Woman who led sex ed fight in Texas speaking at Mount Pleasant screening of documentary

A teenage Shelby Knox, front, poses with her parents in a promotional photo for the 2005 documentary "The Education of Shelby Knox."

Access to age-appropriate sex education is a priority public policy issue for the Charleston Area League of Women Voters.

Now, a national spokeswoman for comprehensive sex education will be in town Sunday as part of the group's community outreach efforts.

Shelby Knox, the subject of 2005 documentary "The Education of Shelby Knox," will lead discussion after the film's screening at Cinebarre theater in Mount Pleasant. She gained national attention in the early 2000s as a teenager fighting for sex education in the conservative community of Lubbock, Texas.

"On a basic education level, young people deserve the information that they need to make responsible, healthy decisions about their lives and bodies, and they need to get it from a knowledgeable, consistent source within the school: people who they're used to seeing as educators and trusted sources," said Knox, now 27 and a senior campaigner at Change.org.

She said her fight is still relevant today, and not just to teens and their parents.

"It's about building healthy communities," she said. "Young people, whether they're your child or not, are going to grow into members of society, and we want them to have healthy perspective and knowledge. People would be very upset, whether they're parents or not, if they found out that the mass curriculum had errors in it. It's the portion of school subjects that's going to stay with people the longest and have the biggest impact."

Brittany Mathis, chairwoman of the League's Comprehensive Sex Education Committee, said the opportunity to introduce Knox to the Lowcountry was one she couldn't pass up.

"I knew that I wanted to show the film just because I remember hearing such great things about it, and that it was really in line with what we were trying to get across to the Charleston community," said Mathis.

South Carolina sex education falls under the state's Comprehensive Health Education Act of 1988. Middle school students are taught age-appropriate information about reproductive health and sexually transmitted infections. Pregnancy prevention in the context of "future family planning" is added to this curriculum for high school students. For both age groups, abstinence and the risks associated with sexual activity outside of marriage must be emphasized, according to the act.

South Carolina has the 11th highest birth rate among teens in the nation, according to the South Carolina Campaign to prevent teen pregnancy. Mathis said statistics like this inspire the League to continue supporting comprehensive sex education.

"Our teen pregnancy rates have gone down, but they're still not good," Mathis said. "That's something we really want to get across to the community: We're not advocating that it's okay, but we really want our students to know how to be safe."