(Pixabay/Pexels)

Ariana Rodriguez, an activist in the field of sex education reform, said she'll never forget her experience with sexual education in high school.


"My school brought in a couple who explained to students that we're all roses. As roses, every time we have premarital sex, we lost a petal," Rodriguez said at a State Board of Education hearing Monday morning. "They ended the presentation stating that no one wants a rose without any petals and, therefore, no one wants a person who has had many partners. The students around me sobbed as they heard they were unworthy of love simply because of their sexual activity."

That experience drove Rodriguez—as well as others with similar tales, sexual education leaders and parents—to testify Monday morning before the State Board of Education to ask that the state expand its sex education curriculum to include more information about contraception, STI prevention, abortion access and sexual health for LGBTQ+ people. The hearing came as part of the state's plan to update its sex-ed curriculum for the first time in 23 years.

By the start of the meeting, more than 260 had signed up to speak. No vote was taken Monday, but the state board will hold another meeting in September for a preliminary vote on the new curriculum, with a final vote to come in November.

Adding new topics, keeping others in place

The proposed changes to the existing curriculum, released ahead of the meeting, center primarily around teaching information about sexual violence and sex trafficking. The state board is also considering a new requirement that contraception, such as condoms and birth control, be discussed in seventh and eighth grades, where previously it was only required in high school.

The rest of the curriculum still heavily focuses on abstinence until marriage. But many speakers at the hearing Monday pushed the state to adopt a more comprehensive and inclusive curriculum, attacking the lack of sex education on abortions and contraception, which some experts in attendance said contributed to the high rate of teen pregnancy in the state.

Texas ranked as the fourth highest state in the U.S. (including the District of Columbia) for teen pregnancy in 2016, according to data from the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

A more inclusive curriculum

Other speakers primarily focused on the benefits of providing inclusive sex education for LGBTQ+ people, saying it could help make a safer and fairer learning environment for them and even reduce absenteeism, a common result of bullying against the queer community.

"Sex education is long overdue," in Texas, said University of Houston law student Emma Brockway. Brockway was one of many people who told the board Monday that the state's curriculum failed LGBTQ+ people, including herself—she said she learned nothing that could help her as a lesbian when she was in public school growing up.

"The importance of inclusion of the LGBTQ community in sex education cannot be overstated," said Heather Frederick, OutYouth's Texas Gender and Sexuality Alliance Coordinator.

Some conservative groups were ready ahead of the meeting to fight back against the push to create an LGBTQ+-inclusive sexual education curriculum.

"Leftist LGBT advocacy groups are calling this a 'once in-a-generation opportunity' to attack Texas' abstinence focused approach and teach highly sexualized LGBT propaganda starting in kindergarten," an email from the conservative advocacy group Texas Values said on Friday, according to the Texas Tribune.

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