Seaside: Is adolescent sexuality conference the right fit?

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By Nancy McCarthyThe Daily Astorian

The Seaside city attorney is investigating the city’s options involving an adolescent sexuality conference held annually by the state Department of Education at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center. The conference has come under criticism recently.

SEASIDE — The Seaside city attorney has asked the City Council to meet in a closed executive session Dec. 8 to discuss the city’s legal options involving the state-supported Adolescent Sexuality Conference that meets annually in Seaside.

The conference, which has been conducted at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center for at least nine years, has come under criticism by protesters who claim that sexually explicit materials may be distributed at the conference that encourage students to commit illegal actions.

During a recent news broadcast on a Portland television station, Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin told a reporter he would ask Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis to investigate whether there may be a reason to shut the conference down.

Russ Vandenberg, manager of the convention center, told the City Council Monday night that the criticism “has not put the best light on the city or the convention center.” He said he asked City Attorney Dan Van Thiel for advice.

“We have been encouraged to seriously consider whether this is the right activity for our town,” Vandenberg said.

The council agreed to meet in executive session to discuss the legal ramifications of the conference. Mayor Don Larson said he has received emails concerning the issue.

“I’ve been attacked for letting them come to our town,” he said.

Sponsored by the Oregon Teen Pregnancy Task Force, the state Department of Education and several other state agencies, the Adolescent Sexuality Conference last met in Seaside April 7 and 8. About 300 people attended; of those, 25 percent were high school and college students, and the remaining 75 percent were parents and educators interested in learning more about communicating with their children or with students about sexuality, according to the event’s organizers.

Seaside School District has never sent students to the conference and did not send them last spring, Superintendent Doug Dougherty said prior to the conference.

Speakers at last year’s conference included Cory Silverberg, a sexuality educator, author and trainer and a founding member of the Come As You Are sexual cooperative in Canada; Allison Vesterfelt, author of three books, including “Asking All the Wrong Questions: Why Christians Are Waiting For Marriage and Sex”; and Mariotta Gary-Smith, a social justice activist from Portland who works with diverse communities on sexual health.

State educators say that close to 20 percent of Oregon’s eighth-graders and a little over 40 percent of Oregon’s 11th-graders have had sexual intercourse.

During the conference in April, about 80 protesters stood mostly silently outside the conference center, holding signs, including several that criticized the state’s involvement with the event. The protest was organized by Jim Welsh, a retired Manzanita grocery store owner, and Michael Kelly, a former pharmacist from Cannon Beach.

Those among the protesters said the information the conference covered was inappropriate for the students. They also objected to handouts that had been distributed in previous years, including one that touted phone sex as a “fluid-free” alternative to sexual intercourse and another that depicted cartoon contraceptives in a series of Valentines. The Valentines, the protesters said, promoted sexual promiscuity.

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