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The NEA helped write controversial sex ed curriculum, including lessons on gender identity

The National Education Association (NEA) helped write and continues to advocate for sexual education standards that encourage public school teachers to discuss gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation with children, despite parental concerns that these discussions are often more ideological than educational.

The NEA used member dues to help craft the standards on health and sex education policy, and then to push those standards into states and local school districts in partnership with an organization that holds extreme views on a variety of topics, including on what children should learn starting from a very young age about sex and gender identity. The NEA says it has “guided policy” on sex education standards in at least 41 states.

By using members’ dues to advocate for controversial issues, NEA officials put teachers and other members in a difficult position, especially as demands grow to make classroom learning more transparent. Besides these concerns, this also raises the question of whether a national union is the appropriate institution to affect state and local policy on what students learn in the classroom.  

Identity is one of the topics covered in the NEA-endorsed content standards, with suggestions for teaching about gender and sexual identity to children starting in kindergarten and up through 12th grade. It is during the middle school years—when children are already dealing with hormonal, physical, and social changes—that teachers are expected to significantly ramp up discussion of a child’s sexual and gender identity.

In order to push these standards into schools and classrooms, the NEA partnered with Advocates for Youth, a progressive advocacy organization that has worked on issues like youth access to abortion without parental notification, gender-neutral bathrooms, and defunding the police.

Advocates for Youth co-founded the Future of Sex Education (FOSE), which then spearheaded the effort to create new national standards for sex education. The NEA joined this effort and helped craft the standards. Advocates for Youth also advertises a curriculum based on the standards called Rights, Respect, Responsibility Curriculum, and trains teachers to use it in the classroom.

Advocates for Youth created a series of videos on YouTube for school-aged children to accompany the curriculum under the name AMAZE, which includes videos on topics like: “Should I Feel Bad About Watching Porn?”, “Am I Ready to Have Sex?” and “Range of Gender Identities.”

It is unclear if NEA helps fund Advocates for Youth directly since they do not release a list of their donors. The NEA does give money to the New Venture Fund, according to its latest Department of Labor filing, which in turn gives money to Advocates for Youth.

In promoting the standards it helped to develop, the NEA has pointed to California as an example to the rest of the country for its health and sex education standards. However, the introduction of the new standards in California has led to controversy, as the standards suggest teachers should initiate discussions about gender identity with children starting in kindergarten, and includes material some parents say is pornographic.

Suzanne Bates

Suzanne Bates is Senior Writer and Researcher with Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector workers offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2020, Suzanne worked as a journalist for the Associated Press, as Policy Director with the Yankee Institute, as a contributor for The Hartford Courant, and as a regular commentator for WNPR’s The Wheelhouse.