This Lawmaker Complained Sex Education Was ‘Normalizing’ Homosexuality And His State Took Action

Hawaii state Rep. Bob McDermott CREDIT: AP
Hawaii state Rep. Bob McDermott CREDIT: AP

A middle school sex ed program will only be taught to Hawaii students if parents explicitly opt-in, the state Department of Education said today. The announcement was the culmination of a long campaign by a virulently anti-gay state legislator who objected that the program was “normalizing” homosexuality.

Hawaii State Rep. Bob McDermott considers gay sex “aberrant behavior” and has been fighting to eliminate the sex ed program, called Pono Choices, for months. McDermott believes that men should “not have anal sex” and “also has problems with oral sex.”

In January, McDermott produced an 18-page report lambasting the program. In the report, McDermott complained the sex ed curriculum was “simultaneously normalizing anal sex and homosexual behavior” and after taking the course students “might be under the impression that homosexuality and lesbianism are quite common.” He objected to the programs “implicit endorsement of homosexuality” and the presentation of “homosexual behavior as the equivalent of male-to-female relationships.”

After McDermott’s initial complaints, the state suspended the program for ten days last December. Following an internal review, the state said that the “the curriculum meets department standards” and “is a culturally responsive curriculum that has resulted in positive outcomes for students.” The program was reinstated.

Later, in response to McDermott’s continued complaints, the state created “a volunteer working group of parents, educators, religious leaders and health professionals to evaluate the curriculum’s appropriateness.” The panel largely affirmed the curriculum’s medical accuracy and age-appropriateness but recommended a few small changes. Nevertheless, simultaneous with the report of the volunteer panel, the state announced the program would only be offered on an “opt-in” basis. Previously, parents were given the option to “opt-out” of the program.

McDermott was particuarly fixated on the fact that curriculum included “anus” in the category of “genitalia.” (The Hawaii Civil Beat reported that McDermott was “obsessed with anuses.” ) The medical professionals on the volunteer panel noted that classification was common in certain areas of medicine, such as dermatology. The panel did, however, suggest some clarifying language.

It doesn’t appear to be a good time for Hawaii to be cutting back on sex education. The state has a significant teen pregnancy issue, with nearly 10% of girls becoming pregnant between the ages of 15 and 19. Just “54 percent of Hawaii’s high school students reported using condoms the last time they had intercourse,” the lowest rate in the nation.

McDermott has also sued to overturn marriage equality in Hawaii and objected to teachers participating in a tolerance program created by the Southern Poverty Law Center.