The top Republican in the Arizona House of Representatives told a group of parents this weekend that attempts to revise the state’s sex education standards would create more customers for Planned Parenthood and help teachers seduce students.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers’ comments, captured on a video posted by the right-wing group Patriot Movement AZ, followed an hour-long presentation by the leader of a Gilbert-based nonprofit organization on possible changes to the state’s sex education standards, something multiple speakers at Saturday’s event at Gilbert’s American Leadership Academy referred to as a “battle” for children during the next legislative session.
Bowers, R-Mesa, said he felt “bludgeoned” by the presentation, which featured censored sketches of masturbating children, pamphlets about how to have sex with HIV or AIDS and a worksheet of a ‘gender unicorn” intended to teach children that gender identity, assigned sex and sexual orientation can be different. The presenter, Family Watch International founder Sharon Slater, described most of the materials as being used in classrooms.
Bowers specifically blamed Planned Parenthood, which supports efforts to provide comprehensive sex education in schools.
“They have created the business plan of hell, that we can sexualize millions of children who will investigate and ‘play’ together,” he said. “What will be the results? Sexually transmitted diseases, which we treat for money. Abortion, which we do for money. Even the heinous selling of body parts, which we do for money. And the treatment of AIDS across the world, which we do for money.”
He added that comprehensive sex education could sexualize children, harming the fight against teacher abuse of students.
“One of the great stains on all educators and their profession is the increasing number of seduction by teachers of their students,” Bowers said. “I don’t see this helping it.”
Public attention to Arizona’s sex education laws has ramped up over the past few months, after a lawsuit prompted the Legislature in April to repeal a decades-old law prohibiting schools from promoting a “homosexual lifestyle.” Elected Democrats and gay rights advocates emboldened by the decision sought to build on it in June by changing the state Board of Education’s rules to require that sex education courses be “medically accurate,” but the board deferred to the Legislature after emotional testimony from parents.
Bowers said he asks himself every day why he has his job as Speaker, but that seeing the presentation from Family Watch International highlighted his purpose. It’s to push back against changes backed by Democratic Superintendent Kathy Hoffman and other elected Democrats, he said.
‘I don’t feel radical, but I know radical,” he said. “When Kathy Hoffman promotes this, i don’t have any question it’s about radicalizing children.”
A push to change sex education won’t be coming from the superintendent’s office next legisalative session, Hoffman said. She said she suggested changes to the state Board of Education’s rules on sex education as part of an attempt to clean up antiquated language in the rules as they were being brought into conformance with new state law, but that she doesn’t plan to push for the Legislature to make additional changes.
Instead, Hoffman said, she’s focused on teacher retention, and that she’s worried that Bowers’ “very offensive comments” about her seeking to radicalize children could hinder collaboration.
“Those comments are outrageous,” she said. “He is using fear tactics and propaganda to mobilize his base.”
Sen. Sylvia Allen, who also spoke at the Gilbert event, told parents Democrats will try to take away their God-given rights to care for their children and teach them as they choose. Allen, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said schools are socially engineering children in the direction that the left wants them to go.
“In 2020, if you change the majority of the Arizona Legislature, I can guarantee you your rights as parents are going to be quickly gone and these programs will become mandatory,” the Snowflake Republican said. “You’ll get the California style where parents can’t opt out. I know that because I know the bills that I hold in my committee that comes from the Democrats’ side.”
She said she’s gearing up to “protect our little guys” with legislation next year, including a bill that would prohibit any form of sex education for students in kindergarten through fourth grade. Other legislation she and allies plan would try to tighten up other statutes to clarify parental rights and prohibit schools from providing sexually explicit materials as part of their sex education or other curricula.
“Schools should not even be having this discussion, because we know that any child should not be sexually active,” she said. “They will be happier and healthier if they know that they are able to wait until they’re an adult to become sexually active.”
Allen held a half-dozen Democratic-sponsored bills related to sex education in her committee last session, including one to repeal the state’s “no promo homo” law. At least half of those bills are likely to come back in some form next year.
Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, had two sex education bills die without hearings. One would mandate medically accurate, age appropriate sex education for all grades, while the other was designed to teach children how to recognize sexual abuse and teachers and school employees how to handle student disclosures of abuse.
She said she intends to bring both back next year.
“It’s not teaching them how to have sex,” she said. “It’s teaching them how to be healthy, how to say no.”
The reactions from Bowers, Allen and some parents to suggestions for comprehensive sex education are similar to arguments Steele said she heard as a high-school student who wrote a letter to the editor of her Franklin, Pennsylvania, newspaper about how schools needed to teach sex education to prevent more of her classmates from becoming pregnant and leaving school.
“Nothing has changed from the ‘70s and beyond,” Steele said. “Kids are still getting their education from parties, or the backseat of a car, or a magazine.”
Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, said he intends to introduce legislation calling for comprehensive sex education next year. If schools aren’t providing medically accurate information, kids will continue learning about sex from their friends, which is not accurate information.
“It doesn’t mean that we’re trying to sexualize them at all,” he said. “If anything, we want to prevent that from happening. You prevent that by giving them information about how to protect themselves, how to say no to socially suggestive situations and to make wise decisions when and if they do decide to engage in sexual practices.”
Quezada called Bowers’ comments “textbook-definition fearmongering.” Planned Parenthood Arizona spokeswoman Tayler Tucker agreed.
“People like Speaker Bowers peddle in these myths to rob young people in Arizona of comprehensive, inclusive sex ed, which allows them to know about the care that they need to be healthy,” Tucker said.
Allen did not return a request for comment. Bowers, in a statement emailed by a House spokesman, said he stood by his remarks.
“I stand by my opinions of Planned Parenthood and Superintendent Hoffman, but I sincerely hope that they will prove me wrong,” he said.