A Republican state lawmaker suggested during a public hearing on sex education in Arizona that courses in California brainwashed his young son so badly his parents had to “deprogram” him.
Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, was speaking to the Senate Education Committee Tuesday during public testimony held in place of a hearing on a now-dead bill that would have banned sexual education before seventh grade.
Blackman told committee members he was speaking to them as a father, not as a fellow lawmaker. He said one of his children had to attend school in California because Blackman was stationed there during military service, and the 7-year-old thought differently before and after attending the California school.
“When we got to California he was one way,” Blackman said. “When we left, he ended up another way. I’m not saying he ended up in a way that he changed his preference. He ended up different in his mind because of what he was taught.”
When asked to clarify his comments in the hall after his testimony, Blackman said it was none of the media’s business what his child was taught in school, because he was testifying as a parent and not as a lawmaker.
Non-elected parents filled a Senate hearing room for discussion on competing legislative attempts to ban sex education before seventh grade and establish compulsory “medically accurate” sex ed for all K-12 students, though both bills are dead.
On the one side, conservative Christian supporters of Sen. Sylvia Allen’s bill warned that students are being exposed to sexually explicit materials in schools without their parents’ knowledge. On the other, liberal backers of Sen. Victoria Steele’s bill argued that kids who don’t take sex ed are at higher risk of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and abusive relationships.
Allen, the Snowflake Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, has been working for months on legislation to limit sex education. She planned to start the session with a hearing on her bill, but after national backlash over phrasing that made the bill appear to be a back-door method to restore a repealed state law that barred the promotion of a “homosexual lifestyle,” Senate President Karen Fann did not assign the bill to a committee.
“We should have had the opportunity to debate the merits,” Allen said. “When you attack people personally, you don’t have to talk about the issues. Instead, it becomes about ‘Sylvia Allen’s a bigot.’”
Instead of hearing either bill, Allen’s committee spent Tuesday afternoon taking public testimony from parents who opposed and supported comprehensive sexual education.
Allen’s bill would have barred schools from teaching sex education courses until seventh grade, though it still would have permitted instruction on health and preventing abuse. It also would have required all schools that provide sex education courses to discuss the curricula in publicly noticed meetings and make them available for public comment for at least 60 days.
Another clause would forbid schools from using educational materials that could be deemed harmful to children. Opponents of sexual education courses describe materials, including the sex ed book “It’s Perfectly Normal,” as nothing more than pornography.
Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, stood on a bench on the House lawn Monday morning urging supporters to check the book out of their libraries and see what could be provided to students.
“It’s so vile I didn’t even take it into my house,” he said. “I didn’t even show my wife.”
A section of the bill also struck the word “homosexuality” from a list of actions that constitute “sexual conduct” under state law. Legislative Democrats and progressive lobbyists read that section as an attempt to undo last year’s repeal of the state’s “no promo homo” law, and that clause led to a flurry of national media coverage in the days since Allen introduced the bill.
Allen announced the following day that she would amend the bill to remove the clause on homosexuality. Sharon Slater, president of the Gilbert-based nonprofit organization Family Watch International, said during a rally in support of Allen’s bill that the language would have the opposite impact.
“She actually in some ways decriminalized homosexuality,” Slater said.
Allen blamed the national media coverage and shadowy, well-funded liberal organizations for forcing Fann to kill her bill. She said she intends to re-introduce it later in the session.
Fann said holding the bill now will give Allen time to continue working with interested parties to improve it. But even when it’s reintroduced, the Senate President may exercise her power to kill it by not assigning it to a committee.
Fann wants to end the session early this year, with a goal of passing a budget before March instead of following the typical late April or early May timeline. Doing that means killing bills that will be controversial or bog down lawmakers in non-budget debates.
“I am looking at and reading carefully bills that could be highly controversial and whether they have a chance of passing or not,” Fann said.
Along with Allen’s bill, Fann declined to assign Steele’s bill establishing comprehensive sex education for all students. Steele confirmed that she believed her bill was dead, though she spoke at a press conference urging support for it Tuesday afternoon.
Carol Brochin, the mother of a child plaintiff in last year’s lawsuit over the “no promo homo” law, told supporters gathered on the House lawn that Allen’s bill would take power away from parents and risk the safety of non-straight, non-cisgender children, like her nonbinary child.
“If you care for our children, you will trust us that as parents who are educated we know what’s best for them,” Brochin said.