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New federal bill would defund abstinence-only programs, include LGBT youth in sex-ed discussion

Under newly proposed legislation, the federal government would no longer fund projects that only teach sex education in the context of “abstinence only until marriage.” In addition, organizations applying for federal sex-education funding will be required to address LGBT youth and their sexual-health issues in grant programs.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced House Resolution 3324, or the “Real Education for Healthy Youth Act” into both chambers of Congress on Wednesday. The bill would require student instruction on both abstinence and contraception. Information taught to youth and young adults will have to be “medically accurate and complete,” meaning the information provided to students will have been verified and supported by scientific research. This bill also prevents federally funded programs from withholding “life-saving” information about the efficacy of using condoms and other contraceptives correctly and consistently.

“Research has shown programs that combine information about abstinence and contraception effectively delay the onset of sexual intercourse, reduce the number of sexual partners, and increase contraceptive use among teens,” said Lee in a statement introducing the bill. “These programs also reduce unintended pregnancy and the transmission of STIs, including HIV.”

“Growing up isn’t easy and our kids find themselves in tough situations every day,” said Lautenberg. “They need all the information to make smart choices and ‘abstinence-only’ programs don’t work. It’s time to bring sex education up-to-date to reflect the real life situations facing young Americans.”

The “Real Education for Healthy Youth Act” is a follow-up to H.R. 1085, or the “Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act of 2011,” which was introduced by Lee and Lautenberg earlier this year. That bill, which has 44 co-sponsors in the House and 10 in the Senate, would simply eliminate funding for abstinence-only education programs, while the “Real Education” bill goes into great detail about what sex-ed programs will have to address in order to receive federal money.

Specifically, the bill would prevent federal dollars from funding health-education programs that:

  • “deliberately withhold life-saving information about HIV”;
  • “are medically inaccurate or have been scientifically shown to be ineffective”;
  • “promote gender stereotypes”;
  • “are insensitive and unresponsive to the needs of sexually active youth or lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender youth”; or
  • “are inconsistent with the ethical imperatives of medicine and public health.”

Grant proposals would be evaluated by the the Office of Adolescent Health and would be rewarded to groups proposing “comprehensive sex education,” defined as a program that includes age- and developmentally-appropriate information on a range of topics related to sexuality and human development, including: relationships, decision-making, communication, abstinence, contraception, disease, pregnancy-prevention, gender identity, sexual orientation, dating violence and bullying. All information must be inclusive of lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and straight people. Sex-education under this bill would be extended to university-age people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would be involved establishing a common set of performance measures to evaluate the effectiveness of grant projects funded through this legislation.

The bill makes note of the “rights of young people to information in order to make healthy and responsible decisions about their sexual health.”

In September, Lee introduced legislation aimed at addressing the ongoing criminalization of persons living with HIV infection. Monica Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS), told The American Independent Lee and Lautenberg’s new bill attempts to address the stigma that many persons infected with HIV face in our society.

“It’s problematic when we put the burden on others and it’s dis-empowering … to HIV-infected or people infected with other sexually transmitted diseases,” said Rodriguez, a sexuality educator. “Good sexuality helps people to understand their responsibility to protect themselves.”

SIECUS is among several reproductive-rights and LGBT-advocacy groups that are supporting the “Real Education” bill, including Advocates for Youth, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-Chocie America, the Guttmacher Institute, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Rodriguez said the bill will likely see opposition from organizations that support and benefit from abstinence-only education funding, but certain provisions, she said, should not be negotiable.

“It is unethical not to provide young people with life saving information” Rodriguez said. “Sexual education needs to be based on science and data and reality as opposed to our fantasy about how we wish the world was. We have issues and this bill attempts to address some of them.”

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