One High Schooler’s Fight Against Abstinence Ed: ‘If I Can Succeed In West Virginia, Anyone Can’

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"One High Schooler’s Fight Against Abstinence Ed: ‘If I Can Succeed In West Virginia, Anyone Can’"

High school senior Katelyn Campbell

As George Washington High School’s student vice body president, Katelyn Campbell believes it’s her responsibility to stand up for her classmates. That’s why, when her public school’s administrators brought a conservative religious speaker to advocate for “God’s plan for sexual purity” at a mandatory assembly, the West Virginia teen began to speak out against the “slut-shaming” messages that she doesn’t want at her school. Now, after Campbell’s story has inspired strangers from around the country to offer their support to her cause, she has a message for other teens: Don’t give up the fight for comprehensive sex ed.

“No one should have to feel alone or afraid of repercussions for doing the right thing,” Campbell told ThinkProgress. “If I was able to succeed in the socially-conservative state of West Virginia, then anyone can.”

In Campbell’s conservative community, she did face some opposition after voicing her opposition to the dangerous misinformation perpetrated by abstinence-only education. Her high school principal, George Aulenbacher, threatened to call the college where she’s been accepted to tell them about her “bad character” after she began speaking to the press. At a Board of Education meeting this past Thursday to address the brewing controversy, three people spoke on behalf of Campbell and a staggering 37 people spoke against her. A Facebook group emerged in support of Campbell’s principal.

But Campbell has stood strong — seeking an injunction against Aulenbacher to protect her First Amendment rights, as well as calling for his resignation — and her efforts are having an impact. At last week’s board meeting, the President of the School Board acknowledged that he believes “stricter scrutiny” should be applied to the speakers who are invited to speak at GW High School. Campbell and her fellow students have presented their case about Aulenbacher, and a hearing this week will determine his future. And Campbell’s story has struck a nerve with the thousands of people who have reached out to her to express their support.

At first, Campbell was surprised at all of the positive responses she received after her story went public. “I’ve gotten hundreds of messages from people across the country that thank me for sticking up for myself — some have even used the word ‘hero’ — which still hasn’t sunken in,” she said in an interview with ThinkProgress.

But she’s not going to let that momentum go to waste. “I feel like I’ve been given an opportunity here to make a change,” Campbell explained. “If people across the United States, Canada and even Europe have been interested in my story, then I have the justification to go further. I fully advocate comprehensive sex education any and everywhere young minds are sculpted, so I’d like to see more implementation of already-existing policies nationwide, in addition to in my home high school.”

Ultimately, even outside of sex ed reform, Campbell wants to help other high schoolers feel empowered to fight for the things they believe in. As she puts it, “No student should ever have to feel intimidated or threatened by an administrator simply because he or she voiced their opinion.” So far, Campbell hasn’t backed down even in the face of threats — and she hopes that will inspire other young people in other states to speak their minds, no matter what kind of odds are stacked against their favor.

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