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Republican Bailey describes sex education bill as teaching ‘perversion’ — sparking Democratic outcry

The Senate bill on sex education seeks to standardize the curriculum in Illinois schools, ensuring each grade “has the opportunity to be safe and … have access to age- and developmentally appropriate and medically accurate information,” according to the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago.

State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, left, in May; State Sen. Mike Simmons, D-Chicago, right, in February.
State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, left, earlier this month; State Sen. Mike Simmons, D-Chicago, right, in February.
Facebook; Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

SPRINGFIELD — Two of the state Senate’s newest members — the chamber’s first LGTBQ senator and a Republican farmer from southern Illinois — clashed Thursday over legislation meant to standardize sex education curriculums in the state.

State Sen. Darren Bailey, a downstate Republican running for governor, accused the bill’s Democratic sponsors of “pushing perversion in our schools.”

North Side state Sen. Mike Simmons, who is gay, called Bailey’s remark “deeply offensive” and asked that it be stricken from the record.

In the House, members advanced legislation that would require menstrual hygiene products to be available in bathrooms in every school building, male and female — a bill that also prompted a heated verbal exchange.

The Senate bill on sex education seeks to standardize the curriculum in Illinois schools, ensuring each grade “has the opportunity to be safe and … have access to age- and developmentally appropriate and medically accurate information,” according to the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago.

Starting in second grade, students would learn to define consent, gender identity, and different types of families, including cohabitating and same-sex couples. Villivalam said those standards help students “understand a healthy relationship.”

State Sen. Ram Villivalam in 2018.
State Sen. Ram Villivalam in 2018.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

But Bailey objected.

“Teachers who work hard to teach our kids about proper education have absolutely no reason in teaching this ... absolute nonsense,” said the Republican from downstate Xenia, a former House member elected to the Senate in November.

In a statement following the vote Bailey denied his remark about “perversion” referred to teaching students about same-sex relationships.

“It’s a bill teaching children sexual acts and more that should not be taught in public schools,” he said. “[The Democrats] know it’s wrong and they don’t want parents to actively know what they’re trying to make our schools teach their kids.”

Other Republicans in the chamber said that the standards in the bill were being pushed by “dark money” abortion rights groups that support educators providing graphic images to minors.

Then state Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, speaks at a protest against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order in Springfield last year.
Then state Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, speaks at a protest against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order in Springfield last year.
Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP file

“One of the organizations that’s advocating for this, a portion of their curriculum has photographs that 10-year-olds will be looking at with complete frontal nudity including pubic hair — both male and female – [and] one picture that has a male erection,” said state Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphsyboro.

In an interview with the Sun-Times the next day Simmons characterized Bailey’s remarks as an attack on the LGBTQ community.

“I took it as a dog whistle intended to dehumanize a whole spectrum of diverse families...that includes LGBTQ people,” Simmons said. “I felt like it also was intended to shame young people – shaming their bodies. The reason I rose to have that stricken from the record is I don’t want anybody reading that and internalizing even more, you know, this kind of self shame. It’s time for that type of stuff to end.”

Simmons said “it was difficult to take in good faith” that Bailey’s words weren’t targeted at LGBTQ people, saying that Bailey should “be more careful with his words.”

State Sen. Celina Villanueva, D-Chicago, said that she had worked as a sexual health educator and that “misinformation and a lack of knowledge for our students” leads to serious consequences.

“I’m not going to allow it to happen when people decide that they want to call this bill ‘perversion.’ Because let’s be completely honest, when you use your Trumpian talking points about a bill teaching children about their body and [would] also educate them about the predators that actually exist in this world — you’re just using them to get a soundbite.”

The bill passed in a partisan 37 to 18 vote and advanced to the House.

That chamber saw its own verbal fireworks over a bill that would require menstrual hygiene products to be made available “in bathrooms of every school building that are open for student use in grades 4 through 12 during the regular school day,” according to a synopsis of the bill.

State Rep. Barbara Hernandez, D-Aurora, said the bill is important to young “menstruators who are not able to purchase products, and they need this as an emergency situation.”

State Rep. Barbara Hernandez, D-Aurora, last year.
State Rep. Barbara Hernandez, D-Aurora, last year.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

State Rep. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, asked Hernandez “why you feel it’s appropriate to put menstrual products in a male bathroom?”

“As a male who did go to a public high school, as a male who went to bathrooms from sixth grade to 12th grade, I can promise you, not one of my male friends ever needed these, and I would really appreciate if the sponsor would stay the hell out of my bathrooms, and I promise her I will stay out of hers,” Chesney said.

Despite the division, the bill passed 68 to 43 with seven members not voting.