Protests remain calm over teen sex education class

Lexington Park, MD- On Sunday, May 21 dozens gathered outside of the Lexington Park Library in protest, and counter-protest, over a sex education class for teenagers. did confirm with St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office that there was one arrest.

At the center of the controversy was certified sex educator, Bianca Palmisano. Originally St. Mary’s County Library planned to co-sponsor her talk in the county. After opposition from members of the community, the library’s Board of Trustees decided to cancel the class.

The Southern Maryland Area Secular Humanists (SMASH) stepped in. Chapter coordinator Samantha McGuire, paid to reserve a meeting room at the Lexington Park Library and invited Palmisano back to speak. Some members of the faith-based community remained staunchly opposed to the talk, concerned over the content of the workshop and the fact parents were not permitted to attend. Virginia “Cookie” Pontzer of Great Mills was concerned about safety, “I’m concerned about sexual predators. I want a safe space where I can bring my daughter.”

Those who opposed the class and fought for its cancellation do not believe it would be a violation of freedom of speech. “It’s not freedom of speech if you need a permission form. It creates an environment that draws in sexual predators,” Pontzer declared.

More than six dozen members of SMASH turned out in counter-protest and to support both the teen workshop and the library. Wes Dafler of California is not a member of SMASH but decided to come in support of the library and the services it provides. “I’m here to speak out against censorship. I believe that having a forum for anyone to speak on subjects that are important to them is important for the community.”

Not everyone agreed with that and felt the library was not the right venue for this talk. “If parents would like someone else to teach their kids, that’s fine, but do it in a private space. The public pays for the building, the electricity, the plumbing and we want a safe space,” Pontzer said. Djuna Smith, of California, a member of Mechanicsville Worship and Community Center agreed with a venue change. “They need to find a different venue. The reason they said they don’t want parents in there is because they don’t want them to be embarrassed—that’s something we need to help our children get over.”

Smith continued, “How do you connect the family? How can we help our kids as parents if we’re left out of the loop? I should be the one helping my child. No matter what answer those kids receive in there, they’re going to come home with the same feelings.”

Counter protesters applauded the library for offering its meeting rooms to whomever would like to use the space. “We have to stand up for what we’re taking for granted here---a well-run library is a wonderful thing. We think the free speech and services the library provide are important,” Dafler said.

Other opposition members were out in protest of the content being discussed in the workshop. “I’m taken back that someone would want to teach these things to our kids and any review of her [Palmisano] website would reveal some of the perverse things she’s talking about and that’s just not appropriate for this age,” said Chris Massetti, of Great Mills, a member of Truth Bible Church. “She’s celebrating perversions. The fact that it’s at a publicly funded library is wrong. We just wanted to stand and pray to give testimony to onlookers that we do not support that and teaching that to our kids.” Faith Bible Church was joined by members of St. John’s Catholic Church and Redeeming Grace Church.

“It’s a private room, it’s a private meeting, parental permission required. I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business what’s being discussed in that room unless your child is attending,” McGuire explained. “We’re never going to agree whether this class should be taught and I think most of the faith community has come to agree that the meeting is being held under the library’s meeting room policy and there is parental consent to attend. The consent form is pretty explicit about what could possibly be discussed in there—so if you come up there and read that and sign it then there are no surprises about what might be talked about.”

Bernice Courtney, of Leonardtown is also a member of Mechanicsville Worship and Community Center. She believes sex education should take place at home. “Parents need to be more involved in their children’s lives, they need to talk to their child. Parents need to stop putting other things first before their children and not give the responsibility to someone else.”

McGuire and Palmisano were accused by the opposition of trying to push their own personal agenda. When asked about that McGuire said everyone has their own agenda. “We all have our political standpoints and our ideas of how the country should be run. Her [Palmisano] agenda is science-based LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender)-included sex ed. What is happening here is that the parents who are putting their kids in this class agree with Bianca’s [Palmisano] so-called liberal, gay agenda and that’s why they’re in the class. I don’t think anybody else has a right to tell anyone how to parent.”

When the class started Sunday afternoon, 20 teens were enrolled and nearly 75 people joined SMASH to either counter-protest the opposition or to attend a public forum. “We have a discussion panel that includes a constitutional attorney, a member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a local therapist who works with teens, women and the LGBT community and a social worker. The idea was to have people to address concerns in a public forum setting.” McGuire explained.

The whistleblower behind the crusade against the teen sex ed class was Georgia Kijesky, of Great Mills. asked for a comment and she denied that request.

The St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Department provided extra security during the event to make sure protests remained peaceful. Library Director Michael Blackwell said all groups are always welcome to use the library for their meeting space. When asked if SMASH would avoid hosting similar future events at the library, McGuire said absolutely not. “If there’s something else that I see that is a community need and a community want and SMASH can host it, then I’ll host it again.” There are no future events currently scheduled.

“No sex workshops should be held at the library,” Pontzer exclaimed.

“I respect their faith and their beliefs but the easiest solution for them is to not attend. Michael Blackwell is doing a fantastic job with the library in difficult circumstances and his decisions have been justified,” Dafler concluded.

“We don’t necessarily believe in a supernatural God but we do believe humans are here on this planet to do the very best they can in life.” McGuire explained about SMASH. “The beautiful thing is the opposition doesn’t have to agree with me, this is America and people have a right to their beliefs, they have freedom of speech and they have a right for religion. That is always going to be our position.”

Contact Joy Shrum at

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