Lately, all eyes have been on the city of Sochi, Russia, the site of this year’s Olympics. The Russian Federation has infamously imposed a law banning “gay propaganda,” which has been taken to mean any and all public display of support for homosexuality. This has created a dangerous atmosphere for Russian LGBT citizens, who have been victims of physical violence gone unchecked by police, subjected to imprisonment, and other acts that effectively regulate them to second-class citizens.
Meanwhile, while much progress for LGBT rights have been made here in the United States, it should not be forgotten that once, not too long ago, to be openly gay in America came with the same level of risk for public condemnation. While the environment for LGBT Americans has indeed dramatically improved over the years, there are still certain laws in place in certain states that sound like “gay propaganda” laws in the Russian Federation, specifically about how homosexuality can be portrayed and talked about in a school environment. Here is a list of nine states that impose limitations on how educations can discuss LGBT issues with their students, and how sex education courses are still propagating anti-gay misinformation and stigma because of “No Promo Homo” laws:
According to Alabama state law, 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 – an unenforceable since the Supreme Court abolished sodomy laws in its 2003 ruling Lawrence v. Texas. Still, it remains on the books, as does the protocol to teach about it.
According to Arizona law, gay sex is dangerous.
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.” As the state bans same-sex marriage and instructs teachers to teach that sex outside of marriage is wrong, it can be concluded that homosexuality in no way enters the discussion.
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 the primary cause of transmission.
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 all homosexual peoples are very 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.
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 mentally and physically unhealthy.
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 LGBT issues in schools for any reason, but so far have been unable to do so.
The laws on these books are outdated and misinformed, especially in regards to information about the spread of HIV. Not only do these laws further act to stigmatize the gay community – which would directly affect any LGBT students in these classrooms – but all students are receiving outdated information or none at all about safe sex practices and the spread of STDs/HIV.