Walking into a meeting Monday morning with state Rep. Mary Dye, a group of Eastern Washington high school students didn’t expect to be asked about their virginity.
But visiting as part of Planned Parenthood’s annual Teen Lobbying Day, the group of about a half-dozen got that question from Dye, a Republican lawmaker from Pomeroy, Garfield County. She also represents Franklin, Adams, Asotin and Whitman counties, as well as parts of Spokane County.
After the students — part of a Pullman-area teen council chapter of Planned Parenthood visiting their lawmakers — advocated for bills that propose to expand insurance coverage for birth control, Dye did some advocating of her own.
Dye asked if the students were virgins and suggested one was not, according to the students and Rachel Todd, a Planned Parenthood worker accompanying the kids.
“After she made the statement about virginity, all of my teens looked at me,” said Todd, an education specialist for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. “And I said, ‘You don’t have to answer that. You don’t have to answer that.’”
Dye then gave her opinions to the students about sex and making the right choices, according to those in the room.
A spokesman for House Republicans confirmed that she did ask about virginity, and the lawmaker later issued a statement apologizing.
While “I appreciated their time and professionalism,” Dye, 54, wrote in prepared remarks, “I shared with them that I did not support the issues they were advocating for.”
“Following a conversation they initiated on birth control for teenagers, I talked about the empowerment of women and making good choices – opinions shaped by my mother and being a mother of three daughters,” she wrote.
“In hindsight, a few of the thoughts I shared, while well-intended, may have come across as more motherly than what they would expect from their state representative,” Dye added. “If anything I said offended them or made them feel uncomfortable, I apologize.”
Dye was elected in November over former Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim to replace Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, who resigned amid an ethics investigation.
Todd, 29, said she had never experienced such an encounter before.
“I’ve never been in any type of meeting, especially with teens,” Todd said, “where an adult, especially an adult legislator, was so incredibly disrespectful and inappropriate.”
“Our teens, many of them who are lobbying for the very first time, expect a certain amount of professionalism in these meetings,” added Erik Houser, spokesman for Planned Parenthood’s advocacy arm in Washington.
Alex Rubino, one of the students in the room, said Dye’s advice came “unprompted.”
“It seemed kind of insane for her to say that, especially on the record, to constituents,” said Rubino, 18.
The organization’s Teen Lobby Day is designed, in part, to give students experience with lawmakers, advocacy and lawmaking, according to Todd.
The group received a different reception later Monday, when they met with Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
That meeting was “an incredibly different experience, it was the complete flip,” Todd said.
“Very respectful,” added one of the students, 18-year-old Eleanor Loewus.
Said Schoesler: “I handled it like a normal meeting.”