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My Point of View: Don’t spread fear, misinformation about bill

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

 

At state Rep. Peggy Bennett’s meeting on comprehensive sex education (CSE) in early February, Julie Quist from Minnesota Child Protection League gave a presentation in opposition to the House’s proposed CSE legislation.

You may remember Julie Quist’s husband, Allen Quist, who ran unsuccessfully against Tim Walz in the 2012 1st District congressional race. Among his fringe views, Mr. Quist once developed a school curriculum that asserted some dinosaurs lived among people as recently as the 12th century A.D.

Thus, it wasn’t a surprise when Julie Quist claimed that teaching girls about “bodily autonomy” is part of Planned Parenthood’s agenda to promote abortion rights.

This is malarkey, but it makes sense in the context of defending a narrow patriarchal worldview. Who should girls learn has control over their bodies if not themselves? Male elders? The government? Why is there resistance to teaching girls they control their own bodies? We have no similar hang-ups teaching this to boys.

Al Franken might still be a U.S. senator if he had received CSE in school and learned at an earlier age to respect female bodily autonomy.

It’s not as though boys are immune from abuse either. Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy last week due partly to hundreds of sexual abuse lawsuits. The Catholic church’s settlements in sex abuse cases involving priests’ abuse of both boys and girls now totals in the billions of dollars. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio is again facing calls to step down after a former Ohio State wrestling captain recently claimed that Jordan begged him not to speak out about Jordan’s knowledge of a team doctor’s sexual abuse of OSU wrestlers.

Considering this long, dark history of abuse that has come to light, Julie Quist seemed especially tone deaf when she quoted anti-sex trafficking activist Jaco Booyens, who stated, “Comprehensive sex education in the public schools does the grooming for pimps and predators.”

No matter how well-intentioned people are, this is utter nonsense. CSE includes teaching children how to recognize grooming behavior, know their rights and develop a language for talking about their bodies.

De-mystifying sex in an age-appropriate manner empowers children to understand and care for their bodies and helps us protect them from experiencing harm, whether it be abuse, sexual violence, unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

Last week, Betsy Singer of KAAL-TV described Bennett as “leading the charge” against CSE. It is admirable to listen to parents’ and community concerns, but promoting a fear-based, junk science approach with source material from anti-LGBT hate groups like the American College of Pediatricians and Family Watch International as Bennett is doing is not responsible.

When we know better, we do better. It is incumbent on us to keep looking forward and let go of old ideas about sex that perpetuated untold destruction, especially to girls. Girls must be taught ownership of their own bodies and that they can want to seek sex for pleasure, just like boys. Slurs like “slut” and “whore” have been deployed for generations to control girls’ sexuality, with terrible consequences, and we should metaphorically wash them off our tongues with soap.

Children, no matter what sex or gender identity, are full people, full stop, and they have the right to learn about their bodies and sexuality with age-appropriate curriculum. It’s in their personal interest, and it serves broader public health and safety interests as well.

This statistic has not come across in anything I’ve seen Bennett present, but it’s important context for this discussion: there has been a big drop in teens age 15 to 19 having sex compared to a generation ago, 43% in 2016 down from 57% in 1988, according to the CDC. If anything, students today have better information than their peers had in the late ’80s. It seems incongruous, then, when Bennett claims that CSE will “sexualize” our children and cause them to have more sex.

Our community values should reflect what is best for our children, and that is sometimes in conflict with longstanding patriarchal values that subordinate girls and marginalize children who don’t conform to binary heterosexual norms. That is the spot between “a rock and hard place” that a representative from our area should navigate, rather than aligning with fear and misinformation.

I hope to see you at DFL caucuses tonight at 7 p.m. at the Union Center (1407 Highway 13). Registration starts at 6:30 p.m. The DFL believes we all have a right to a good education, stable employment with fair wages, accessible and affordable health care, safe communities to live in and a dignified retirement. Help us build a better Minnesota for all Minnesotans, for tomorrow and beyond.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.