Supporters of a comprehensive sex education bill known as the Healthy Youth Act have been pushing for its passage on Beacon Hill for a dozen years.
That means, Healthy Youth Coalition chair Jaclyn Friedman said Tuesday, that a full generation of students have cycled through Massachusetts schools since the bill was first introduced.
“That’s an entire generation that’s been exposed to the sometimes hateful, sometimes just clueless whims of school districts and principals and individual teachers — an entire generation that has basically, at random, missed out on the incredible benefits of sex education,” Friedman said at a State House lobby day.
Advocates, including some current students, visited lawmakers to make the case for the bill. Versions of it have passed the state Senate four times, while House leaders have never brought it to the floor for a vote.
“I’m sick and tired of getting up at a podium every two years and talking about a commonsense bill that we can’t get across the finish line,” Sen. Sal DiDomenico, the bill’s lead Senate sponsor, said. “I’m tired of talking to all of you and telling you how important this bill is, and not being able to get this done.”
The bill does not mandate that Massachusetts schools offer sexual health education, but it would require that schools offering such instruction "provide a medically accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sexual health education."
Under the bill, that curriculum would include information on human anatomy, reproduction and sexual development, "the benefits of abstinence and delaying sexual activity," prevention of both dating violence and sexually transmitted infections, relationship and communication skills, and age-appropriate information about gender identity and sexual identity, "including affirmative education that people have different sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions."
Schools teaching sexual education would need to adopt a written policy ensuring parents or legal guardians are notified about the courses and their ability to withdraw a student from all or part of the instruction.
But as states around the country pursue new restrictions on abortion and LGBTQ rights, supporters of the Healthy Youth Act say the time is right for Massachusetts to act on sex education. They also see a potential ally in Gov. Maura Healey, whose campaign platform last year featured a pledge to back “comprehensive, LGBTQ-inclusive, consent-focused, and medically accurate sex education.”
Jennifer Hart of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts said her organization conducted a national analysis of state sex education policies, awarding Massachusetts the neutral score of zero. Fourteen states ranked higher, she said, including some with more restrictive laws around abortion and LGBTQ+ rights.
"Young people across the country witness their rights and access to care and education eroding before their eyes," Hart said. "Passing the Healthy Youth Act is one way we can step up right now to ensure that our youth today, tomorrow and in the future have the access and the means to make the best decisions for their own health and safety."