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Hawaii bill to add LGBTQ information to sex education advances | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

A bill is advancing at the state Legislature to require Hawaii public schools to include “positive and accurate representations” of LGBTQ+ people, people of color and disabled people in sex education curriculum, but some people are protesting that it will legitimize explicit information they feel is inappropriate for schools.

House Bill 1697 would require the state Department of Education “to provide comprehensive training for teachers and educational officers on sexual health topics that include positive and accurate representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, other sexual orientations and gender identities, persons of color, and disability communities to destigmatize and promote sexual health.”

The bill also “requires sexual health education programs to include similar sexual health topics to destigmatize and promote sexual health.”

The measure passed its third reading in the state House on Friday. Of the 51 state representatives, there were only four “no” votes, three “ayes” with reservations, and three excused absences. It has been sent to the Senate Education Committee for consideration.

State Rep. Amy Perruso (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-­Poamoho), who introduced the bill, said the concept was the top priority of the young people at the 2021 Hawaii Children and Youth Summit in October. At the annual event for residents age 24 and younger, organized by the Hawai‘i Keiki Caucus and the Hawai‘i Youth Services Network, scores of young people from around the state debated and voted on recommendations for the state Legislature.

“The young people who talked to us expressed … about their feeling unsafe (in school) because of their sexual orientation,” Perruso said Monday in a Hono­lulu Star-Advertiser interview. Studies have indicated that young people in the LGBTQ population suffer a higher incidence of anxiety and depression “because of this particular kind of discrimination at school,” she said.

“What the students asked us to do is address it through teacher training. They felt like teachers were unprepared to really adequately and positively respond to their needs.”

The training would be not only for teachers who instruct in sexual health, Perruso said, “but all teachers, so that they (students) are not dismissed as evil or unnatural or dangerous or sinful.”

The “persons of color” language is included in the measure, Perruso said, because sexual health education currently does not adequately address cultural and ethnic issues such as the concept of a third gender, which is known as mahu to Native Hawaiians and common in some other Polynesian cultures.

The Keiki Caucus, which is made up of state legislators, community leaders and youth-centered organizations, has made the measure one of its top five priorities this session.

State schools interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi testified to the Legislature that the state Department of Education supports the intent of HB 1697. The department is requesting $2.2 million to cover the training and provide substitute teachers.

If the measure passes, it would be up to the state Board of Education and DOE to work out precisely what the curriculum and training would cover, Perruso said.

However, state Rep. Bob McDermott (R, Ewa Beach), who is running for the U.S. Senate, held a news conference Monday to argue that the measure is an attempt by liberals at “social engineering.”

LGBTQ sexual health issues are “still not mainstream, and it’s not considered normal,” McDermott said in a subsequent Star-­Advertiser interview. He voted against the measure in committee but was one of the excused absences during the third-reading vote Friday, due to illness, he said.

In a House Finance Committee meeting March 1, the measure drew 121 pages of divided written testimony. Several parents said they feel the measure erodes parents’ rights to control what their children learn about such sensitive topics.

When asked where LGBTQ youth ought to obtain accurate sexual-health information, McDermott said they should talk to their doctor or go to organizations such as Planned Parenthood. Schools aren’t the proper venue, he said.

“Bizarro stuff that fringe people do doesn’t have to be presented to 10-year-olds,” McDermott said. “Don’t put that crap in front of my grandchildren.”

The Hawaii State Council on Developmental Disabilities is among the multiple community organizations that have testified in support of the bill.

“Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) have been historically a stigmatized group regarding sexuality and sex education,” Daintry Bartoldus, the group’s executive administrator, said in testimony to the House Finance Committee. “While individuals with I/DD are becoming more integrated into our communities, there are still many misunderstandings and stigmatizations left around I/DD,” leaving them vulnerable to sexual violence and sexual exploitation.

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