#DontEraseUs: FAQ About Anti-LGBT Curriculum Laws

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Frequently Asked Questions About Anti-LGBT Curriculum Laws


What are anti-LGBT curriculum laws, or so-called "no promo homo" laws?

These are state or local laws that restrict or prohibit the discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) issues in the classroom. They are also sometimes informally called “no promo homo” laws, because they reflect the erroneous belief that curriculum inclusive of all people somehow "promotes" being gay. Some of these laws affirmatively require schools to portray LGBT people in a negative light, or prohibit schools from portraying LGBT people in a positive light. Others prohibit even the discussion of LGBT people in certain curriculum.

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How many states have these laws?

There are at least 8 states with anti-LGBT curriculum laws that expressly call out LGBT issues for disfavored treatment in schools: Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. Find out what these laws say.

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What do these laws require?

Their specific requirements vary. Some state laws involve teaching students that LGBT people are unacceptable. For example, Alabama and Texas specifically mandate that, in certain curricula related to sexual health education, students must be taught that being gay “is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public.”

Other states forbid schools from portraying LGBT people in a positive light. For example, Arizona prohibits instruction that “portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style” in certain curriculum.

Another approach is to bar discussion of LGBT people. That’s the case with South Carolina’s law, which forbids discussing “homosexual relationships” in comprehensive health education, except to discuss sexually transmitted diseases.

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What is the history behind these laws?

Most of these laws were passed in the late 80s and early 90s as part of laws relating to sexual health education in general or HIV/AIDS in particular.

A number of the laws also require teaching inaccurate information that engaging in same-sex intimacy is a punishable, criminal offense. That is false in light of Lambda Legal’s victory in the Lawrence v. Texas case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all remaining sodomy laws in 2003, holding that the U.S. Constitution safeguards the right to engage in private, intimate conduct free from government interference.

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Do these laws apply to all curricula and school activities?

In general, these laws often apply only to curriculum regarding sexual health education or one aspect of that curriculum. Thus, these laws should not usually bar the adoption of LGBT-inclusive curriculum in history, social science and English classes. However, schools and teachers may misapply these laws, in practice, as barring more than they actually do. 

Furthermore, although these laws may only apply to curriculum regarding sexual health education, they are often vague as to what is actually required or prohibited in that context. For example, Utah’s law prohibits “the advocacy of homosexuality” in health education curriculum.

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Why are these laws harmful?

These laws are harmful for many reasons. 

First, they stigmatize and discriminate against LGBT students by treating them differently than other students in the classroom. Heterosexual students are not taught, for instance, that they are not “acceptable to the general public” because of their sexual orientation. There are also no analogous laws barring the portrayal of heterosexual people in a “positive” light. Anti-LGBT curriculum laws perpetuate a stereotype of LGBT people as a dangerous, immoral class of people from whom other students must be shielded.

These laws create an official climate of discrimination, which can contribute to the bullying of LGBT students, who are at a heightened risk of suicide. LGBT students in states with these laws report hearing more homophobic remarks from school staff and are less likely to report incidents of harassment to school staff, according to GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey.

Second, these laws frustrate sexual health education, both by blocking accurate information and promoting inaccurate stereotypes, thus undermining student health. For example, Arizona expressly forbids instruction suggesting that “some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.” Research also shows that stigma, which these laws reinforce, is associated with lower self-esteem and greater risk-taking behavior.

Third, these laws have a chilling effect on LGBT-inclusive curriculum, programs, and policies, even where they would not actually be barred by these laws. In other words, even where these laws do not prohibit teaching about gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk in a history class or reading a Walt Whitman poem in an English class, schools and teachers may misinterpret them as doing so. That uniquely harms LGBT students, but it also deprives other students of the benefits of an accurate, inclusive education.

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Are these laws constitutional?

The equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution forbids the government from engaging in unlawful discrimination. Anti-LGBT curriculum laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation by treating lesbian and gay students, for example, differently than heterosexual students in the classroom. Heterosexual students do not face the unique barriers that these laws impose on lesbian and gay students in receiving accurate information about their sexual orientation.  Rather than advance any legitimate interest of the government, these laws serve only to stigmatize and endanger an already vulnerable population of LGBT students.

By comparison, imagine if there were laws that barred classroom discussion of people of a particular ethnic descent in a positive light, or required schools to teach students that having a particular religious background is “not acceptable to the general public.” These laws would treat students in those groups differently and violate their constitutional rights to equal protection.

Furthermore, anti-LGBT curriculum laws are a form of school censorship that impedes the free exchange of information and the ability of students to receive accurate information. Students do not shed their constitutional right to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gates, and many courts have held that this includes a right to receive information. While schools exercise a large degree of control over curriculum, courts have held that restrictions on curriculum must, at a minimum, be reasonably related to a legitimate teaching interest. Discriminatory restrictions on curriculum cannot satisfy that test.

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Why should schools have LGBT-inclusive curricula?

LGBT-inclusive curriculum is important to ensuring that a school fulfills its mission of educating and preparing students. If a school teaches sexual health education, it should speak to all students, not just some. Curriculum that ignores the existence of LGBT students, or worse, stigmatizes them, disregards the needs of those students.

Inclusive curriculum is also integral to teaching accurate information. For example, LGBT people have made important contributions in history, art, science, literature, and countless other areas. Schools should not be in the business of erasing those individuals or their contributions from curricula. Furthermore, all students will encounter LGBT people, whether in the classroom or otherwise, and it does them a disservice to ignore that reality or the ways in which LGBT issues are a part of the world around them.

Studies also show that an inclusive curriculum contributes to a safer school environment for LGBT students. Schools should be in the business of teaching students to respect one another and their differences, not teaching by example that discrimination is valid.

A number of leading professional organizations support LGBT-inclusive curriculum, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Social Administrators, the American School Health Association, and the National Association of Social Workers.

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If you are a student or teacher in a place with an anti-LGBT curriculum law:

We want to hear from you. Speaking out against these laws can be a powerful tool for change. You can also help us better understand and monitor how these laws are being applied, whether you are a student, teacher, or community member.

 

Disclaimer and Notice

The information provided on this website does not constitute legal advice, and you should not rely on it as legal advice.  This website does not constitute an offer for Lambda Legal to represent you.  If you contact us, Lambda Legal may contact you to follow-up about your message.  Information you share with us will be kept confidential, unless otherwise ordered by a court.