Abstinence-Only Education Dealt Another Blow

Finally! When Obama released his budget, cutting funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) education, we were ecstatic but knew that there was a long way to go. Last week, the House voted by an overwhelming majority to eliminate almost $99 million in spending for these failed programs. Yay! It’s about time to try something new—like putting $114 million of new funding into programs that actually educate teens about how to stay safe. Good start.

Opponents claim that giving money to already “well-funded” comprehensive sex ed programs is unnecessary. Perplexingly, it would only decrease the amount of money going to youth education since it doesn’t look like AOUM is coming back anytime soon (fingers crossed!). Abstinence-only supporters bemoan these changes citing “studies” like the 2006 Zogby poll which they claim found that adults approve of AOUM over comprehensive sex ed 2:1. No surprise, as the study was commissioned by the National Abstinence Education Association. Fine. But it was never meant to be a public opinion poll, according to the Guttmacher Institute. More troubling is the way abstinence education was described to respondents. Of course a majority of American adults would support a program which “promotes an age appropriate discussion of contraceptives within the context of promoting abstinence as a healthy choice” (the definition of abstinence programs provided in the survey). Um…isn’t that comprehensive sex ed? Or are we mixing up our labels?

Maybe it’s all so confusing because the abstinence movement is struggling to create a more mainstream image. Jessica Valenti discusses how the “virginity movement” (her label for abstinence proponents) is troubled by their loss of standing due to budget cuts, studies showing their programs are failing, and the new pro-comprehensive-sex-ed administration. By publicly claiming that they are moving away from their “abstinence only and absolutely never mention contraception no matter what” approach they probably hope to garner more support. But, if teaching about STIs involves projecting gruesome images of syphilis infections on a big screen (newsflash: the rate of syphilis among teen girls increased by almost half during the abstinence-loving previous administration) and teaching about contraceptives means claiming that condoms fail more often than they work, we should all be wary.

But enough with depressing old news…in with the new! The House has taken a great step in the right direction towards the health of America’s youth. Next stop, the Senate. And then, hopefully, our schools!

Ruth and Dina in Philadelphia

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What a Waste

We talk about competitiveness all the time – on the global market, with other states, and with the business across the street. Yet this country wastes a huge amount of talent when it comes to the LGBT community. Highly competent, qualified people are turned away from jobs or fired when employers become aware of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Twenty states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin) and the District of Columbia have realized the harm they are doing to their states and banned employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Thirteen of these also protect transgender people.

462 of the Fortune 500 companies, including all 27 of those headquartered in Pennsylvania, also have nondiscrimination polices that include sexual orientation.

According to Shari Slate, Chief Diversity Officer for Sun Microsystems, Inc.

“Corporate success is driven by the innovative and enterprising spirit of communities of employees. A diverse workforce that represents a variety of perspectives is essential to meeting the demands of our global customers.”

Adds Heyward Bell, Chief Diversity Officer for Raytheon

“Over the next ten years we’re going to need anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 new employees. We can’t afford to turn our back on anyone in the talent pool.”

Neither Pennsylvania nor the federal government has caught on to what is so obvious to so many other states and companies. We continue to allow workplace discrimination against the LGBT community, despite the fact that it hurts our businesses and the ability of the state to attract and retain young people, who are more likely to desire diversity and inclusiveness in the places they live and work.

Here is one story of a highly qualified candidate who was actually chosen for a job – until her employer learned she was transgender. (To hear another personal story of discrimination, see our March 10, 2009, post.)

Workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people is not only a violation of American ideals of equality and the civil rights of LGBT people, it also hampers a business’s ability to recruit and retain the best and the brightest employees. Simply put, it’s a waste of talent.

Think it’s past time to end employment discrimination against LGBT people in Pennsylvania? Support PA House Bill 300, which would ban employment discrimination, as well as discrimination in housing and public accommodations.

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Becca in Harrisburg

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Paid to Stay Pregnant… Putting All Our Eggs in One Basket

Women’s bodies have always been a battleground. While many strides have been taken to give women control over their own bodies, financial compensation has rarely factored into the scuffle. Money has suddenly become a weapon, but where the blows land makes little sense. Somehow, some believe that paying pregnant women for carrying children to term to give them up for adoption or donating eggs for IVF is just great, while struggling women who need support to raise their own children or those who want to donate eggs to scientific research are menaces to society. Apparently, it’s only okay when we pay women to reproduce for others.

A recent discussion on Bloggingheads between Steven Waldnet of Beliefnet and William Saletan of Slate proposed an intriguing question: should women be paid to carry children to term? Both men agreed that reducing abortions would be beneficial to society, and Waldnet believes that financial considerations often impact the decisions of pregnant women. The obvious solution, then, is to pay women to have children to give up for adoption. Apparently there’s a shortage of children for the surplus of adoptive parents, parents who receive government benefits for adopting. If pregnant women received such benefits – Waldnet stipulates that “maybe we should pay her $1000,” although he admits that he does not have an exact dollar estimate – everything would work out just fine. So kind of like a national surrogate pregnancy policy, as Saletan suggests, except in reality, there wouldn’t be enough parents for such an influx of bundles of joy. Maybe it would be better to support mothers who do want to keep their children and are struggling financially. Oh wait, right – these same groups who would support paying women to give their children up for adoption seem adamantly opposed to supporting underprivileged mothers.

One thing women have been paid for is their donation of eggs for reproductive purposes: that is, for more babies. Stem cell researchers have been trying for years to recruit egg donors (using the same invasive extraction procedure) without being able to offer any form of compensation. Just last month, New York controversially became the first state to allow researchers to pay women up to $10,000 for donating eggs for scientific purposes. Makes sense: same procedure, same incentive. But apparently the problem is that it’s not the same result, with one leading to newborns and the other to stem cell research. Regardless of whether harvesting eggs exploits women, it seems odd that payment would depend on the result.

The math just doesn’t add up. Money for babies = good, while money for mothers = bad? Money for eggs = good and money for eggs = bad? If you’re going to commodify women, folks, at least be consistent.

Dina and Ruth in Philadelphia

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