Sex ed class a no-go in Southern Maryland
Residents hault local libraries’ attempt to hold class for county youth
Southern Marylanders are divid- ed about the controversial topic of sex education. Several local public libraries had initially planned to host sexual education classes, but strong opposition from residents about the sex educator and her motives forced the libraries to cancel the events.
Bianca Palmisano, a sex educator from Washington, D.C., and owner of Intimate Health Consulting, planned a Small Town Sex Ed Tour around Maryland to be held March 1-15. The tour included four presentations — two in Charles County (at the Waldorf West Library and Potomac Library branch) and two in St. Mary’s County (Lexington Park Branch Library) — geared toward children ages 12-17.
“The fact that the community is so aggressively opposed to teaching comprehensive sex ed is strange to me,” Palmisano said. “I’m no stranger to a little bit of disagreement around sex ed because people have very strong feelings about it. Most of the pushback is in regards to me being a lesbian, and a stranger
teaching sex education to kids in the community.”
Palmisano planned the free tour as a way to give back to the community. She specializes in training healthcare providers around issues of sexual health, as well as LGBT, sex worker and sexual assault survivor competency. She said that her previous work as a social worker encouraged her method of teaching — harm reduction.
Her content and materials include information about anatomy, the HPV vaccine, Hepatitis A and B vaccines, consent and boundaries in relation- ships with others. Palmi- sano said a waiver signed by parents was required in order for teens to at- tend. After Palmisano submitted her materials to the libraries for review, she began receiving phone calls from local residents voicing concern.
Great Mills resident Georgia Kijesky, who called herself a “whis- tleblower,” said she was shocked when she noticed the sex education class being advertised at local libraries. Kijesky and other residents called the library staff and directors, as well as local elected officials, to voice their concerns.
“I’m fighting to stop the corruption of morals of minors,” Kijesky said. “The instructor is involved in nefarious activities and her social media appear- ance (photos and videos) represents her and what she’s advocating for. The event was sponsored by a lubricant company and I did not like that no par- ents are welcome to join library’s administration,” Kijesky said in a release.
Mechanicsville resident Pam Gavin said she was afraid the class would plant ideas in young people’s minds.
“My main concern was whether this was a way for [Palmisano] to recruit (for sex-activism), and who better to go after than the young — they are im- pressionable,” Gavin said. “We have counselors, a public health department and physicians with much more knowledge than [Palmisano] has. I don’t see her as an educator. She said ‘anything is on the table’ and the way she phrased her questions and advertised herself, goes against normal behavior.”
On Feb. 24, Palmisano learned the classes at Lexington Park Library branch were officially can- celled. The program was removed from the website and program calendar two weeks ago.
“We had citizens register concerns about the program here in the county and we simply wanted to respect their opinion at this time and recognize that this is a controversial topic for some people,” said Michael Blackwell, di- rector of St. Mary’s County Public Library. “We re- gret that controversy has arisen around a program that has been well-re- ceived at other Maryland libraries. The presenter would have presented life-affirming messages. Still, we have heard con- cerns from some library users about the program. We have decided that this particular program is sim- ply not a good fit for our library.”
California resident Pa- tricia Taylor Hertzbach, the mother of 12- and 14-year-olds, had planned to have her sons attend the class at the Lexington Park Library.
“I thought it was a really neat opportunity for teen- agers to ask questions about their sexuality and coming of age with an independent expert with mom and dad not hanging over their shoulder. The fact that people actively tried to shut down the program, I don’t understand why they feel the need to control information that I think my children should have,” Hertzbach said. “I hope in the future that the library will commit to a program, they will follow it through at least once to see if there is interest.”
Leonardtown resident Lisa Grossman said people who aren’t interested should just not attend.
“I’m disappointed that people think the class is a bad thing,” said Califor- nia resident Anne Marie Dailey. “I would rather my children talk to an ex- pert rather than talking to their peers and get- ting wrong information. I know the library is in a difficult position so I don’t really fault them, but I think the class would be a positive thing to have in the community.”
During the Charles Coun- ty Public Library System Board of Trustees public board meeting on March 2, the trustees decided to postpone both programs and take time to address all of the citizens’ concerns.
“We pumped the brakes because we wanted to make sure that we are giv- ing the citizens the best in- formation and the highest quality of information to the community. I was so passionate about knowing what the community and our staff think about this topic,” said Claudia Bell- ony-Atanga, chair of the CCPL Board of Trustees.
Indian Head Vice Mayor Ron Sitoula, also a mem- ber of the CCPL Board of Trustees, said the com- munity and board should not be alarmed or pan- icked by this one particular issue. He said he trusts the judgement of CCPL Executive Director Janet Salazar on this matter.
“The school system does a great job provid- ing sex education, the public health office does a great job providing sex education and the library would also do a great job providing sex education in our community,” Salazar said. “It is a natural fit for us. We aren’t trying to replace sex ed programs of- fered in the schools or by the health department; we just want to supplement the information the teens are already getting. Teens may know the basics about sex, but their ques- tions certainly don’t stop SEX ED See Page A9