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Lawsuit Takes Aim at Arizona's 'Anti-Gay' Curriculum Law

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An Arizona lawsuit filed March 29 seeks to stop enforcement of a longstanding state law barring teachers from teaching about HIV/AIDS in a way that "promotes a homosexual lifestyle."

Filed by Equality Arizona, a gay-rights organization, the lawsuit filed in federal district court alleges that the 1991 law violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment by preventing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer students from accessing the up-to-date medical information that their straight peers receive.

It further asserts that the "anti-gay" law has hurt LGBTQ youth, who are at higher risks for suicide and depression compared to their peers.

"The negative impact is significant, communicating to teachers and students that there is something so undesirable, shameful, or controversial about 'homosexuality' that any positive portrayal of non-heterosexual people or relationships must be barred," the complaint reads. "By enshrining into state law that LGBTQ people may only be discussed in a negative light, the State and Defendants instruct all students that LGBTQ people are a dangerous, immoral class of people from whom other students must be shielded."

No More 'No Promo Homo'?

Arizona is one of seven states that have so-called "no promo homo" laws on the books that limit what teachers can say about LGBTQ people. Most were written in the late 1980s at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and ostensibly were aimed to help quell it. But they often contained a value judgment on gay people: Texas' goes so far as to say that "homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle." 

Arizona's, similarly, states that no district can use teaching material on HIV and AIDS that "promotes a homosexual lifestyle," "portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative lifestyle," or "suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex."'

In fact, the medical research has evolved greatly since the early 1990s, including the widespread availability beginning in the mid-1990s of antiretroviral medication, and more recently pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, whch has been shown to greatly reduce HIV transmission rates.

The suit names Arizona Superintendent Kathy Hoffman alongside the members of the state school board. Hoffman, on her own, has called repeatedly on state lawmkers to repeal the law, though they have so far failed to follow suit.

"This policy is not just outdated, it has always been harmful and wrong," she said in her first speech to the Arizona house's education committee, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

Utah recently repealed a similar law, but only after Equality Utah, a gay-rights group, filed a similar lawsuit there. (Equality Arizona and Equality Utah are both members of a larger umbrella organization.)

Even states that don't have such prohibitions on the books have struggled over the issue of representation in curricula. California and New Jersey are the sole states to require curricula to include LGBTQ figures and accomplishments. Similar legislation is in the wings in Illinois.

Photo: An attendee holds up flags during the New York City Pride Parade, Sunday, June 24, 2018, in New York. —Steve Luciano/AP


Read more stories on LGBTQ issues in schools:

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