Catholic faithful vow to continue fighting controversial sex education bill

Vladimir Mauricio-Perez

After roughly 10 hours of debate and over 300 public testimonies, a Colorado House committee voted 7-4 to approve a controversial sexual education bill Wednesday. The bill now moves to the House Appropriations committee.

Several overflow rooms were needed at the Colorado State Capitol on Jan. 30 to seat the hundreds of people who showed up to voice their opinion on House Bill 19-1032.

The bill would require public and charter schools that choose to teach a sexual education curriculum to follow certain “comprehensive sex-ed” regulations, some of which include teaching that abstinence is equal to “safe sex”; if pregnancy outcome options are taught, then abortion, adoption and parenting must all be presented without bias; and the content must promote “sexual activity, sexuality, and sexual orientation as a normal part of human development.”

Among those present in opposition were parents and people of faith, many who waited hours for their turn to speak.

“This [bill] specifically undermines the rights of parents because there’s a section of the bill that says that teachers may discuss gender sexuality outside the curriculum,” said Kelsey Buckingham, a nurse and mother of a child in public school and parishioner at St. Joseph’s Parish in Golden. “So even though the bulk of the curriculum allows parental consent, it puts a loophole in that allows for teacher to have these conversations with my child without my consent.”

In the midst of the waves of people that waited to testify, parents of homeschooled children and those with children in Catholic schools made their voices heard too, declaring that the bill would also affect them.

“Even though we homeschool, we have friends that go to public schools and they’re going to have conversations with [my children] that I don’t want them to have because of this bill, if it gets passed. It’s robbing children of their innocence,” said Stephanie Kelley, mother of five children whom she homeschools and parishioner at Holy Name in Sheridan. “This bill [also affects all parents by] removing our God-given right to parent our children as we see fit. Please let parents be parents and kids be kids. Do not put tools that can harm our children in their hands before they can handle it…”

The bill has been opposed by the Colorado Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of Denver.

“[The bill] would require public and charter schools to either use a comprehensive sex-ed curriculum that contradicts human nature and is inconsistent with Christian values, or to provide no instruction on sexuality at all,” Archbishop of Denver Samuel J. Aquila said in a letter written to all the faithful of the archdiocese. “We know that God made us male and female, in his image and likeness, but the comprehensive curriculum route which most schools will likely adopt teaches innocent children this is not true.”

Also testifying Wednesday night was Father Daniel Nolan, vicar at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Littleton. His comments on human sexuality were challenged by Rep. Brianna Titone, who asked him: “As a Catholic priest, are you abstaining from sex?”

A reaction of disapproval spurted from most of the audience, but Father Nolan humorously replied: “Well, I am a handsome man.”

The representative then said: “A follow up question, which was my main point: You seem to be an expert on the topic, how did you become on expert on the topic?”

The priest calmly responded, “I hear confessions,” which was followed by an outburst of claps from the audience that the Madame chair was forced to silence.

Rep. Mark Bailey — who publicly opposed the bill and called it “a violation of the First Amendment” for its suppression of religion in school districts —argued that the phrase “healthy relationships” had problematic outcomes for parents: “This is what it really is about: for parents to have the right to define for their children what a ‘healthy sexual relationship’ is… Is this our role as a state to determine what a healthy sexual relationship is rather than allow parents to define that for their kids?”

In a similar statement, Stephanie Currie, representative of Family Policy Alliance, said: “Parents, not the state, have the inalienable, constitutional rights for the moral upbringing of their children. This means parents have the right to define the inner boundaries of what they call sane and healthy relationships.”

Moreover, other parents and religious leaders testified that the bill pushed gender ideology at the expense of religious beliefs or traditional values.

“Unelected Colorado State entities have already demonstrated animosity toward people of faith and in views about marriage and sexuality,” said Jeff Johnson, a father of children in charter school. “This bill is trying to inculcate students into [specific] ideological beliefs about sexuality and relationships. This ideology is not rooted in science… Sexual orientation and gender identity are not measurable discrete scientific realities. They are moldered social constructs, and that is what this bill is forcing on local communities.”

Even though many opponents of the bill were saddened to see its approval despite the great opposition, they’re resolved to continue fighting as the bill still needs approval by the full House and then also the State Senate.

“It was an impressive turnout. It was unbelievable seeing the people that came out in opposition to this,” Buckingham concluded. “I just hope the legislators are giving weight to the fact that so many people are voicing concern. I hope they can keep that in mind, that they’re representing the public.”

Problems with HB 19-1032

*If pregnancy outcomes are covered, abortion and life must be presented as equal options.

*The “age-appropriateness” of the curriculum is vague and the actual content of the curriculum is undefined.

*Cannot teach abstinence as the primary or sole acceptable preventative method.

*“Healthy relationships” are defined by the state, not by parents.

*Creates a loophole where programming on gender, gender expression and sexual orientation can be taught outside of the human sexuality instruction without notification provided to parents.

*Charter schools may not apply for a waiver.

To contact your state representative and ask them to oppose House Bill 1032, click here.

COMING UP: Lessons on proper elder care after my mother’s death

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We buried my Mom last month. 

In the summer of last year, I first drove her to her new memory care facility. My heart was breaking. She was so scared and vulnerable but was trying so hard to be brave. My brother said it was like taking your kid to pre-school for the first time. And never going back to pick her up. 

But we had to do it. She was far too confused for our 97-year-old Dad to take care of her. She didn’t recognize him. She would lock herself in her room, afraid of the “strange man” in their apartment. She wasn’t eating well, and with COVID restrictions we couldn’t get into her independent living facility to monitor her diet or her health. Worst of all, she would wander. Unable to recognize “home” and unable to convince anybody to come get her, she would set off by herself. Dad would realize she was missing and frantically try to find her. Fortunately for us, she always attempted her escapes when the night security guard was at his desk. But we were terrified that some evening she would get out while he was away, and she would roam out into the winter night. 

We knew that, without round the clock support, we couldn’t keep her safe in any of our homes either. So, we concluded that she needed to be placed in a secure memory care facility. I think it was one of the hardest decisions my family has ever faced. We researched. We consulted experts. We hired a placement agency. We came close to placing her in one home, then chickened out because we felt like the owner was pressuring us.  

Finally, we landed on what looked like the best facility for our needs. They specialized in memory care, and we were assured that the staff had been trained to care for people with dementia. They took notes about her diet, health, likes and dislikes. Most important, it was a secured facility. They knew that Mom wandered, and their secured doors and round the clock caregiver oversight seemed like the best way to keep her safe. It was the most expensive facility we had seen. But we figured her safety and well-being were worth it. 

On Jan. 12, Mom was found in that facility’s back yard. Frozen to death.  

She had let herself out through an unsecured exterior door, unnoticed and unimpeded, on a cold winter evening. No one realized she was missing until the next morning.  A health department investigator told me that she had been out there at least 12 hours. Which means caregivers over three shifts failed to recognize her absence. I’m told she was wearing thin pants, a short-sleeved shirt and socks. The overnight low was 20 degrees. 

We are devastated. Beyond devastated. Frankly, I don’t know that it has completely sunk in yet. I think the brain only lets in a little horror at a time. I re-read what I just wrote, and think “Wow, that would be a really horrible thing to happen to a loved one.” 

I debated what my first column after Mom’s death would look like. I have felt compelled, in social media, to celebrate the person my Mom was and the way she lived. To keep the memory alive of the truly amazing person she was. But I think I did it mostly to distract my mind from the horror of how she died. 

But I am feeling more compelled, in this moment, to tell the story of how she died. Because I think it needs to be told. Because others are struggling with the agonizing decision to place a parent in memory care. Because when we were doing our research, we would have wanted to know that these kind of things happen. 

I am not naming the facility here. It will be public knowledge when the Colorado Department of Health and Environment report is completed. From what I am told, they are horrified at what happened and are working very hard to make sure it never happens again.

My point here is much bigger. I am discovering the enormous problems we face in senior care, particularly in the era of COVID. I was told by someone in the industry that, since the facilities are locked down and families can’t get in to check on their loved ones, standards are slipping in many places. With no oversight, caregivers and managers are getting lazy. I was in regular communication with Mom’s house manager, and I raised flags every time I suspected a problem. But you can only ascertain so much in phone conversations with a dementia patient. 

Now, since her death, we have discovered that her nightly 2 a.m. bed check — a state mandated protocol — had only been done once in the ten days before her death. She could have disappeared on any of those nights, and no one would have realized it. 

I have wracked my brain, to figure out what we could have done differently. The facility had no previous infractions. Their reputation was stellar. Their people seemed very caring. Their web site would make you want to move in yourself. 

Knowing what I know now, I would have asked some very specific questions. How are the doors secured? Are they alarmed? Is the back yard accessible at night? Are bed checks actually done every night? Who checks the logs to confirm? 

I would check for infractions at the CDPHE web site. Then I would find out who owns the facility, and do some online stalking. Is this a person with a history of caring for the elderly, or just someone who has jumped into the very trendy, very profitable business of elder care? I am very concerned that, for many, this “business model” is built on maximizing profits by minimizing compensation for front line workers — the people actually caring for our loved ones. 

Dad is living with me now. We are not inclined to trust any facilities with his care. Watching him grieve has been heartbreaking. If you talk to him, do me a favor and don’t mention how she died. It’s hard enough to say good-bye to his wife of nearly 60 years, without having to grapple with this, too. 

I am, frankly, still in disbelief. I don’t know exactly where I am going from here. But I do know one thing. I want my Mom’s death to spur a closer look at the way we care for our vulnerable elderly. 

Because I don’t want what happened to my Mom to happen to another vulnerable elderly person again. Ever.