Republican lawmakers in Arizona have introduced restrictions seeking to make it all but impossible to mention LGBTQ-related content in the classroom.
The bill, pushed by conservative interest groups, is framed as a “parental rights” issue, and would require schools to get parents’ permission for discussions about gender identity, sexual orientation, or HIV/AIDS.
The prohibition, which effectively serves as a “gag rule” on free speech, would not only apply to sex education classes, but social studies or history classes dealing with facially-neutral, widely-accepted historical facts.
For instance, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix), said during debate that parents would have to “opt in” before a teacher referenced an event — even in passing, let alone as part of the curriculum — like the 1969 Stonewall riots, the seminal event credited with sparking the modern-era LGBTQ rights movement.
Similarly, any classroom discussion that might veer into topics like sexual orientation would be off limits, unless parents were aware in advance and agreed to have their child in the classroom when such topics are being discussed, according to The Associated Press.
To avoid that, the bill requires that parents be given access to the lesson plans at least two weeks in advance of any LGBTQ-related topics being mentioned in class — placing additional burdens on teachers.
The bill also sets out guidelines for how sex-education curricula are developed, including notice of public hearings, and a 60-day review period before any school board action to approve, revise, or reject curricula can be taken.
Arizona is currently one of five states that already require parental permission before a child can attend sex education classes, according the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The bill would effectively require an additional opt-in before any LGBTQ content could be broached in class, regardless of the context in which it was brought up.
Nearly identical legislation is being considered in Idaho, and Tennessee and Missouri lawmakers have passed bills requiring parental notification before LGBTQ content is brought up in the classroom.
The Arizona measure ultimately passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate on party-line votes, with Democratic lawmakers arguing that the bill infringes on the First Amendment by compelling or restricting certain types of speech, and that its provisions prohibiting the mere mention of LGBTQ content send a harmful message to LGBTQ-identifying youth that their existence is so controversial it can’t even be discussed openly.
Protesters demonstrating outside the State Capitol on Thursday urged Gov. Doug Ducey (R) to veto the bill, claiming it’s a backdoor way of reviving the “no promo homo” law that lawmakers repealed two years ago and Ducey signed into law.
Tony Roberg, the mother of a transgender child, told the Arizona Republic that the restrictions on course content are a way to attack or single out the LGBTQ community for disparate treatment.
She rejected the argument, put forth by proponents, that the bill is not an attack against anyone, and is simply about respecting parental rights.
“This is absolutely aimed at the LGBTQ community,” said Roberg. “They wouldn’t even be able to talk about important characters in LGBTQ history.”
Ducey has yet to say whether he’ll sign the bill, veto it, or let it become law without his signature. He must make a final decision by next Tuesday.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) urged Ducey to veto the bill, warning that it would bring unneeded negative attention to the state, and could open the state to a lawsuit over compelled speech and alleged violations of the First Amendment, similar to a suit that was brought against Arizona over its “no promo homo” law.
State Rep. Cesar Chavez (D-Phoenix), who is gay, argued that the bill seeks to “intimidate and frustrate school districts into not providing sex education at all.”
“When we repealed the ‘No Promo Homo’ law with broad bipartisan support, our goal was to remove the target from the backs of LGBTQ kids in our schools,” Chavez said. “If Governor Ducey signs this bill, he’s putting it right back on.”
Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David urged Ducey to veto the bill and called out lawmakers for seeking to discriminate against LGBTQ youth.
“Just as any other child, LGBTQ children should be able to see themselves in school curriculum, be affirmed, and have the opportunity to learn about themselves, including critically important health information as they develop,” he said in a statement.
“Over and over, we have seen that bills requiring parental consent for sex education disproportionately and negatively impact LGBTQ children.”
David added: No matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, all students should feel supported by their schools and families to grow into who they are without fear — and without efforts to withhold important LGBTQ history from their education.”
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