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New flash point in sex ed: gay issues

Skirmishes include one in Massachusetts, where a health-education bill has ignited debate among parents.

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When David Parker opened up the book "Who's in a Family?" given to his 5-year-old son last year at Estabrook Elementary School, he was livid.

The school said the book, which portrays contemporary family structures including those headed by same-sex parents, was part of a broader array of materials intended to promote diversity in the Lexington, Mass., school district. But to Mr. Parker and his supporters, the book is part of a "homosexual agenda" inappropriately peddled in the classroom.

His fight in Massachusetts has become a rallying call among conservatives, some radical, across the country. Last summer, the Westboro Baptist Church from Kansas came to Lexington to picket outside its schools and churches. In the fall, Parker visited Maine in support of a religious group trying to overturn a law banning discrimination in places such as work because of sexual orientation.

But nowhere has he been more galvanizing than in the arena of sex education. He is at the center of opposition to a new bill in Massachusetts that would lift the status of health classes, including sex education, to that of science, math, and other core subjects.

State codification to teach about homosexuality will only embolden gay rights advocates, he says. "They are trying to force their own views, views that are controversial in the adult world, upon young children."

His opponents maintain that in a changing world, in which same-sex couples can legally marry in Massachusetts and gay coupling is broadcast on prime-time TV, comprehensive education is crucial to end discrimination and create safe schools.

The debate here echoes disputes in other towns, from Montgomery County, Md., to Spokane, Wash.

While sex education has been firmly entrenched in American public schools since the 1980s, says Jeffrey Moran, who wrote on the politics of sex education in his book "Teaching Sex," same-sex issues have become a new lightning rod for conservative groups. "It is the organizing principle for them attacking sex education in general," he says.

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