Things You Can’t Say On The Senate Floor

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BOSTON — A funny thing happened on the way to the Senate’s vote to pass legislation enacting comprehensive public school sex education when it became apparent that content that will be taught to children as young as 12 in Bay State classrooms is purportedly too randy to be discussed among adults inside the Senate chambers.

The telling incident occurred Thursday afternoon during consideration of an amendment pertaining to healthy relationships. State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester) took the microphone and proceeded to deliver a passionate series of remarks regarding the importance of teaching young people about respecting the opposite sex, and adopting a “yes means yes” standard.

Things took a turn when Forry mentioned a story told to her by fellow state Senator Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster) about a social game involving teen-agers and 1980s-style jelly bracelets. According to Forry, the game involved various bracelet colors signifying opportunities for various sexual acts.

Below are Forry’s remarks:

“Several years ago we were working on talking to young people, and one of the issues that came up — and you all remember those jelly bracelets? Those different-colored bracelets? Raise your hands if you do. Does everyone remember those bracelets?

“Well in our schools in the commonwealth, we have young people, and the senator that shared this with me said it was ‘mind-blowing, very disturbing’ — that the colors of these jelly bracelets stood for something. Stood for something physical.

“Whether it was a kiss, if a young man took the girl’s yellow bracelet he could kiss the girl, if the boy took the green bracelet he could make out with her, and if he pulled the black bracelet, that means the young girls in our schools would have to give him a BJ.

“And our girls were doing that. Our girls in the commonwealth were doing that and playing this silly game because our youth and our young men and our young boys said, ‘hey, let’s play this game’.”

Immediately following Forry’s remarks Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) proceeded to call for a vote on the healthy relationships amendment, which passed unanimously, 38-0. 

A little less than 12 minutes later, Rosenberg abruptly returned the conversation to address Forry’s remarks:

“The chair is obligated to point out that … ummm … it’s the chair’s responsibility, whoever is in the chair, to maintain decorum at all times. Part of decorum is to ensure that debate is conducted in a way that is consistent and respectful of our responsibilities as senators.

“I missed that a slang term was used in the heat of debate, not with any malice [or] intent, but a term that ahhh …. would ahhh … require me to bang the gavel and remind all members that decorum is critical in our debate, so I apologize both to the members and to the public that I did not do that at that time.

“It having been brought to my attention, by a number of votes, it’s my obligation at this time to apologize and to encourage all members, no matter how enthusiastically or energetically we debate, at all times to observe decorum as we are the voices of the people, not only for our own constituents and our own districts, but for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a whole.

“And so I ask all members to bear in mind as we … uhh … conduct our debate, that at all times we must maintain … uhh … decorum, and uhh … should uhh … speak in ways that would … uhh … bring credit to ourselves as individuals and to the Senate as an institution.”

Forry then rose immediately to respond, reiterating that her use of the term BJ “was not said in malice.”

“But sometimes folks have to hear it raw, plain and simple, to understand what we’re trying to do here,” Forry noted.

Forry later told the State House News Service that she used the term “because in the moment as we talk about health and healthy relationships that was a real thing and sometimes as adults we want to put our heads in the sand and act like it’s not happening.”

Forry added that Senate Republicans, of which there are only six, approached her to tell her that they did not lodge any complaints with Rosenberg over her use of the slang term.

“There are certain words I guess you can’t use,” she said.

State Representative Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica), following the Senate’s final vote passing the bill, vowed over social media that when the House takes up the matter he plans on reading aloud from the floor various passages that appear in the curriculum.

The curriculum itself, produced by Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, is titled “Get Real:  Comprehensive Sex Education That Works.”

The Massachusetts Family Institute, a conservative pro-family group that vehemently opposes the legislation, purchased the curriculum online. The organization later combed through the volumes to determine what the curriculum deems “age-appropriate” material.

Some of the examples that MFI considered alarming includeflash cards intended to educate students in the seventh grade about proper condom usage for “vaginal, or anal sex” and a chart purportedly encouraging them to use “non-microwable Saran Wrap” as a prophylactic for various oral sex acts when other materials are unavailable.