We are protecting the identity of the writer because they are in a vulnerable position for retribution, but they are well known to us. Speech in the USA - including in Whatcom County - is fraught with risks, as we know. - NWCitizen owners.
Recently, the local Republican activist community has been in a , organizing frantic phone banks and bombarding elected officials and their friends on facebook about a coming disaster. No, it isn’t COVID-19 that has them up in arms, it is Sex Ed.
On its surface, would not seem to raise any alarms. The bill, based on peer-reviewed research conducted by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) reviewed existing sexual health education curriculum in Washington state and determined that there were some updates to be made.
SB 5395 requires that every public school provide age-appropriate sexual education throughout their academic career. For grades K-3, it means learning that boys and girls have different bodies, and what qualifies as healthy interactions and affirmative consent. For grades 4-12, it includes information about the changes occurring to their bodies and minds as they grow; healthy communication skills as they navigate their peer relationships based on mutual respect; understanding the influence of family, peers, and media on their lives; and yes, medically accurate sexual education about how to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of disease.
The idea of such radical and inflammatory ideas being taught in our schools caused the local Republicans to gin up the outrage machine. The Washington House Republican Caucus put out a press release that included the statement, “Kindergartners will be encouraged to question the traditional role of genders. In each subsequent grade, the material gets more graphic and controversial.” Rep. Robert Sutherland (R-Snohomish County) took it a step further. “I’m offended at the pornography that we’re going to be forced to teach our children.”
Locally, Rep. Luanne Van Werven joined the chorus of Republican outrage and posted on , “Look at the approved curriculums not the standards to see the explicit depictions.” She complained that “…a single-minded work group with no dissenting voices,” developed the standards.
Obscured in this tempest is the fact that the OSPI sets the standards but each school district takes responsibility for what curriculum they teach, as long as it meets those standards. Also, parents are informed in advance of each class, and given the ability to have their child opt-out.
During the debate on the House floor, the chair repeatedly censored Republican members for using vulgar and profane terms (i.e. not medically accurate). Supporters made the very real point that this education protects children from abuse and assault. It gives them the tools they need to identify what is going on with their bodies and empowers them to say “no.”
The bill has passed the House and Senate and sits on Governor Jay Inslee’s desk awaiting his signature.
But that still hasn’t stopped local Republican activists from bombarding Rep. Sharon Shewmake (D-Bellingham), who voted in favor of the bill, with messages accusing her of “voting to have schools teach pornography to kids.” The on facebook continues.
Unfortunately, this actually ties into larger conspiracy theories that are interwoven into the modern Republican party accusing Democrats of all being secret pedophiles and abusers. Tune into the conservative youtube channels and there are thousands of videos, with millions of views, talking about Hillary Clinton, secret pedophile Hollywood sex crime rings, and of course, those “social activist groups.”
Without a doubt, this will be the Washington State Republican’s electoral gambit this year and will feature heavily in attack ads come November. In 2008, they tried a similar effort. They proposed a series of rapidly escalating and harsher sentencing laws for sexual assault and then, when a handful of Democrats voted “no” on the measures for being redundant, they sent out thousands of glossy mailers accusing those representatives of defending sexual predators.
In an age of misinformation and viral social media outrage, we will see well-produced facebook videos and ads instead of glossy mailers, but the message is the same: Be very, very afraid. Those Democrats want to do something terrible to your children; and threatening one’s children always makes for a compelling case.
But the truth is that one party is offering medically accurate information to help protect our children from abuse and assault; the other is offering nothing but outrage politics. Sadly, outrage does not protect anyone.