PORT ANGELES — Referendum 90, a statewide sex education measure on the Nov. 3 ballot, either promotes a gay-transgender agenda and sexualizes children or it empowers children and will help them become healthy adults.
Outlining the differing viewpoints Tuesday were Port Angeles pediatrician Dr. Grace Yelland and 31st Legislative District Republican state Sen. Phil Fortunato of Auburn.
They expressed polar opposites on the proposal during a 70-minute election forum Tuesday sponsored by the Port Angeles Business Association.
R-90, also known as a veto referendum, would stop the enactment of Senate Bill 5395, which the state Legislature approved and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee signed in March.
The state Republican Party opposes the bill.
A yes vote on the measure — the only referendum on the statewide ballot — is a vote to require school districts to establish a sex education program for all grades by the 2022-2023 school year.
To vote against it is to reject the bill and keep the status quo. A no vote keeps the status quo.
Schools are required to teach HIV and AIDS prevention annually in grades 5-12. Local school boards can require instruction on preventing sex abuse.
Ballots will go out to voters for the general election on Oct. 14, in two weeks.
Fortunato, a first-term legislator who unsuccessfully ran for governor in the Aug. 4 primary, said enough laws are on the books and that parents should be the primary instructors of their children about sex.
He repeatedly referred to “Erin’s Law,” House Bill 1539, that lawmakers approved in 2018 as a voluntary program for school districts to identify and prevent sex abuse in grades K-12.
Fortunato repeatedly said he agreed with Yelland in principle.
“Nobody is opposed to age-appropriate sex education,” he said, adding what’s age-appropriate is subjective.
“Here we are being sold a bill of goods that this is for preventing child abuse, this is for age-appropriate sex education, and it’s actually nothing of the sort,” he said.
“A primary theme of this approach is to promote the gay, sexual, transgender agenda.
“Now, I have no problem with people who decide to be gay or whatever,” he said, calling the bill “verbal camouflage.”
He said it is not appropriate for children in kindergarten, for example, to be taught the names of their sexual body parts.
“Does anybody know a girl that does not have a vulva or a boy that does not have a penis?” he said.
“This is what we are talking about in kindergarten, and that is the focus of the bill, to allow this.”
Yelland said the grades K-3 curriculum will not include sexual content.
“It focuses on social-emotional learning,” she said.
“Young children who are being abused often don’t understand what’s happening until someone provides them with these tools,” she added.
Parents don’t always talk about “good touch, bad touch,” she said, adding that 34 percent of sex abuse occurs before victims are 12, and 89 percent of perpetrators are known to the victim’s family.
Fortunato stressed that parents’ rights to educate their children about sex is being sacrificed for a few outliers.
“So, [because of] a small group of parents, we need to pollute the entire system in order to get these two or three parents that might not be communicating to their children with what somebody else is saying is appropriate.”
Yelland said the only agenda is to raise children who know how to make good decisions, to “know what they are doing” when they are in a relationship.
“The agenda is not to promote LGBTQ values, but it will include treating all people as equal, as every person is worthy of their sex.
“I don’t believe this agenda will go into very specific [information] about gay sex. It has nothing to do with this,” she said.
She agreed with Fortunato that the bill requires most school districts to offer a program under SB 5395 that is LGBTQ-inclusive.
One of the books promoted by a pro-SB 5395 group that is geared toward fourth-graders said it is “perfectly normal” to have a gay relationship, Fortunato said.
“Remember, this is a 9- , 10-year-old,” he said.
“I don’t think that has any place in our school system.”
“What about a 9-year-old whose parents are gay?” Yelland responded.
“It’s doing a great disservice to call this abnormal or to make these children feel like something is wrong with them,” she added.
“What the school is promoting is acceptance — learning how to live with diversity.”
Fortunato hearkened to parents having “the talk” about sex with sons and daughters when they are in their mid-teens, and in private.
“Do you think it’s appropriate to have the talk in a coed setting?” he asked. “I don’t think so.”
Yelland said students are exposed to sex at a young age, whether adults like it or not.
She said young people first look at internet pornography when they are younger than 12, when they get their first cellphone.
That’s why it’s important to teach them “what you see in pornography is not how a relationship should be handled; this is not how it happens,” she said.
“We are arming our children with critical thinking.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].