The battle for comprehensive sex education in Tucson

By Emma Muigai/El Inde

Lizette Trujillo is a mom and activist in Tucson, who moderates a support group called Families Transformed. With a mission to create and support a network of families embracing their children’s gender nonconformity, Families Transformed provides a monthly meeting for parents of gender diverse children from Southern Arizona.

Trujillo is a mother to a transgender son. Her husband, Joe Trujillo, noticed how from a young age their child identified as a boy. They remember him putting on ties and making his voice deeper from very early on.

Finding out their child was transgender was something the couple did not expect, so finding resources and support for her family was especially important. “When you have a trans child and realize they aren’t protected outside of your care, it’s hard because you don’t know if you’re doing the right things,” Trujillo said.

For years, Arizona schools have been teaching from an abstinence-only sex ed curriculum. But Tucson Unified School District, or TUSD, has modified its policy on sex education with a new curriculum that provides medically-accurate, age-appropriate information on anatomy, reproduction and related biology. It addresses contraceptives as a way to reduce sexually-transmitted infections including HIV and pregnancy.  

Yet on September 10, 2019, a revised TUSD sex education Family Life Curriculum tried to address sex and sexuality, gender identity, and other topics, attracting controversy. 4Tucson, a christian group that seeks to find biblical solutions to city problems was among those protesting the new curriculum.

“There are a lot of aspects to comprehensive sex education that are inaccurate and medically incorrect.,” said Bernadette Gruber, a member of 4Tucson. Gruber believes in teaching abstinence only in schools, since the state of Arizona encourages abstinence-only education, she explained.

Last fall, local churches rose up in objection to the new revised sex education curriculum. 4Tucson mobilized a lot of Latino churches from Tucson’s southside, which argued that TUSD was willing to teach sex ed against their culture; teaching “pedophilia.”

“I went to the first meeting and it was OK,” described Trujillo. “But by the second meeting, the church showed up. TUSD has a strong non-discrimination policy and people’s words (turned) vulgar.”

Parents and children in the TUSD community wanted Trujillo there for support. They drafted a letter and demanded their kids be shielded from harmful words used at the protests. They bought T-shirts and spray paint and prepared for a walkout. “I was scared there was only going to be a couple of us walking out, but when we went to the big forum and saw all the white T-shirts and spray paint walk out with us, it was very empowering,” said Trujillo.

There were a lot of straight allies at the walkout, Trujillo said, proud of the people who walked out with her. Her good friend Carol Brochin, an assistant professor of bilingual and multicultural education at the University of Arizona and active member of the local LGBTQ community, walked out alongside Trujillo, too.

Facing a big crowd, Brochin was asked to read a letter in front of everyone. “TUSD has delayed the vote for the new curriculum,” she read. “As it is right now the LGBTQ community feels totally left out.” Brochin explained that a lot of the kids in the Tucson Unified School District have queer parents and queer friends.

The Tucson Unified School District has been working on a comprehensive sex ed curriculum for years. The Family Life curriculum is an optional two-week course taught from grades 4 to 12, with subject matters that change depending on the students’ grade.

“I believe people have their right to freedom of speech, but not hate speech,” said Brochin, responding to the pushback by 4Tucson and others. The new curriculum would teach students about empowerment, positive self-image, and healthy relationships with peers, she explained.

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