DENVER - Sex-education programs in schools would include information geared to gay and lesbian youths, sex-assault victims and the disabled under a bill that won preliminary approval in the House on Tuesday.
House Bill 1081 expands the state's criteria for "comprehensive sex education" programs. School districts still would be able to teach abstinence-only programs, but they would not be eligible to apply for grants under the statewide program.
Encouragement of abstinence is the foundation of comprehensive sex education, said the sponsor, Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver.
But in the real world, kids aren't waiting until marriage to have sex, she said.
"We know the truth is, that is simply not happening," Duran said.
The House debated the bill for about four hours Tuesday, and most of the opposition was led by Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, an advocate for abstinence education.
Stephens complained that the bill does not hold other sex-education programs to the same standard as abstinence-only programs, which she called sexual risk avoidance education.
Stephens also said parents should have to opt their children in to the program, rather than having them enrolled automatically unless they opt out.
"This bill is shrouded in secrecy and confusion," Stephens said. "Every parent should be concerned about what's taken place today. This is an outrage of epic proportions."
The debate got even sharper when it turned to the bill's requirement that sex education be sensitive to gay kids, or, as legislators said, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning, or GLBTQ.
"When is it appropriate to teach homosexuality to my 7-year-old?" said Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono. "Every parent should be allowed to ask this question and be allowed to choose."
Duran said that objection was the heart of Republican opposition to the bill.
"What this bill does, it is more inclusive because it includes GLBTQ youth, it includes rape victims," Duran said. "What is offensive about it to some of my friends on the other side of the aisle is that it's inclusive."
Supporters like Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, said religious and cultural barriers sometimes keep parents from talking to their kids about homosexuality.
"I know from experience how lonely it can be knowing you're different from other kids in your class and not being able to have that conversation with your parents," said Moreno, a freshman legislator who is gay.
In those cases, Moreno said, kids need to be able to turn to trusted adults at school.
The bill passed the House on an initial voice vote, and a final recorded vote could be taken as soon as today. Votes on amendments Tuesday fell along party lines.