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West Virginia bill targets LGBTQ students

Buried deep in committee at the moment is West Virginia House Bill 4153 — “Displays and, teaching related to sexuality forbidden.”

Yeah, you read that right. Sounds like it was written in the Dark Ages, doesn’t it? (And, the comma placement is not mine.)

So far the language associated with the bill does not shed much more light than its title.

“The state board shall prohibit persons from putting up displays relating to sexuality in public school facilities and shall forbid the teaching of sexuality in public schools. NOTE: The purpose of this bill is to forbid displays relating to sexuality and to forbid the teaching of sexuality in public schools.”

That’s all we’ve got to work with right now, but we do know some of the back story.

Lead sponsor of the bill is Delegate Joe Jeffries, R-Putnam, who is still simmering after the backlash he suffered last year when he tried to shame a teacher at Hurricane High School who had put up a display encouraging the school to support its LGBTQ community. He went so far as to ask “Can anyone show me the pictures in support of Jesus in the school?” (The PUBLIC high school, let it be noted.)

Jeffries, at the time, appeared to forget that the school’s policy of creating “an environment that will permit students to grow and develop,” applies to ALL students; and that the Constitution does, indeed, prohibit rules “respecting the establishment of religion” in a public school.

Other sponsors of the bill are a predictable lot: Dean Jeffries, R-Kanawha; D. Roland Jennings, R-Preston; Scott Cadle, R-Mason; Zack Maynard, R-Lincoln; and Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer.

I have a host of problems with the idea that anyone would even think of introducing such a bill. But let me focus on two.

First, what, exactly, are “displays relating to sexuality?” Is a kid wearing rainbow socks — because he or she likes colorful clothing — vulnerable to punishment from a teacher who has decided to find an excuse to discipline the kid? Is a music teacher’s lesson on pioneering rockers like Freddie Mercury a reason for a colleague to file a complaint?

Note, though, that the writers were careful not to specify the type of sexuality, the teaching or display of support for which is now forbidden.

That brings me to my second big problem. Is this another attempt to remove sex education from schools completely? Even more shame on those sponsoring it, if it is.

West Virginia has the eighth highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. We are living in an era when diseases (some of which can be transmitted sexually) we haven’t talked about for 20 years are making a resurgence. There are vaccines available to help prevent one of those diseases, and perhaps lower the risk of certain cancers down the road.

Teachers need to be able to talk to students about that kind of thing, and much more. Surely none of the sponsors of this bill believes we can leave such discussions entirely up to parents. Far fewer kids will have an understanding of healthy sexuality than is good for us as a society.

I hope the grownups on the House Education Committee will make sure this one never makes any headway. It is a petty and dangerous attempt to do harm not just to a certain segment of our student population, but to all West Virginia kids.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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