Abstain From This

Dozens of sign-wielding students and parents gathered before the May 13 Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) Board of Trustees meeting had every reason to expect victory for the proposal they backed to implement a districtwide sex-education program that would deem abstinence the only solution to pubescent sexual urges. After all, board president Rosemarie Avila spearheaded the drive for the Game Plan program, and considering the recent ouster of formerly entrenched trustees in that district, the current board members would seem loath to thwart the wishes of an organized campaign.

But to the surprise of just about everyone in the packed chamber, Game Plan was rejected with a 3-2 vote. Not so surprisingly—especially in this divided city—many Game Plan supporters reacted spitefully to the unexpected verdict, with one self-proclaimed minister going so far as to insist to the audience that trustee Audrey Yamagata-Noji voted against the abstinence-loaded program because of lingering bitterness over the Japanese-American internment in World War II.

Game Plan proponents quickly huddled and vowed to stage a demonstration before the May 27 board meeting. But the only amassment of riled humanity that night was a gaggle of eighth-graders awaiting recognition by the board for their scholastic accomplishments. When asked about the two-week-old sex-ed controversy, the kids knew nothing.

Good for them, because if they and their parents knew that the curriculum's beauty-and-brawn facade masks radical conservative origins and intents, they might be tempted to launch their own protests against SAUSD.

Game Plan was conceived by Project Reality, an Illinois-based nonprofit organization established in 1985 with the expressed intent to implement abstinence-only sex education across the country. Project Reality, in turn, is a subsidiary of the Committee on the Status of Women, another Illinois-based organization founded in 1975 by ultraconservative pundit Phyllis Schlafly. Through Schlafly's political clout, according to a 1996 report by the liberal watchdog group People for the American Way, Project Reality won state contracts to teach abstinence-only sex-ed courses in Illinois and elsewhere worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, contracts that continue to be enforced to this day.

Using its considerable resources, Project Reality brandishes endorsements from individuals in fields they perceive to be the obsession of each gender during their teenage years–beauty for girls, sports for boys. For the girls, Project Reality uses 21 beauty-pageant winners, including 2003 Miss America Erika Harold, as spokeswomen. They appear at conferences and rallies sporting tiaras and good looks to add credence to Game Plan's abstinence-as-success-story message. Boys, meanwhile, find the perfect abstinent role model in former Los Angeles Lakers forward A.C. Green, who was famous in his playing days for saying he'd remain a virgin until marriage.

The organization's website (project-_reality.org) touts Game Plan as a “national leader in the field of adolescent health,” and describes its mission as being “to help adolescents choose abstinence until marriage as the healthiest lifestyle through curricula, classroom presentations, youth rallies, assemblies, workshops and conferences.”

The problem with Project Reality–and the reason it was rejected by a slim majority of the SAUSD boardis that it teaches virtually nothing about contraceptives and very little about sex in general, other than stressing that it be avoided. The program's booklet, titled Game Plan, paints a sex-crazed world where even shampoo commercials pressure children into having sex. Condoms are allotted one page, and then only to dismiss their use as worthless. More insidious, however, is the underlying theme throughout the pages of Game Plan that romantic heterosexual relationships are necessary to be a functional high schooler; homosexual teens and those without boyfriends or girlfriends are invisible.

Schools in 25 states use Game Plan, which Project Reality has targeted at mostly minority youth in inner-city schools. There's even a Spanish-language version of Game Plan intended for heavily Latino districts such as the SAUSD. This approach spilled over into the local lobbying effort as well; many of the more than 90 speakers who spoke in support of Game Plan on May 13 used their Latino ethnicity to argue that the program would be good for them. “We [Latinos] are religious people; we don't want [our kids] exposed to sex,” one parent told the Los Angeles Times.

But would Latino parents be as enthusiastic about Game Plan if they knew of the involvement of Schlafly, a notorious Latino-baiter who insists in nationally published columns that Mexicans are planning to retake the Southwest? Or that Project Reality leader Kathleen Sullivan once told a Chicago magazine that minority youth “. . . are not going to learn to punch the time clock and to be there on time and produce a day's work if they can't even control their own emotions in the important area of sexuality”?

Perhaps a counter-protest exposing the roots of Game Plan would help them decide.

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