FCPS Board Meeting Testimony: June 14, 2018

Good evening.  I’m the Reverend Dr. Debra Haffner.  I am the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston, and I have also been a sexuality educator for more than forty years.  Prior to coming to serve Northern Virginia, I was the President of the Religious Institute for 15 years and the President of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States for 12 years.  I am also the author of three books for parents on talking to children and teenagers about sexuality and other important issues.  I am well versed in community controversies about the content of sexuality education.

I applaud the proposal by the 33-member review committee to update the existing curriculum to be more inclusive of transgender students by using the language “sex assigned at birth” and to include information about PrEP as part of STI prevention education.  Surely, we can all agree that our programs should be age-appropriate, medically accurate, and up-to-date.  Education that is based on such information respects and empowers young people, and it has more integrity than education based on incomplete information, out-of-date terminology and fear.  It is with adult guidance and comprehensive information about abstinence, contraception, and STI prevention that young people will have the information they need to make responsible decisions. 

The proposed language changes are more inclusive of our LGBTQ students than the current curriculum.  As a faith leader who beliefs that sexual and gender diversity is a blessing, and who just chaired Reston’s first Pride festival, I applaud these recommendations.   Sexuality education must benefit all young people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.  We must assure that all of our young people receive the information and education they need now and in the future to become sexually healthy adults.

As a religious leader, I have a Scriptural and theological commitment to truth telling, including truth telling about sexuality. I am joined by millions of people of faith and thousands of clergy from diverse denominations in our belief that young people need comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date sexuality education from diverse reliable sources: parents, faith communities, and school-based programs.

There is no research that supports ignorance and incomplete education.  There are decades of studies that show that young people who receive education that includes information about abstinence, contraception and STI prevention are more likely to delay having mature sexual relationships and are more likely to use methods to prevent unintended pregnancies and STIs when they do become sexually involved.  Comprehensive up-to-date programs should be our goal.

Others will talk to you tonight about the public health arguments that support the proposed changes in the sexuality education program.  I will ask you to also consider the values that underline these proposed changes – that our curricula should honor truth telling, be inclusive of all of the young people in our schools, and provide the most current information. Surely, we can all agree that we want our young people to learn about sexuality from trusted educators, not the Internet or the entertainment media. May you be truth seeking, courageous, and just in your efforts to provide all young people with the sexuality education they so urgently need. I urge you to adopt the proposed changes.