With the Olympics starting in Sochi, Russia at the end of this week, much attention has been paid to Russia’s anti-gay laws, including a law banning “gay propaganda,” which could be construed to mean any public display or support of homosexuality. Back in the United States, nine states impose limitations on how educators can talk about homosexuality in ways that mirror Russia’s law. Here’s a look at how sex education courses are still propagating anti-gay stigma because of “No Promo Homo” laws:
In Alabama, state law dictates that homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle:
(c) Course materials and instruction that relate to sexual education or sexually transmitted diseases should include all of the following elements: […]
(8) An emphasis, 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.
This is a reference to Alabama’s “sodomy law” criminalizing gay sex. This law has been unenforceable since the Supreme Court abolished sodomy laws in its 2003 ruling Lawrence v. Texas, but it remains on the books, as does the protocol to teach about it.
According to Arizona law, not only is there nothing positive about being gay, there is no safe way to have gay sex:
C. No district shall include in its course of study instruction which:
1. Promotes a homosexual life-style.
2. Portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style.
3. Suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.
The law dictates the promotion of abstinence, but ironically also seeks to “dispel myths regarding transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus.” Apparently myths about the risks of gay sex are still acceptable.
Louisiana has a law censoring homosexuality in sex education, but it only applies to “any sexually explicit materials depicting male or female homosexual activity.” Given the law’s emphasis on abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage and the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, non-pictorial discussions of homosexuality could probably be considered violations as well.
Mississippi law also refers back to its unenforceable sodomy law, dismissing the possibility that there is any kind of gay sex that is safe, appropriate, or legal:
(1) Abstinence education shall be the state standard for any sex-related education taught in the public schools. For purposes of this section, abstinence education includes any type of instruction or program which, at an appropriate age: […]
(e) Teaches the current state law related to sexual conduct, including forcible rape, statutory rape, paternity establishment, child support and homosexual activity; and
(f) Teaches that a mutually faithful, monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the only appropriate setting for sexual intercourse.
Like Arizona, North Carolina law implies that gay sex is inherently unhealthy:
e. Teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous heterosexual relationship in the context of marriage is the best lifelong means of avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
Note: Because this policy does not explicitly prohibit discussion of homosexuality, it is not counted among the “No Promo Homo” laws in GLSEN’s map above.
Oklahoma’s law focuses specifically on preventing the transmission of the “AIDS virus” (HIV), claiming that “homosexual activity” is among the causes primarily responsible for contact with it:
D. AIDS prevention education shall specifically teach students that:
1. engaging in homosexual activity, promiscuous sexual activity, intravenous drug use or contact with contaminated blood products is now known to be primarily responsible for contact with the AIDS virus;
2. avoiding the activities specified in paragraph 1 of this subsection is the only method of preventing the spread of the virus;
The distinction between “homosexuality activity” and “promiscuous sexual activity” implies that there is no kind of homosexual activity that is not promiscuous.
In South Carolina, gay people only exist when it comes to explaining sexually transmitted diseases:
(5) The program of instruction provided for in this section may not include a discussion of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships including, but not limited to, homosexual relationships except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases.
Even though it was Texas’s sodomy law that the Supreme Court struck down over 10 years ago, that law is still part of the state’s sex education policy:
(b) The materials in the education programs intended for persons younger than 18 years of age must:
(1) emphasize sexual abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage as the expected standard in terms of public health and the most effective ways to prevent HIV infection, sexually transmitted diseases, and unwanted pregnancies; and
(2) state that homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.
Interestingly, the law also asserts that “sexual activity before marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical consequences,” and given that same-sex marriage is banned in Texas, this implies that all gay sex is harmful in such fashion.
Utah law prohibits “the advocacy of homosexuality.” In 2012, the Utah legislature passed a bill that would have banned “instruction in, or the advocacy of” homosexuality and also would have made sex education “opt in” instead of “opt out,” but that bill was vetoed by Gov. Gary Herbert (R).
In recent years, lawmakers in both Missouri and Tennessee have attempted to advance “Don’t Say Gay” laws that would prohibit any discussion of homosexuality in schools whatsoever, but none have passed into law.
As for the laws that are on the books, they seem to largely be outdated both in terms of the constitutionality of state laws and research on HIV transmission. Not only do they blatantly stigmatize the LGBT community, but they clearly censor information that would help gay students make safer decisions in their own sex lives.