Metro Weekly

Fairfax readies for another fight, this time over ‘family life’ curriculum

Proposed health curriculum dealing with sexuality, gender identity could further inflame passions of angry conservatives

A sign from the recent debates over Fairfax County Public Schools adopting pro-LGBT policies that include gender identity. (Credit: john Riley)
A sign from the recent debates over Fairfax County Public Schools adopting pro-LGBT policies that include gender identity. (Credit: john Riley)

Two weeks after the Fairfax County School Board added gender identity to the Fairfax County Public Schools’ nondiscrimination policy during a heated meeting where board members took abuse from a raucous crowd, the board is raising another issue that could place them squarely in the crosshairs of conservative activists: proposed changes to the county’s health curriculum. 

At issue are parts of the FCPS Family Life Education Curriculum dealing with health and sexuality for students in grades 7 through 10 that treat varying sexual orientations and gender identities as part of “normal” development. The potential controversy could start rising to the top at Thursday’s school board meeting, where the board will consider moving forward with recommended lesson objectives for the grades in question, as developed by the FCPS Family Life Education Curriculum Advisory Committee. Although the board will not be voting on final adoption of the curriculum, some of the usual anti-LGBT opponents have already signed up to speak at Thursday night’s meeting. The Traditional Values Coalition and other socially conservative groups have also declared war on the proposed recommendations.

“Parents need to protect their kids from this assault,” Andrea Lafferty, president of the Traditional Values Coalition, was quoted as saying in a column by FOX News contributor Todd Starnes.

The proposed curriculum objectives that specifically deal with sexual orientation and gender identity, which would not be implemented until the fall of 2016, are as follows:

-For grade 7, students will identify “physical, emotional, sexual, and social developmental changes that occur during the middle school years.” 

The primary objection to this lesson appears to be simply the introduction of the definitions of varying sexual orientations and gender identities to seventh graders. According to the description of the objective, “Emphasis will be placed on recognizing that everyone is experiencing changes and the role of respectful, inclusive language in promoting an environment free of bias and discrimination. Students will be provided definitions for sexual orientation terms heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality; and the gender identity term transgender.”

-For grade 8, as part of the emotional and social health curriculum, students will explore the factors surrounding the development of identity, gender roles, attitudes about masculinity and femininity, and which includes the components of sexual orientation and gender identity.

According to the descriptive statement, students will study gender roles, how they differ among various families, cultures and religions, and how stereotyping on gender can limit opportunities. But the most controversial part deals with introducing identity as having four parts: biological gender, gender identity, including transgender, gender role and sexual orientation, which includes heterosexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality; and the concept that “sexuality is a broader spectrum.”

-For grade 9, students are expected to recognize the development of sexuality as a lifelong aspect of personality that evolves from infancy to old age. Students will be provided definitions for heterosexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality, as well as the term transgender. From the description of the objective: “Students with questions or concerned about their sexuality orientation or gender identity will be advised to talk with a parent, member of the clergy, trusted adult or counselor.” Another thing that conservatives may object to is an emphasis placed on tolerating and not discriminating against people of varying sexual orientations or gender identities. 

-For grade 10, student are expected to recognize the development of sexuality as an aspect of one’s total personality. From the description: “Instruction will include how sexuality develops throughout a lifetime and how sexuality encompasses attitudes, values, and behaviors. Emphasis will be placed on an understanding that there is a broader, boundless, and fluid spectrum of sexuality that is developed throughout a lifetime. Sexual orientation and gender identity terms will be discussed with focus on appreciation for individual differences.” The idea of sexuality as fluid — despite the fact that even proponents of so-called conversion therapy admit the same thing — could be upsetting to many parents or conservative special interest groups.

Lest some attendees complain that they are not being given enough time to respond to the proposed changes — as they did with the nondiscrimination policy — parents will have the opportunity to publicly comment on all the proposed changes for all grade levels via email on the proposed curriculum changes from May 21 to June 19. All comments will be transmitted to board members prior to June 25’s final vote on the proposal.

Northern Virginia Advocates for Equality, which was formed in April and consists of a coalition of educational, disability, youth-centric, religious, LGBTQ, and social service organizations to support the adoption of pro-LGBT policies in public schools, has come out in support of the curriculum recommendations and will have three members from different groups testifying in support of the lesson objectives.

“We believe the recommendations are a step in the right direction for creating respectful and accepting educational environments for all students in Fairfax County, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” a statement from NVAE says. “The recommendations take the first steps in presenting sexual orientation and gender identity as aspects of normal development.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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