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Alabama governor signs bill to remove anti-gay language from sex education curriculum

Bill removes language requiring teachers to present homosexuality as "not acceptable to the general public" and illegal under Alabama law.

alabama
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey – Photo: Facebook.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has signed a bill into law reforming the state’s sex education standards, removing anti-LGBTQ language that previously required teachers to condemn homosexuality and portray it in a negative light.

The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville), a former high school science teacher, updates materials on sex education and sexually transmitted diseases to be scientifically accurate and use correct medical terminology.

It removes the requirement that teachers must tell students 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” — a statement that hasn’t been true since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, which nullified Alabama’s anti-sodomy law outlawing consensual same-sex relations.

Under the new law, teachers will still emphasize the importance of abstinence in avoiding “unintentional pregnancy” or transmission of STDs — as required by Alabama law.

But they will be allowed to speak about the importance of “delaying sexual activity [until marriage]” and “discouraging risky sexual behavior” rather than condemning students who engage in sexual activity as lacking “self control and ethical conduct.”

The law, which goes into effect on July 1, also adds a requirement for parents to be notified about a school’s intent to provide instruction about sexual education or human reproduction, and will allow them to request copies of the teaching materials upon request, according to Alabama Media Group.

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Hall told the Alabama Media Group in March that she downplayed the removal of the condemnation of homosexuality and focused arguments in favor of the bill on making the sex ed curriculum age-appropriate and scientifically accurate, fearing that the Republican majority might derail the bill if it focused to much on its LGBTQ aspects.

The previous law, which was amended by Hall’s bill, was one of several “No Promo Homo” laws governing LGBTQ content in the classroom in various states.

Such laws discourage or punish teachers, whether in sex ed, history, or literature classes, from presenting homosexuality in a neutral manner — let alone a positive light — and compel speech by requiring them to regurgitate pre-approved statements condemning homosexuality. Lawsuits have been filed in several states with No Promo Homo laws, prompting some politicians to repeal them.

LGBTQ and sexual education advocates alike praised Ivey’s signing of the bill.

“Ending state-mandated homophobia in sex ed is a hard-won fight by advocates who’ve been working toward this for years,” Courtney Roark, Alabama policy and movement building director for URGE, said in a statement. “We are proud that young queer and trans folks, in particular, made their voices heard in ending this harmful requirement. This win is just one step in the direction of the sex ed we’d like to see in Alabama, which is sex ed that is comprehensive and LGBTQ+ affirming.”

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The Southern Poverty Law Center also commended Ivey for signing the measure into law, saying it “ends the accepted culture of discrimination endured by Alabama’s youth solely because of their sexual orientation.”

“Since 1992, state law has required that when sex education is taught in Alabama schools the instruction include language targeting ‘the homosexual lifestyle’ as illegal and immoral. This language is not only legally inaccurate, it encouraged further stigmatization and isolation of LGBTQ students,” the SPLC said in a statement. “Non-inclusive sex education not only prevents LGBTQ students from learning the information and skills they need to stay healthy, but it also contributes to a climate of exclusion in schools, where LGBTQ students are already frequent targets of bullying and discrimination.

“With these changes, we’re encouraged that all youth, regardless of their sexual orientation, will receive an education that empowers them to make healthy, informed decisions about their relationships and their bodies,” the SPLC concluded.

The American Civil Liberties Union also celebrated passage of the bill, but noted that Alabama lawmakers have been hostile towards LGBTQ rights in recent months and weeks.

They pointed to Gov. Ivey’s decision last week to sign a bill into law prohibiting transgender individuals from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity, and a bill being pushed by lawmakers to bar transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming care.

Under the latter bill, doctors who prescribe puberty blockers or hormones to treat gender dysphoria could lose their license and even face jail time, and insurance companies would be empowered to deny coverage to anyone — adult or minor — seeking transition-related care.

Read More: President Biden tells transgender Americans “your president has your back”

The ACLU and ACLU of Alabama, along with law firm Cooley LLP, have said they plan to sue if Ivey signs the ban on trans-affirming health care. 

“The Alabama legislature has been down this road before, wasting taxpayer time and money to pass unconstitutional bills that they know will get taken to court. This year seems to be no different,” Kaitlin Welborn, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Alabama, in a statement. “Transgender youth have the constitutional right to access necessary healthcare, just like everyone else. If the state tries to take that healthcare away, we’ll see them in court.”

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