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Each of us has within ourselves an internal compass that can help us as we navigate life. Sometimes we will feel called to do something that may be frightening or overwhelming, and sometimes what we know deep within ourselves must be done may be hard to do. This is the case with Gracey Van Der Mark. She did not plan to become an outspoken advocate, but when she found things that concerned her, she felt she could not be silent. It was my privilege to meet her as she joined the Big Ocean Women delegation to the U.N. Civil Society Conference.

Gracey credits her immigrant parents with instilling good work ethic and values in her life. She says, “Dad was a tough man who did not allow us to give up or feel sorry for ourselves when we made mistakes. He was an orphan raised by priests in Ecuador, so he was also raised to be tough and follow through when he fell on rough times. He came here looking for a better life and worked hard to provide for us.” Her mother had left Mexico to find a better life away from the poverty she had experienced there. Gracey and her husband have been married for 20 years, and they have a blended family with seven children.

When her youngest child was a junior in high school, she was looking for information on the California Department of Education, and her search results included a link warning about CSE (Comprehensive Sexuality Education). She followed up by going to her local school district to ask if any major changes were coming to the district regarding sex ed or health. She was told that there would not be any changes. Several months later she went to a conference and heard Rebecca Freidrichs speak. Freidrichs explained that CSE was a real threat and that it was going to be implemented under the California Healthy Youth Act (CYHA).

This information spurred Gracey into calling her district, but she was told again that it was not happening. She went to the California Department of Education website and found the CHYA. Gracey said that she was “angry that they were either ignorant to such a big change or that [she] was lied to.” At that point she decided to run for her local school board. Although she did not win that school board election, she did serve on two school board oversight committees and is currently a finance commissioner for the city where she lives.

Since then, she has been an independent contributor to Informed Parents of California. She researches bills, reviews approved sex ed curricula, searches through approved and recommended sources from the Department of Education website, and documents websites and books that have questionable content. In addition to doing research, she is a speaker and moderates their Facebook group. She works with parents to approach their school districts to review curricula and request changes. She encourages the parents that she has informed to “pressure their districts to protect their children.” Something else Gracey does is to take screen shots of objectionable text and images from approved websites and pictures from books. She stores these on her large iPad that she always has with her to easily pull up and show parents and school officials because so many simply do not believe that it is happening.

Being involved in the fight against CSE has not been easy for Gracey. She has been heavily attacked in the media, including being named “#3 Scariest Person in Orange County” by OC Weekly. The Anti-Defamation League wrote a letter condemning her and accusing her of being anti-Semitic. She has been accused of being a bigot against African Americans as well. She likes to point out that these two accusations are flawed as her husband is bi-racial of African and Jewish decent. Before they knew her race, the local school board president accused her of being a “white supremacist.” The Southern Poverty Law Center accused her of being anti-immigrant. These are just a few examples as she explains there have been “at least 20 articles” written about her “saturated with false allegations.”

With all of this, Gracey says, “Fighting CSE has been the most difficult thing I have ever done.” She went on to say, “They did not only try to intimidate me, they tried to destroy me into submission. However, the harder they tried to attack me, the stronger I felt about fighting CSE.”

While she doesn’t plan to stop fighting for parental rights any time soon, Gracey recognizes that it will take a long time to fix what has happened in California, and wants to warn parents in other states where CSE is being considered. She says, “First and foremost, don’t ever trust that the government, school districts, or politicians will put your family’s wellbeing ahead of funding.” She recommends parents everywhere stay in contact with their districts and “double check” everything they say. Further, she encourages parents to ask about approved speakers and to review books, recommended websites, videos, worksheets, and PowerPoints. Talk to your children and let them know that if they are not comfortable with topics being discussed in their classes that they can “raise their hand and politely let the teacher know they are uncomfortable with the topic” then go to the office – no restroom or locker detours – then call or text you immediately. Finally, she says, “Always, always, always ‘opt out’ of any sex ed classes your local schools are offering. Teach your own child about sex incorporating your values and beliefs.”

Here are some great resources to help with that:[NH3]

Your internal compass may not direct you to take on the fight against CSE or to run for the school board, but it will guide you as you work to raise your children and influence people around you. Like Gracey, you have the power to be a force for good in your family and community.

The difference between sex ed and Comprehensive Sexuality Education from Gracey:

Regular sex ed focuses on proper sanitary practices, talking to students about birth control options including abstinence and how to prevent STDs.

CSE is much more graphic and inappropriate. Here are some of the most concerning issues:

•Taught to children; no parental consent required

•Normalizes oral and anal sex

•Obsessive focus on sexual pleasure

•Promotes and encourages exploration and experimentation w/gender identity and sexual orientation.

•Teaches children how to give and receive sexual consent

•Exposes children to written and visual pornography

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