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June 2014 (To print, click the print icon on your browser
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Vocal Opponents Prompt Hawaii to Alter Middle School Sex Ed Program

By Chelsea Wiggins, SIECUS Fellow

After months of outcry spearheaded by conservative state Rep. Bob McDermott, Hawaii’s Department of Education has made several major changes to its middle school sexuality education program Pono Choices.  While some changes are left to the discretion of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, which develops Pono Choices, others are mandatory, including the significant decision to shift the program from opt-out to opt-in.  Previously, the program was taught to all students unless their parents opted them out of the program. Going into effect for the 2014-2015 school year, parents must now sign up if they want their children to be a part of the program.[1]

Objections to Pono Choices initially arose late in 2013 after Hawaii legalized gay marriage,[2]and were strong enough that the Hawaiian Department of Education temporarily pulled the program in November 2013.[3] After a brief review in December 2013, previously covered by a SIECUS Community Action Update, the program was found to be “a culturally responsive curriculum that has resulted in positive outcomes for students.”[4] Pono Choices was reinstated, only to come under a volunteer panel’s review again just two months later.[5]

In January 2014, Rep. McDermott published a report accusing Pono Choices of “normalizing anal sex and homosexual behavior” and objecting to its “presentation of ‘homosexual behavior as the equivalent of male-to-female relationships.’”[6] He especially objected to the inclusion of the anus in the program’s references to “genitals,” to the extent that his presentations on Pono Choices highlight the word “anus” in red each time it appears, in contrast to the white font otherwise used.[7] With the new changes, Pono Choices will no longer refer to the anus as a genital, but McDermott remains unsatisfied and claims to be preparing his own report on Pono Choices in response to the Hawaii Department of Education’s report.[8] McDermott also previously claimed to be preparing to file a lawsuit over Pono Choice’s medical inaccuracy, and although he now says those plans have been halted, “there’s always potential” to revive them.[9] Rep. McDermott also filed a lawsuit last year to overturn gay marriage in his state.[10]


[1] Wong, Alia, “Major Changes Are Slated for Pono Choices Sex-Ed Program” Honolulu Civil Beat. June 6, 2014, accessed June 12, 2014, http://www.civilbeat.com/2014/06/major-changes-slated-pono-choices-sex-ed-program/.

[2]Milldrum, Breana, “Rep. Bob McDermott Says ‘Pono Choices’ is Dead” Honolulu Civil Beat. June 11, 2014, accessed June 12, 2014, http://www.civilbeat.com/2014/06/mcdermott-reacts-pono-choices-changes-declares-program-dead/.

[3]Wong, Alia, “Major Changes Are Slated for Pono Choices Sex-Ed Program” Honolulu Civil Beat. June 6, 2014, accessed June 12, 2014, http://www.civilbeat.com/2014/06/major-changes-slated-pono-choices-sex-ed-program/.

[4]Legum, Judd, “This Lawmaker Complained Sex Education Was ‘Normalizing’ Homosexuality and His State Took Action” ThinkProgress. June 7, 2014, accessed June 12, 2014, http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/06/07/3446261/hawaii-makes-sex-ed-curriculum-opt-in-after-lawmaker-complained-it-was-promoting-homosexuality/.

[5]Civil Beat Staff, “DOE Convenes Working Group to Review Controversial ‘Pono Choices’ Sex-Ed Program” Honolulu Civil Beat. February 22, 2014, accessed June 12, 2014, http://www.civilbeat.com/2014/02/doe-convenes-working-group-to-review-controversial/.

[6]Legum, Judd, “This Lawmaker Complained Sex Education Was ‘Normalizing’ Homosexuality and His State Took Action” ThinkProgress. June 7, 2014, accessed June 12, 2014, http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/06/07/3446261/hawaii-makes-sex-ed-curriculum-opt-in-after-lawmaker-complained-it-was-promoting-homosexuality/.

[7]Blair, Chad, “Rep. Bob McDermott’s Gay Sex Problem” Honolulu Civil Beat. January 9, 2014, accessed June 12, 2014, http://www.civilbeat.com/2014/01/20863-rep-bob-mcdermotts-gay-sex-problem/.

[8]Milldrum, Breana, “Rep. Bob McDermott Says ‘Pono Choices’ is Dead” Honolulu Civil Beat. June 11, 2014, accessed June 12, 2014, http://www.civilbeat.com/2014/06/mcdermott-reacts-pono-choices-changes-declares-program-dead/.

[9]Ibid.

[10]Signorile, Michelangelo, “Bob McDermott, Hawaii Lawmaker, Defends Efforts to Overturn State’s Gay Marriage Law” The Huffington Post. December 4, 2013, accessed June 12, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/04/bob-mcdermott-hawaii-gay-marriage_n_4384454.html.

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