This episode brings you the second of the two-part interview with sex educator and activist Ms. Ashley about evidence-based, factual sex education.
In this far-ranging conversation, we talk about sexual health, being the person your kids feel safe talking to, myths about sex, how to handle questions about sex, and values-based vs. evidence-based education.
Ms. Ashley is a sex educator who teaches an adaptation of the Our Whole Lives curriculum. You can find her on Facebook here, here, and here, and on Instagram here.
Transcript of the episode below. You can find Ms. Ashley’s bio, a list of places to find her on the internet, and the studies she cites at the very end.
Franklin: Hello! Welcome back to Skeptical Perverts, the podcast where we examine human sexuality through an evidence-based, skeptical lens! I’m your host, part-time mad scientist, and token cishet guy, Franklin!
Joreth: Hi! I’m your co-host and Renaissance cat, Joreth! I’m kinky, sopo, ace, chicana, feminist, my gender identity is “tomboy”, and my pronouns are she/her but you may call me sir.
Eunice: And I’m Eunice, your friendly neighbourhood queer, kinky, ace-spec, bisexual, solopoly British Chinese woman. In lieu of giving me a title, you may gift me tea instead. Loose leaf, of course, cos I’m predictable like that.
Franklin: Today’s episode brings you the second half of our chat with Ms. Ashley, a sex educator who does a lot of work with evidence-based sex ed.
Eunice: Yeah, when we listened back over the interview, it had so much good stuff in there we just didn’t want to miss any of it. If you haven’t heard the first part, please go back and listen to episode 7—you don’t want to miss it, trust me!
Franklin: A quick reminder – today’s episode is US-centered because so much about US-based sex ed is wrapped up in politics, so keep in mind we’re talking about US policies, politics, and attitudes. Of course, sex ed everywhere is political, but in the US it’s especially bad. Here we go!
Ms. Ashley: So currently in the US, roughly one third of high schools teach condom use. One third.
Joreth: One third.
Franklin: Wow, that’s disappointing.
Ms. Ashley: It is. It is very disappointing, especially considering that is our front line of defence against all the STI’s, and I do not have this statistic right now, but the number of youth that experience an STI is rising, because they’re uninformed about what the warning signs are that they might have something, or that they might be carrying something. And so then they don’t know what their body is telling them in order to go seek medical advice.
So those that idea of “hey, a condom could have prevented this, had they known about it” or “how to use it” is something I would love for parents to be specifically asking within their their children’s sex ed programs. Like, “does this include condoms?” Because it’s really hard to find out this information.
I’m doing this right now with my own child program in their own school, and I had to talk to the director of the program to get this information. It wasn’t anywhere online.
So if that’s an another action item that families might want to go with, it’s just, can you get to the bottom of whether or not your high schools in your area include this very important information.
Joreth: And it sounds like it’s also really important to start including sex ed way before it comes to intercourse sex, and just start talking about what the body is. Because if you don’t know how to listen to your body, you won’t recognize these signs later that something is wrong, whether it’s sexually transmitted or not, whether it’s something else.
I have endometriosis and my mom had it also. Hers was bad enough that I don’t know how many miscarriages, maybe just one, but she had at least one and ended up having a full hysterectomy because of it.
So I’m adopted. And I had no idea that what I was going through was not normal, that it was probably endo, until, I think, my 30s.
My mom had this and we did not have this conversation. When I had really bad cramps and had to go home from school, the talk was not, “I had a similar problem, let’s get you checked out,” the talk was, “you know you’ll never find a boss who will let you come home every month. You need to suck it up.’
This is this is from a mom who is not abusive. I love my mom. We have a very good relationship. But she was raised Catholic, so this is the level of discourse that we have about it.
And you know, we’re not even talking about intercourse here. We need to start these conversations way earlier, just about what does your body, both physical and emotions, what does your body do and what is it supposed to do?
Eunice: The thing about that as well is that if you teach your kids that they just have to suck it up if something bad is happening or something painful is happening to them, that also means that they will suck it up when somebody is being abusive to them.
Because they don’t know the difference.
Joreth: And you can’t trust your body signals. It’s a form of gaslighting. You cannot trust what your own body is telling you, because you’ve learned to block it out your whole life when everybody says, suck it up. And this is one of the big problems that boys have, especially, ’cause they get this “suck it up” way earlier and way harder.
Ms. Ashley: Absolutely, and this is another place where I can say adults should be answering children’s questions factually. If they don’t know the answer, they shouldn’t be faking it. If they don’t know the answer, they should look it up and research it, because kids don’t come with a guidebook. When you have a child, you don’t really know what you’re doing. And so they’re going to ask you questions that push you out of your comfort zone, and they’re going to ask you things you don’t know.
And it’s a great way for you to immediately start being a human with your child and saying where your shortcomings are and being willing to work together to find answers. Because them asking questions to you says “I trust you,” says “I’m curious,” says “you’re my person,” says “this is my safe place to ask these questions.”
It’s not any failure on your part if they’re asking lewd or quote unquote inappropriate questions or saying words you don’t want them to say. You’ve done nothing wrong as a parent if that happens.
That means you’re doing it right, because you are the person they came to with that bad word, or that inappropriate question, or whatever it is. And they’re not seeking that advice and that information from unsafe sources.
Joreth: That’s an excellent point.
Eunice: Yeah, much better to be the parent that they will go to if they think something’s wrong then to hide it because they’re afraid you punish them.
Ms. Ashley: Exactly so. That is what I have to share about what the research has shown me. It’s just one small article and it’s kind of streamlined and basic, which is start early, have very short conversations. Use all those opportunities for fact-based conversations, so that if you don’t know the answers you’re looking them up in good places. Keeping in mind that the more information that you share with your child more frequently, the more information they have in order to make better informed decisions.
There is no evidence that says comprehensive sex ed makes them start doing anything earlier.
Joreth: So I have a question. You teach the adults. Have you also taught the younger groups? You taught all ages, right?
Ms. Ashley: I’m I am a facilitator for K through 12, so I have not used the curriculum beyond that.
Joreth: OK, So what parts of the comprehensive sex ed do you see that most people find objectionable? Is it the sexual diversity part of it? Is it relationship orientation? What aspect of it do you see that people object to the most often?
Ms. Ashley: So within the curriculum we use the circles of sexuality as our primary resource, which is a six-circle Venn diagram which includes sexual health and reproduction, which is what most people think of when they think of sex ed. But our model, the circles of sexuality also includes sexualization and intimacy, sensuality, and identity.
And then the values is the other one. Values touches all of them and helps us make choices for how we utilize the information in those circles.
The one that I see the most pushback for is definitely within identity. That’s where we have this idea that it’s a choice to be who you are, and that is not at all true, and that genders are binary, which is not at all true.
And so within this circle is where I get a lot of pushback, because I am not willing to separate along the gender binary for my classes, and that is a very controversial subject where I am. And even when I say to people, your boy, may be someone husband some day and maybe with someone with a vulva and vagina. And they need to know what’s going on for this person, so they can be empathetic and supportive and loving. More information makes them a better partner.
Even when I say that that’s still like, “no, we need to have mystery,” and “we need to have seduction,” and like and I’m just like, “no, that’s not how this works.” That just means that you have a dude who’s on board with the needs of the person, because they don’t understand what’s happening.
So that’s where we get a lot of the pushback, within the identity, the identity bubble.
Joreth: So what’s the wildest wrong thing myth maybe that you’ve heard in some of the courses you’ve taught? Like, has anybody come due with information that they’ve had before the class that you had to correct?
Ms. Ashley: One kid said they were going to go blind if they masturbated.
Franklin: People still believe that?
Ms. Ashley: I was like, “oh boy.” That one was I was just a shocker.
They didn’t say it, though. We do this activity where they get to write things around the room. And so I didn’t know who it was, because there were different papers on the wall, and they were adding their ideas in different categories.
So one is like, “what’s a message that you’ve received from the media, what’s a message that you’ve received from your family, and what’s a message that you’ve received from your peers?” So those were the three categories, and then within that exercise of sexual messages, it came up from the media. I don’t know what show that was in, but that was one of the messages the media had taught them about sex.
Joreth: That that’s a great idea, having the papers they can write basically anonymous questions.
Ms. Ashley: So within this curriculum we use the question box. At the end of every session, every person gets a blank notecard and a pencil, and every person has to put a card into the box. They all have to write on the card. So they can draw me a poop emoji or whatever they want to do, but they have to write on the card and they have to put it in the box so that it’s totally anonymous.
And then I research all the questions and then the next class come back with all their answers.
There’s a lot of that anonymity that is worked into this curriculum, understanding that we have kids who are introverts and that this topic makes more kids introverted. It’s pretty great how it’s designed to make this content accessible. That’s fantastic.
Eunice: That’s what my school did when we had our sex ed stuff. We had the same question box. You put a question in, and and then the teacher would open up the box and just be answering all the questions. And I do know for certain that some of the kids, I’m pretty sure that they were the boys, would specifically try to find the most.
Ms. Ashley: Like ostentatious?
Eunice: Yeah, out there question, because of course the teacher had to read the question out first, right?
Joreth: Yes, let’s make the teacher uncomfortable.
Eunice: Yep, which you know, kudos to the teacher. They just read it out and answer the question because that’s what you have to do to show that it’s not something to be ashamed of.
Ms. Ashley: Absolutely. Within the facilitation training, we learned that there’s different kinds of questions that kids and youth ask. And it’s always kind of fun to share this little fact with parents, Especially that you can assess the question you’re asked your child asking according to these three categories.
The first category is is information seeking. Like, they really want to know how this works, and so they’re asking for the information.
The second is connection seeking. This would be like some of the questions I get like, “well, what does fish sex sound like?” You know, they’re just being silly and they’re being a clown. And instead of thinking of it as silly and clowning, we think of this as like, “I need connection. I want to be seen.” And so, just by taking that question seriously and saying, “probably bloop bloop!”, it validates that whatever that kid wrote down, I’m not going to be like, “well, this question is probably not worth my time.” No, that question is a child seeking connection.
And then the third version of questions is seeking validation for their normalcy. So if they’re saying something like, “why do my balls itch so much?” They’re trying to find out, is this a normal part of puberty? And for me to answer that question and say, “so, these are some of the other places that might itch also, as your hair grows in,” and expounding upon it, it allows them to see this is normal, and people are going to experience this in lots of places and in lots of ways for lots of time, because everyone experiences puberty at different times and in different lengths and in different places.
So those are the three types of questions we usually see. “I need information,” “I need connection,” or “I need validation.”
Joreth: So we’ve established now that program that you work with goes through all these ages. What about physical or mental disabilities? Do you have anything special for that, or is it just integrated in the whole curricula?
Ms. Ashley: There is a workshop for each age level specifically about sexuality and disabilities, so it’s present in the curriculum. The participants are part of our group. I mean, I haven’t ever been asked to teach a specific group of kids with disabilities because that’s not the way our education system is here. Everyone mainstreamed in part of the community.
And I’m a special ed teacher. That’s actually what I went to school for. And so I am trained to understand how we scaffold information, which is like how you break it down into smaller, digestible parts, how you consider lesson planning so that you’re allowing for movement and allowing for change and allowing for diverse attention spans and all that sort of stuff. So that’s sort of one of my, I guess, special strengths in all of this. Assuming neurodiversity in all of my groups, yeah?
Joreth: It’s fantastic.
Franklin: That actually leads right into what I was going to ask, which is how did you get into this.
Ms. Ashley: Well, obviously I already said that my growing up didn’t suit me well with purity culture not teaching you what I needed to know. And then I’m a Unitarian Universalist, which is a religion here in the United States that invites and welcomes all sorts of people and their beliefs. Within the UU church, the youth go through the Our Whole Life curriculum as part of their experience of church.
And at the end of their senior year of high school, they have a coming of age ceremony where we pushed them out into the world. Most of them go away for college. So we celebrate them, and they each read a statement of belief or lack of belief. And within this statement they say, like, “this is, these are the things that I think resonate with me about mysticism,” and “these are the things that I don’t believe in.” And they spend a lot of time working on this statement.
And absolutely every child…every, not child, every almost-adult said Our Whole Lives was the most transformative experience of church for them.
Ms. Ashley: And I sat there as just a regular church member, like “What is this thing?” Like, the first kid talked about it, the second kid talked about it, the third kid talked about it. We’re on kid seven and they’re all like, “Our Whole Lives changed my life.”
So I was like, “I’m going to get trained. I don’t know what this is, but I’m going to find out!” So it was a three-day training opportunity where you go away and get to be fully immersed in the curriculum and the process, and how to be a facilitator, and how to assess your own bias and leave your bias out of it, and it was transformative for me.
Ms. Ashley: So then I was like, “I’m gonna do this now with all the UU churches in my area.” And now I do it separately. I do it privately because the UU church has a lot of wonderful and correct opinions and perspectives about this curriculum, how they want it to be disseminated, but it’s not very accessible for the public.
I feel like there’s this amazing information that nobody could get to, so I’m trying to get it out there, even just to get the name of it out there so that people can talk to their church and say, ”I’ve heard about this thing. Can we look into it?” Talk to their preschool or you know, like any other parent group, their= friends, whatever it is.
Because it’s supposed to be facilitated in completion. You’re supposed to do all of the workshops from one all the way to the end, and many people cannot commit to that kind of thing. They already have all their extracurriculars. They have work and school. And so I’m just like, “You know, the world would be a better place if they just took two workshops.”
Ms. Ashley: Like, it would be okay if they didn’t do all twelve. And so I’m trying to adapt the curriculum to make it more accessible, just so that it’s available for the public.
Joreth: Something is better than nothing.
Ms. Ashley: That’s how I feel.
Joreth: Yeah, but I would love to see more of those programs exist everywhere because my church had it set up. They had a youth group. They had a sex ed course available, just not as well designed as yours.
Ms. Ashley: So this curriculum is entirely secular, but there is an add-on that you can purchase to add spirituality to it, and so there’s this whole book that can give you Bible passages that you can add to whatever workshop, and it goes together. There’s hymns you can sing that go along with the topics of whatever it is we’re discussing. So it can be entirely secular, or a church can add this spirituality piece to it, and it can be more than that. But it’s amazing and it is comprehensive. There’s no question about that. So I would just love it if more people were advocating for this comprehensive approach.
Franklin: Would that add on appeal to evangelicals, for example?
Ms. Ashley: Probably not, because the base of the curriculum is affirming to all. The base of the curriculum is saying whatever your relationship style is, you are valid. Whatever your pronouns are, they are valid. Whatever your gender identity is, it is valid. You know, so that’s like the baseline is affirming to all. And you have to get on board with that before you can even use the curriculum.
Joreth: So it would work in in my progressive Catholic upbringing, but probably not in a fundamentalist church.
Ms. Ashley: No.
Joreth: But still, I mean, people when they progressive Catholic background are still not getting the proper sex ed. So this would be a huge dent in that.
Ms. Ashley: And I love the way that we encourage participants to think for themselves. So the only real information that we’re sharing in the curriculum is vocabulary and details about the information of STI’s and the usefulness of condoms, like how effective they are and that sort of thing. The rest of it is all thinking exercises, it’s all values questioning.
It’s created so that they should know nothing about their facilitator when they are done with the whole curriculum. They should know tons about themselves and where they stand. So it’s taking out my own values, my own biases, and instead going through the activities specifically to ask the questions and facilitate whatever activity we’re doing for the participant to check themselves and consider for themselves.
So it’s not a values based curriculum, which is really rare to find.
Joreth: Yeah. That sounds amazing, and I hope every one of our listeners now goes to their local school board or their church group or, you know, their “mommy and me daycare” or whatever.
Ms. Ashley: Yeah exactly.
Joreth: And says hey, we need to get started on this right away. And don’t worry about whatever your beliefs are. This program will still work.
Ms. Ashley: Absolutely.
Franklin: If you go on the Internets nowadays, one of the things you see just about everywhere, and it’s been popularized on Reddit, and it’s been popularized in school curricula that are sponsored by the Mormon Church in particular, is this idea of sex addiction and masturbation addiction and “you shouldn’t wank because you’ll get addicted to it.” And, you know, you look at the actual medical data and peer reviewed papers, and they don’t support the idea that—
Joreth: That’s not a thing!
Franklin: That these are even—yeah! That you can even get addicted to things like sex or porn or masturbation. But you see the Fight the New Drug curriculum, for example, which is, you know, pushing heavily into schools now, is actually distorting real research about sexuality and health, and pushing this idea of sex addiction and porn addiction. Is this an issue that the curriculum that you teach addresses at all?
Ms. Ashley: The most updated version of the…mmm, is it middle school or high school? Does. But the others that are not most recently updated, no. So facilitators have been told to like pull information from the most updated version, if you’re going to add that information to your workshops.
I will say this idea of behaviorism is valid, where if you repeat a behavior enough times then your brain starts to myelinate those pathways in the mind to then have the same sort of reaction each time. And so if we’re just talking about behaviorism, then OK, we can have a bit of a conversation about, yYou know patterns of behavior.
but what’s happening with those curriculums, and with that push, is a values-based conversation. It’s not an evidence-based conversation.
Franklin: But it’s masquerading as evidence-based, because it pretends to be scientific, and it even uses scientific language. And it claims to reference studies, which of course now neurobiologists are saying, “hey, you’re distorting what I said. I didn’t actually say that at all.”
Ms. Ashley: Yes, so it’s good to give it that name and say, like, “this is values-based.” So then if a parent is trying to gain information about whatever is in their child’s school, they can ask, “is this a values based curriculum?” Because they would have to say, “yes.” They would have to say “yeah, no, I’m teaching what is morally right, which is a value.”
Joreth: That’s good to know, so any parents who want to evaluate what their kids are doing? Here’s a list of keywords you should ask about or listen for. How are they describing the programs that your children are going through.
Ms. Ashley: Absolutely. So is there any language surrounding “out of wedlock?” Because that is a values-based curriculum and there are lots of programs that that’s one of the key things. “Out of wedlock.”
Is there any discussion of the curriculum centering monogamous relationships, because that is a value-based search engine. Is there any mention that drug and alcohol use correlate with early sexual activity? Because that is not really a thing. Those are all three separate things that are studied really separately.
So if we’re looking for anything surrounding a context of marriage, that is a values-based curriculum. And a values-based curriculum is going to tell participants what to do or not to do based on predetermined guidelines.
Which is the opposite of what we want children and youth to do. We want them to be thinking for themselves and creating their own guidelines, because then they have ownership of those guidelines. And then when they reach those developmental milestones of pushing back against parents and rebelling and trying to find their own footing in this world, which is normal and they should be doing that, they’re more likely to do all the things you told them not to do ’cause they have no ownership in the guidelines.
Joreth: Yeah, if the the stronger of a hold you have on who you are and the stronger your critical thinking skills are—because that’s really what it sounds like you’re teaching, critical thinking—if they face a situation that they haven’t been given a road map for, do they have the tools to evaluate it and take a healthy path for themselves? Or do they only have a list of instructions, and this situation is not covered, so what do you do?
Ms. Ashley: Beautiful way to say it.
Franklin: And that’s something that comes up too, if you have just a sort of a top down, “you have to follow all these rules” kind of approach to sex and sexuality.
I don’t have the study in front of me right now. Maybe I should look it up and see if we can link through it when we put the show online. I do remember seeing a study that said that kids who were given abstinence only and rules-based approaches to sex education, when they broke the rules and had sex, were more likely to have risky sex, unprotected sex, less likely to use condoms, because, “hey, we’re already breaking the rules, so we’re already bad.”
Ms. Ashley: Yeah, go big or go home.
Franklin: Well, we’ll break the rules about condoms too, because we’re we’re already bad. We’ve already done the bad thing.
Ms. Ashley: And that’s so dangerous. I mean, like what parent wants that, right? Instead, get out of their way and help them think things through, and talk less but say more by listening and asking good questions.
Eunice: Actually, I did have one additional question. I was actually wondering if you’ve seen, what sort of changes have you seen in sex ed over, say, the last decade? Because obviously in that time we’ve gone from the Obama administration, which I know increased funding for comprehensive sex ed. And then we had the Trump administration, which obviously pulled all that funding and then went to abstinence-only. And then you know, now we’re moving into the Biden administration. Does that sort of signal return to kind of more evidence-based sex ed, do you think? Is that a hope that we can have?
Ms. Ashley: I can’t answer this completely, but I can tell you what I found. Under the Obama administration, there was a notable shift in abstinence-education funding towards more evidence-based sex ed initiatives,The current landscape of federal sex ed programs is including newer programs such as the Personal Responsibility Education program, also known as PREP, and this is the first federal funding stream to provide grants to states in support of evidence-based sex ed that teach about both abstinence and contraception. So that is new.
Ms. Ashley: But the Trump administration, yeah, kind of undid it a little bit.
OK, so honestly I don’t have a complete picture or a great answer for that. And I’ve only been doing this like 2 years privately, so I’m still kind of new. I can mostly just say like what are the challenges here for me in Indiana? Sorry I can’t answer that.
Eunice: No problem.
Joreth: Well, you’ve certainly given us a lot to chew on and we’ve got some links to the studies that you were referencing that we’ll be able to share with our readers so that they can read what we’ve been talking about, too, for themselves.
Joreth: So yeah, I think this has been a great conversation to have, and we’ve covered a lot of ground.
Ms. Ashley: I appreciate sharing the action items with people. Because I just really feel like if more parents start saying “This is what we need we need. We need comprehensive sex ed. We need our youth to know about condoms and we need non-values-based options for our youth.” If more parents are speaking about it, it’s more likely that something will change.
Thank you very much for sharing your platform with me.
Eunice: If you could give three big take-away points that you want, even if they don’t remember any of the details, the three big take-away points you want them to remember and take away at the end, what would those be?
Ms. Ashley: Number one: more information does not cause your child or youth to engage in earlier or more often sex. It’s not true. And so if there’s any bit of fear inside of you for educating your child, know that the research has said, that’s not going to happen.
Number two: be the safe space for your kid to ask questions. So do any of the self work that you need to do in order to be unashamed or unembarrassed as much as you possibly can, so that you can be a place where your kid can be safe and ask you questions.
And if you don’t have a kid, be the aunt or the uncle, or the babysitter, or the neighbor that isn’t going to be weirded out when the kid goes “do you have a penis or a vulva?” Be the person that that kid can notice is OK answering those questions. Because it is not wrong for them to ask those questions.
And three would be use simple language, because the more we talk at youth and children, the less they hear. So if we can simplify to a very quick message, and then know that there’s going to be another opportunity, and another opportunity, and another opportunity, and just capitalize on each of those opportunities in a simple way, your kid will want to come back to you. But if you do this big speech the first time and the second time, and the third time, it’s gonna be like, oh, if I ask this, it’s gonna be a big ordeal. So no, keep it simple. Use simple language with the kiddo.
Eunice: Nice, those are fantastic take away points and especially the second two basically just fit all sorts of situations.
Ms. Ashley: Yes, absolutely. And I mean, really, that’s what comprehensive sex ed is about. It’s like they’re a whole person, Yep.
Franklin: So where can people find you?
Ms. Ashley: Thank you for asking! I’m on Instagram as MsAshley Robertson. And I curate content for a group on Facebook called Let’s Talk About Sex Ed with Ms Ashley. And I try to share interesting things where people can think about this topic and learn about this topic about five times a week.
Joreth: Cool awesome, this is amazing. So thank you very much for joining us.
Ms. Ashley: Thank you for the opportunity.
Eunice: Thank you for the time.
Eunice: One of the things that I came across after we talked with Ashley was an article on Mashable discussing the way that social media platforms like TikTok seem to be removing any sex ed that includes medically or scientifically accurate information. That includes topics like pelvic health or pain when having intercourse or sex toy safety. We’ll link to the article in the show notes so you can check it out for yourself.
Franklin: The narrative on the American right is “waah, waah, social media censors conservatives,” but in fact social media companies tend to get weirdly sex-negative and prudish when you get right down to it.
Eunice: All of which makes the work of Ashley and others like her even more important. There’s a PubMed article, Sex Education on TikTok: A Content Analysis of Themes, that talks about how Tiktok “offers a novel opportunity to make up for shortcomings in sex education and convey sexual health information to adolescents.” and that’s absolutely true—assuming it’s correct information. And that’s the problem we’re looking at here, right? As the great Sir Terry Pratchett said, lies can run around the world before truth has even gotten its boots on.
Joreth: “Cancel culture” is, as always, only what the “other guys” are doing to “us”, right? Because a lot of them are getting “censored” by misuse of the “report” feature, where people who just don’t like queer people, sex workers, or sex educators just mass-report their TikToks, whether it violates any rules or not, and the ‘bots just take them down because that’s how it works. And it’s totes cool to take down sex workers, sex educators, and queers, but complain about actual lies on social media and it’s all “they’re taking mah freedumbs!”
Eunice: And it disproportionately affects LGBTQ+ youth, because somehow queer sexuality is automatically an adult and/or controversial topic. Which brings us onto another topic that came up at the end of February, as we were working on editing these last couple of episodes. One that every Disney-loving queer person will be incredibly disappointed by. Assuming you know nothing about the history of the Disney corporation or Florida that is.
Joreth: Yeah, I don’t understand why people are so surprised at the conservatism here in Florida, but then I was raised near San Francisco, so to me, this entire state is just one very large small town with delusions of grandeur. Anyway, so one of our state senators, Dennis Baxley, sponsored House Bill 1557 the “Parental Rights In Education” bill, which is being called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It’s fairly long and arduous, but the very very short version is that the bill prohibits educators from mentioning queer labels and topics in schools. According to our local paper, the Orlando Sentinel, Disney has donated to literally every single one of the co-sponsors of the bill.
Eunice: I’m still amazed that anyone is surprised when Disney turns out to support profits above everything else. Insofar as a corporation as large as Disney can even have a single affiliation, it’s not liberal or conservative, it’s just capitalist, and that’s what capitalism is—political power through profit.
Franklin: According to Disney News Today, “The Senate sponsor, Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, has backed anti-gay legislation for years — including laws to prevent gay couples from adopting kids who otherwise wouldn’t have a family at all.” Baxley once compared kids who live with same-sex parents to kids raised by alcoholics and abusers and later said: “I’m not phobic, but I simply can’t affirm homosexuality.” The very next year Disney cut Baxley a campaign check. And another after that. And then another one last year. Shame on you, Disney.
Eunice: The thing I noted about the bill is that it doesn’t actually benefit kids’ education at all, it just prevents the kids learning about LGBTQ+ issues in any form of structured way in school. The language they use is so vague, it could be used to apply to any form of any mention of queerness at all.
Franklin: The article goes on to say, “The bill itself, House Bill 1557, is a trainwreck. Not just based on anyone’s personal values, but based on pure linguistics and legal flaws. It uses nebulous and subjective phrases like “reasonably prudent person” to set standards and bans classroom discussions on “sexual orientation or gender identity” in “certain grade levels” without clearly defining what those levels are.”
Joreth: It also uses the phrase “age appropriate” specifically and then fails to define what “age appropriate” is.
Eunice: I’m getting real vibes of the UK’s Section 28 all over again.
Joreth: Yeah, in fact, to bring us back to something we discussed in the interview, we mentioned not understanding why it was so hard to get information on the content of the sex ed program, and I suggested that I could understand an educator being a bit cagey if what they’re used to is conservatives sticking their ignorant noses into the lesson plan … well, that’s exactly what this bill intends to do – give parents more control over what is and isn’t allowed to be “taught” in class (with no real definition on what the word “instruction” in the bill means). Because what we really need is for people with no training on how education works to be mucking about and getting in the way of educators doing the job they’re trained for.
Eunice: Right. Anyway, let’s long story short this. Given the amount of editing that each of these episodes requires, our listeners can probably guess that this is coming at you all from the past. So with that caveat, as of the date that we’re recording this episode, what’s the current state of play with this bill, given it seems to be changing hourly?
Franklin: Dismal. The current state of play is dismal. Disney put out a letter to their employees apologizing for funding the politicians responsible for this bill, which caused Governor Satan or DeathSentence or whatever the hell his name is to start yapping on Twitter about Disney staying in its lane, though I can’t help notice he hasn’t volunteered to give their money back. They may be pink but their money is green, hey, Darth Senseless?
Joreth: This kind of spending, especially at the level of the Disney Corporation, is deliberate, if not intentional. This isn’t like a marketing department releasing a commercial and not realizing they said something accidentally dirty or insensitive – like, every marketing department needs to have a woman of color, a trans person, and a 12 year old boy on it to make sure they don’t say something accidentally funny or inappropriate, right? No, with the amount of money involved and the high profile of fucking *Disney*, several important and financially *trained* somebodies thought “y’know who we should fund and attach our name to? These politicians, that’s who!” Corporations this big don’t just hand out cash, they *choose* who and what to donate to.
Eunice: Yeah, seriously guys, this isn’t a situation of “whoops it was an accident I just fell on his bank account.” Please don’t treat us like we’re stupid, Disney. But moving on, to once again haul us back to the original point of this episode: we’re aware that listening to this interview over several weeks makes it pretty hard to remember all the great action points that Ashley laid out, so here’s the TLDR:
Ms. Ashley’s Action Items:
- Parents and non-parents to rally behind comprehensive sex ed
- Find out if your school’s program includes mentions of condoms
- Advocate against “values-based” education and for “evidence-based” education
Franklin: We really recommend checking out the show notes for this episode. You’ll find a list there of the takeaway points, the links to the sites and articles she mentioned, and contact information for Ms. Ashley. I mean, we’d love you to check out the show notes regularly anyway, but if you generally don’t, this might be the episode where you start.
Joreth: This was a fun interview and I’m so glad that Ms. Ashley agreed to talk with us about comprehensive sex-ed and shared some resources with us. I, for one, plan to mention to everyone I can, every time the subject comes up, that Ms. Ashley is doing private sex ed courses using this OWL curriculum so everyone can contact her about getting her or someone like her into your area. And, remember, this program covers all ages.
Franklin: So that’s the interview! The Skeptical Pervert is copyrighted by Franklin Veaux, Eunice Hung, and Joreth Innkeeper. Editing is done by Joreth, show notes and transcription by Franklin. You can find a transcript at skepticalpervert.com. Comments or ideas? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you like the show, review us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or wherever you found us.
Eunice: And don’t forget to join our Patreon, which you’ll find linked on the website. We’ve got some additional anecdotes that got cut from the interview there, plus we’ll be adding lots of our background chat there so you can listen in as we work on these episodes.
Joreth: And remember, if you don’t skeptically educate your children, they might grow up to be Republican politicians!
Eunice: The phrase “grow up” is doing a whole lot of heavy lifting right there, just sayin’.
Roundup of Ms Ashley’s useful information
Ms. Ashley’s Action Items:
- Parents and non-parents to rally behind comprehensive sex ed
- Find out if your school’s program includes mentions of condoms
- Advocate against “values-based” education and for “evidence-based” education
Ms. Ashley’s 3 Takeaway Points:
- More information does not cause your child or youth to engage in earlier or more often sex.
- Be the safe space for your kid to ask questions. And if you don’t have a kid, be the “aunt” or the “uncle” or the “babysitter” or the “neighbor” that isn’t going to be weirded out.
- Use simple language.
Ms. Ashley Recommends:
- https://SexEtc.org – lots of vocabulary lists.
- https://WeKnowShip.org – workshops for parents.
- https://amaze.org – full of videos to share with your child.
- https://SexPositiveParenting.org – blog posts and resources.
- https://www.uua.org/re/owl – more about the OWL curriculum.
Ms. Ashley’s Citations:
How To Find Ms. Ashley Robertson:
- Profile – https://www.facebook.com/ashley.robertson.31392
- Group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/787624245036055/
- Group – Let’s Talk About Sex Ed with Ms. Ashley – FB: https://www.facebook.com/Lets-Talk-About-Sex-Ed-with-Ms-Ashley-105238191810657
- Instagram: msashleyrobertson
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