was a very flippant matter of it all. We would ask questions not specifically about LGBTQ+ but we would ask about protection besides just condoms, and we were told we would get to that later and we never did,” junior Megan Surbeck said.

The official Oklahoma State Department says that all sexual education, if chosen to be taught, must be submitted to the state and vetted thoroughly. It is unclear currently who judges the curriculum.

“We have work to do,” Oklahoma Representative Cyndi Munson said. “I think that students in high school should feel empowered and confident and comfortable. Listening to just adults is not listening to all of the community.”

Publiccharters.org says that charter schools, like Harding, are required to meet the same academic and curriculum requirements as public schools. This includes sex-ed regulations.

Forty-seven percent of all nationally reported HIV and AIDS patients come from the same states the “No Promo Homo” laws are found.

“I think the stereotyping of those who are more vulnerable and the lack of education for HIV as a disease and the stigmatism of LGBTQA+ members is a dangerous thing,” Munson said.

HIV/AIDS are preventable with the use of contraceptives. In the most recent data, which was collected in 2018, found that 15,280 deaths occurred due to HIV.

While Oklahoma may not require any sexual education, it does however require an AIDS prevention seminar within schools. The lesson must specifically teach that; engaging in homosexual activity, promiscuous sexual activity, intravenous drug use or encountering contaminated blood product is now known to be primarily responsible for contacting the disease.

“I was highly concerned by the talk not mentioning anything about homosexuality, it was concerning because I feel that this is very dangerous. We live in a place with a high HIV rate. [Oral] herpes was talked about more than AIDS,” Langworthy said.

School administration follows the Oklahoma State guidelines concerning content. The curriculum for the Healthy Lifestyles talk was not submitted for review but a representative did come to the building to review the course materials.

Plans for this year’s Healthy Lifestyles talk have not been released due to the COVID-19 pandemic keeping students at home for distance learning. It has been announced that there is a possibility of a third party organization conducting the talk instead of a health teacher; at this time the organization has not been named.

For more information about safe sex and resources click here.

This story was originally published on The Marionette on October 9, 2020.