Jim Welsh is pleasantly surprised.
In April 2014, he and about 100 others protested the Oregon Adolescent Sexuality Conference (ASC) in the resort town of Seaside. The annual event, they'd learned, promoted youth behavior that was both immoral and potentially dangerous. Its audience included both sex educators and teens, some as young as middle school. And it was paid for, in part, by taxpayers.
At the time, Welsh thought it would take at least two years to stop the conference from descending on the coastal town where it had met for decades. "We know it'll be a long, tough fight," the retired grocer told Citizen for an August 2014 story. "We're up against the State of Oregon and wealthy groups like Planned Parenthood. It'll take more than people power. It'll take prayer power."
As it turned out, the answer to prayer came faster than he'd expected.
In early March, ASC organizers canceled the event for 2015—in the wake of a public outcry that tanked its attendance and brought investigations from the media, the legislature and even law enforcement.
"The organizers just knew they were in a no-win situation," Welsh says. "The handwriting was on the wall, and they just gave up."
What turned the tide? Parents did.
Like Lori Porter, a veteran public-school teacher who attended the ASC conference in 2010 to review sex-education curricula for her school. "I thought, 'Oh my gosh, parents need to know about this'—the materials presented to, and for, minors," she tells Citizen.
Porter co-founded Parents' Rights in Education the following year, raising awareness of the things the state's sex-education establishment was encouraging—the practices, the attitudes toward birth control and abortion, the concepts of gender identity, the marginalization of parents.
For several years, the group plugged away, getting the word out to both state and national audiences. Last fall, they made a big breakthrough—and sent the ASC into a downward spiral.
On Oct. 5, TV reporter Carla Castano of KOIN in Portland presented an exposé of sexual implements sold by Spencer Gifts in several Oregon malls. Seeing that report, members of Parents' Rights in Education contacted Castano, hoping she'd publicize the doings at ASC.
"I called Carla and said, 'If you think that's a story, have we got a story for you,' " Maloney, a school board member in Scappoose, Ore., tells Citizen. " 'We've got the Oregon Department of Education, Oregon Health Authority, Planned Parenthood and others involved.' She jumped all over that.
"We had the audio of the conference," she adds. "Without that—without the words of the speakers—people wouldn't believe what was going on."
Castano took those materials, then began digging on her own. For several weeks, in fact.
As she did, KOIN knew it had a winner on its hands. For more than a week, the station heavily advertised an in-depth report on the conference, airing on the late news on Nov. 18.
The report was dynamite. Castano had evidence of the activities promoted at the conference—cyber sex, phone sex, pornography, and many others. She had details on ASC's funding sources. She had reactions from parents and students appalled by the conference.
And she had reactions from conference director Brad Victor—bad reactions. At one point, he threatened to walk out of the interview. When asked whether he thought conference materials deterred teen sex, he replied curtly, "I'm not going to address that question. That question is inappropriate."
"Carla didn't let the state agencies off the hook," Porter says. "She really put pressure on them. They aren't used to being held to account."
The report was a ratings smash locally and an attention-grabber nationally, featured for three days on The Drudge Report. And the repercussions weren't long in coming.
The Battle of Lexington
Victor—a retired state Department of Education official who was still on contract as a "sexuality specialist"—had overseen Oregon sex ed for many years, proclaiming it "the most progressive comprehensive sexuality education policy in the nation."
Less than two weeks after Castano's report, Victor's contract was terminated.
Pressure mounted from all sides. The Seaside City Council looked into getting out of its contract to host 2015's event, ultimately deciding against it for legal reasons. Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin, whose jurisdiction includes Seaside, voiced concerns that the conference could be a breeding ground for illegal activity involving minors—"a giant petri dish," he told the press—and asked the district attorney to investigate.
Meanwhile, public response was hitting ASC in the wallet.
"Their registrations went down significantly," Welsh says. "Most of the schools that were sending students there backed out this year. So did most of the county health agencies. Some of the school-based health centers backed out. So, we suspect, did some of the conference sponsors. We think that organizers were looking at a financial disaster."
To top it all off, several legislators wanted hearings, which would have called state officials to testify about how taxpayer dollars were being spent on the conference. At the same time, Oregon's executive branch was being rocked by personal and professional scandals that dominated headlines and eventually led to the resignation of Gov. John Kitzhaber in mid-February.
In Welsh's view, "At some point, word went out among the powers that be in Oregon: 'We don't need anything more dragging us down.' At that point it was just a matter of time before they said, 'That's it. We quit. We're outta here' " about ASC.
While celebrating their win, though, the people at Parents' Rights in Education stress that it's a good start—but the daily struggle over what's taught in the classroom continues.
"What we fought was the equivalent of the Battle of Lexington," Welsh says. "There's still a lengthy war ahead of us."
To that end, the group plans to set up a hotline for parents and teachers across Oregon to report events in their schools.
"Our new slogan is 'eyes and ears all over this state,' " Maloney says. "We want officials to know they're going to be found out now. Anyone else in other states, they can do this too." And they need to, Porter says.
"This conference reflects what comprehensive K-12 sex ed is across the country. Parents have a lot of power, but sometimes they get intimidated. When your child is being trespassed on, though, it's time to say 'Enough is enough.' "
For More Information:
Watch the KOIN investigative report online here.