Former Surgeon General Elders Gets Standing Ovation from Religious Group after Advocating Sex Ed for Kindergarteners

By Penny Starr | July 8, 2009 | 6:10 PM EDT

Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders spoke at the National Black Religious Summit 13 on Sexuality at Howard University School of Divinity on Wednesday. She called on black churches to fight for comprehensive sex education in public schools and universal access to birth control. ( Starr)

( – Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders got a standing ovation after speaking at the annual summit of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice where she advocated health clinics offering contraceptives on public school campuses and comprehensive sex education in the schools starting in kindergarten.
“We ought to have comprehensive sex education in our schools, from kindergarten through 12th grade,” said Elders, who was fired by President Bill Clinton a little more than a year after he appointed her in 1993 because of remarks she made about teaching young people about masturbation as a way to keep them from becoming involved in riskier sexual behavior.
“I was a very big proponent of school-based clinics, and I still am,” Elders said at Wednesday’s summit at Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, D.C. “What better place to provide primary, preventive health care for 52 million children.
“That’s how many children are at school every day,” Elders said. “Children can be provided for at school. The buildings are there. The schools are there. The teachers are there. What they can do is hire a nurse practitioner.”
Elders said sex education should begin in early childhood.
“Somebody said, what do you teach them as a five year old?” Elders said. “You teach them that there are certain places on their body that nobody is supposed to touch. If they do, they should tell somebody, but with our code of silence we set up the perfect incubator that they’ll never talk to anybody.”
Elders only mentioned abortion once in her speech, citing it as a preventable problem.
“We spend so much time in our country arguing and fussing and complaining and talking about abortion,” Elders said. “Well let me tell you about abortion. As far as I’m concerned, the best way in the world to prevent abortions is to prevent unplanned pregnancies, and the best contraceptive in the world is a good education.”
When asked by about statistics that show blacks account for about 13 percent of the American population and more than 36 percent of abortions, she blamed lack of comprehensive sex education and access to contraceptives.
“I feel that the reason we have more abortions – about twice as many abortions in the black community – is because we have more black women who have unintended pregnancies,” Elders said. “And if we have good sexuality education and we made contraceptives available and we let women be in control of their reproductive health, this would not happen.
“I feel like anybody out there in the black community looking at this as genocide, to me genocide is having an unplanned pregnancy such that you don’t get your education and you end up growing up poor and slaves for the rest of their lives,” Elders told “That, to me, is genocide.”
This marked the 13th annual gathering of the black contingency of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The National Black Religious Summit was launched in 1997, and the Rev. Carlton Veazey is president and CEO.
The stated mission of the group is “to ensure reproductive choice through education and advocacy. The coalition seeks to give clear voice to the reproductive issues of people of color, those living in poverty and other underserved communities.”
Its stated goal is to “break the silence about sex and sexuality in African-American churches.”
Elders said that in the black community the church has always been the catalyst for social movements, including civil rights, and she called on black churches to talk about sex and work for comprehensive sex education in the public schools and universal access to birth control.