Metro Weekly

Utah repeals discriminatory sex education bill

Move to repeal "no promo homo" law banning all references to homosexuality wins overwhelming support

Utah State Capitol – Photo: LoneStarMike, via Wikimedia.

Utah lawmakers have taken a step forward for equality in sex education by voting overwhelmingly in favor of a bill repealing a provision that essentially “gagged” teachers from allowing any discussion of, or reference to, homosexuality in schools.

The repeal bill, sponsored by Sen. J. Stuart Adams, (R-Layton),  passed with bipartisan support, passing the Senate by a 27-1 margin and the House of Representatives by a vote of 68-1. It now heads to the desk of Gov. Gary Herbert (R) for his signature into law. Under the provisions of the fix, all students, regardless of sexual orientation, will be taught abstinence-based education in public schools and urged to refrain from engaging in premarital or extramarital sex. 

“This is a historic day for LGBTQ students in Utah,” Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah said in a statement. “We commend Sen. Adams and the Utah Legislature for recognizing that LGBTQ students should be treated with the same respect and dignity as other students. The removal of this discriminatory language from the school curriculum laws will send a positive message that all students are valued in Utah.”

Under the existing law, teachers and administrators were threatened with discipline if they allowed supportive discussions or positive portrayals of homosexuality in school, particularly with respect to school curricula, such as in science or sex education. The National Center for Lesbian Rights and Equality Utah sued over the law, arguing that the law singled out LGBTQ students for disparate treatment in order to express moral disapproval of homosexuality or transgenderism. 

Such laws, known as “no promo homo” laws, have passed in seven other states: Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. In their lawsuit, the LGBTQ advocates noted that the “no promo homo” law had made some teachers and administrators reluctant to intervene on behalf of LGBTQ students who were being bullied or harassed by their peers. The law had essentially cowed them into silence for fear of being accused of “advocating” on behalf of homosexuality and subsequently punished or fired.

Despite passage of the repeal, NCLR and Equality Utah’s lawsuit still remains in place. Now, however they are focusing on a provision that bans instruction that could “facilitate or encourage the violation of any state of federal criminal law.” This is particularly troubling for LGBTQ advocates, because Utah’s same-sex marriage ban and anti-sodomy law, though both ruled unconstitutional, have never been officially repealed. As such, the provision could be deliberately interpreted to justify discriminating against LGBTQ students or denying them access to relevant sexual health information.

Still, advocates expressed hope that today’s repeal of the “no promo homo” provision could lead to a positive and amiable resolution.

“This is a very gratifying development and a significant step forward in resolving our litigation challenging this stigmatizing and unconstitutional law,” Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com