A Tale of Two Plans for Sex Ed in Alabama

Gay Democrats and socially conservative Republicans don’t usually have a lot to say to each other in regards to sex ed in public schools, unless it’s “you’re wrong.” But Alabama state representatives Patricia Todd (a gay Democrat) and Mary Sue McClurkin (a Republican) agree on one thing: they want Alabama’s current sex ed law repealed.

patricia todd

For Todd, it’s because of an antiquated clause that requires teachers to inform students that homosexuality is “not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public,” and even worse, that same-sex sexual interaction is illegal — which it isn’t. While there’s no confirmation that the clause is actually being enforced, it’s fairly shocking that legislation with this language still exists.

“I don’t know if anybody is actually teaching this, to be honest with you” Todd said. “But the fact that this is even in the law is an insult… ‘Not an acceptable lifestyle,'” Todd said. “What the heck does that mean? It’s like they’re trying to say we shouldn’t exist.”

Todd proposed a bill that would remove the anti-gay wording from the law, but didn’t expect a lot of support. What she did find support for, though, was the idea of eliminating sex ed entirely — from Republicans like McClurkin. McClurkin doesn’t believe that Alabama schools should have any requirements on how they teach sex ed. In fact, she believes they shouldn’t be required to teach it at all if they don’t choose to, or if they believe, as McClurkin does, that “sex education is one topic that’s best taught in the home.” Todd doesn’t want to eliminate sex ed entirely, but she does say “I’m just telling them they shouldn’t be teaching things that are incorrect.” Considering how poorly Alabama’s sex ed laws seem to require putting together curriculum — the law also says that educators must tell students that “abstinence from sexual intercourse outside of lawful marriage is the expected social standard” — she doesn’t seem sure that eliminating it isn’t the best option.

In an ideal world, kids would be taught in schools across America that gay relationships and families are valid, and that it’s neither a “lifestyle” or “unacceptable.” But in the world we actually live in, just reaching a point where kids aren’t actively misinformed both about sexual orientation and their own bodies takes some serious effort. Whether an uneven, objectively incorrect, and arbitrarily enforced sex ed curriculum is more beneficial to the kids of Alabama than whatever their schools might decide to pursue on their own is hard to know for sure. But it says something about the state of sex education in our nation if two people whose parties hold radically different views on the function and value of sex ed can agree that it’s not working, even if they’re for virtually opposite reasons. Specifically, it says that while we may be totally unable to agree on anything else regarding what kids, both queer and straight, need to know about sex and sexuality, we can agree they’re not getting it right now. And whatever happens regarding the laws around curriculum in Alabama, hopefully steps will be made towards correcting that sooner rather than later.


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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

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13 Comments

  1. I went to high school in Alabama (several years ago), and I don’t remember being told those stupid things that are supposedly required. Of course, I don’t really remember much of anything from sex ed, I was probably feeling really awkward about it and trying to block it from my memory. I also wasn’t out (to myself or anyone) at the time, so if we were told that, it didn’t have any effect on me. But there definitely needs to be a change in how they teach sex ed around here, even if it is just to remove those stupid things from being said. Gay kids around here need every little advantage they can get, because it can be rough.

    Also, I feel horribly uninformed that we have a gay representative and I didn’t even know it! She doesn’t represent my district, but I wish she did!!

  2. I went to a liberal school in The UK.

    BOTP I wasn’t told that I could get STIs from going down on a girl… And i wasn’t told about using condoms during girl on girl sex. The result? I got an STD (it took me nearly 2 years to get rid of it)

    I also wasn’t told that condoms in hetereosexual sex are a form of protection not contraception. The result? I nearly got pregnant?

    So, this is a human rights issue. It could lead to spread of HIV and other diseases. Stoopid Alabama republicans.

      • Condoms are not officially classified as a form of contraception by the government in this country; they are not reliable enough to meet the criteria. They are only meant to be taught in sex ed as a form of protection.

        That’s what u meant! 🙂

        But obviously they are… But it’s considered unsafe to just use condoms for contraception now xx

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