Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Utah Senate Votes 24 to 1 to Repeal Its "No Promo Homo" Law

While most Republican controlled state legislatures are pushing to enact anti-gay legislation, Utah may become an exception.   Back in the midst of the AIDS crisis during the 1980's, many conservative states - and even some liberal states such as California - passed anti-gay laws that sought to limit if not outright ban any positive public school support for LGBT students. California struck down its anti-gay law in 20013, Now, pending the signature of Utah's governor, Utah is set to join the states that have eliminated laws that ban support for LGBT students.  Sadly at least 19 other states continue to have such laws.  The result is more bullying of LGBT students and all of the negatives that come from such bigotry.  Indeed, a spike in student suicides seems to have been the catalyst for action by the Utah legislature despite the general virulent homophobia of the Mormon Church.  (The Salt Lake Tribune has details here) Here are highlights from Salon:
Utah could become the first Republican-dominated state to strike down an anti-LGBT law that prevents teachers from addressing topics related to homosexuality in schools. Last Wednesday the state’s Senate voted 24 to 1 to repeal its “no promo homo” legislation, following a similar 68-to-1 vote in the House of Representatives. Senate Bill 196, the proposal to repeal the old law, now sits on Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk. Despite his opposition to marriage equality and belief that homosexuality is a choice, Herbert is widely expected to sign the bill.
This is the second time in three years that advocates have passed legislation in support of the LGBT community in one of the country’s most conservative states. Both houses of the Utah legislature are controlled by the GOP and more than 85 percent of representatives are Mormon, a religion with a leadership that has claimed homosexuality is a “grievous sin.”
But two years ago conservatives worked with LGBT leaders on the state’s first milestone toward equality: Utah became the only legislature with a Republican majority to pass nondiscrimination protections for the LGBT community. That law, enacted in 2015, prevents people from being fired or evicted because of their gender identity or sexual orientation (although a healthy religious exemption remains for faith-based groups). The nondiscrimination effort was backed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and represents the first time that religious group has publicly expressed support for pro-LGBT legislation.
The challenge to the state’s “no promo homo” laws began last year when Equality Utah and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of three students who allege that the legislation prevented them from being treated equally in schools. One student, referred to as “John” in the suit, claimed in court briefings that a classmate “held [his] hand to a hot metal slide” and burned it. “He screamed for help and the boy finally let him go,” according to the documents. The suit asserted that because he was gender nonconforming, his teacher denied him first aid. The teacher allegedly felt that helping this injured student would send a message it was OK to be like him.  John was 5 years old.
Rather than making the school district safer for other students like John, the lawsuit alleges, the district doubled down on discriminating against gender nonconforming students. The boy wanted to go to school dressed as Cinderella for Halloween, and after John’s parents pulled him out of his classes, administrators adopted a regulation saying that no students would be allowed to dress up as someone of the opposite gender for the holiday. If they did, they would face suspension.
Williams noted that these sorts of incidents happen all the time in Utah. “Another one of our plaintiffs was simply holding hands with her girlfriend and was called into detention for public displays of affection, while her straight counterparts hold hands in the hallways all the time,” he said. “Time and again, we’re seeing ways in which queer-identified students are singled out and treated differently.”
“No promo homo” legislation was enacted in the early 1990s in the wake of the AIDS crisis. . . . conservative parts of the country either didn’t teach about homosexuality at all or students would only “learn bad things about it.”
That mindset led to the passage of extremely anti-LGBT legislation in states like Arizona, Louisiana and Mississippi, where “no promo homo” laws remain on the books. For example,  Alabama’s state code declares that “classes must emphasize, in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.” . . . 20 states have anti-LGBT language in their curriculum for kindergarten through grade 12. 
“More than 25 million children — nearly half of all school-aged children in the United States — are attending public schools in these 20 states,” Rosky wrote in the appropriately titled “Anti-Gay Curriculum Laws.” “In half of these states, teachers are affirmatively required to teach anti-gay curricula in all public schools. In the other half, teachers may choose between offering students an anti-gay curriculum or providing no health, sex, or HIV education at all.”
“These laws say to students that they are not accepted and that they are invisible.”  This is a concern for people in a state like Utah, where Rosky claimed that the youth suicide rate “has quadrupled” over the past 10 years. Mama Dragons, a support group for LGBT youth, estimated that 32 young people took their lives from November 2015 to January 2016. While no one would claim that the “no promo laws” are solely to blame for this, Rosky said eliminating the legislation would mean there would “no longer be obstacles” to teachers supporting vulnerable LGBT students — empowering them to prevent harassment and treat all students equally, no matter their orientation.
Should Utah successfully repeal its “no promo homo” law, though, with the governor’s approval, it would be the second state to do so. Blue state California, which had passed an anti-LGBT curriculum bill in 1988, struck down its legislation in 2003.  No other states have announced a repeal effort.

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