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GLSEN Phoenix favors "No Promo" lawsuit

For years, GLSEN Phoenix has advocated for the repeal of the notorious “Section C” of ARS 15-716, which some refer to as the “no promo homo” law. Section C of that education law was passed by Arizona legislators nearly three decades ago, during a period of entrenched discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.

GLSEN Phoenix fully endorses the Equality Arizona v. Hoffman lawsuit challenging ARS 15-716.

It is time to move Arizona away from this decades-old stigma-based approach to education by removing Section C from the statute. Such legal reform is critical, given what is known about its effect on the safety of LGBTQ students in K-12 schools. Unfortunately, the Arizona legislature has repeatedly failed to repeal Section C. Thus, we express our unequivocal support of the federal lawsuit filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Lambda Legal, along with law professor Clifford Rosky and pro bono counsel Perkins Coie LLP, on behalf of Equality Arizona, including its members who are public school students.

GLSEN Phoenix endorses the lawsuit for several reasons. ARS 15-716 selectively stigmatizes a group or class of students (and members of the school community, including students’ families, teachers, staff, etc.). The law sends the message that LGBTQ people do not belong in the school community, and mandates that a particular group of students not have equal access to education. Overall, the statute places students in harm’s way, increasing young people’s vulnerability to harassment, sexually transmitted infections (including but not limited to HIV), unintended pregnancy, sexual violence, and dating violence. The statute perpetuates social stigma which translates into harassment, assault, and discrimination, and results in lower levels of testing and health care for youth who are HIV+.

Section C of ARS 15-716 argues that “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.” In essence, this archaic and poorly worded section of the law bars educators from teaching medically accurate content about the transmission of HIV. Section C also requires educators to disseminate myths about the transmission of HIV. This section of the statute contradicts other sections of the statute, which legally require HIV/AIDS education in AZ to be medically accurate and to dispel myths of HIV transmission. Not surprisingly, the AZ Department of Health Services’ HIV/AIDS Surveillance Annual Report of 2018, in Arizona, indicates individuals in their 20’s had the highest HIV/AIDS incidence rates in the state during 2017 with 20-24 year olds at 23.5 cases per 100,000 individuals and 25-29 year olds at 32.0 cases per 100,000; school-age youth between the ages of 13-19 year are at 4.0 cases per 100,000 individuals. The CDC reports that the majority of new HIV diagnoses are among young gay and bisexual African American and Latinx men. All students deserve comprehensive and medically accurate health education.

Notably, ARS 15-716 only places restrictions on HIV/AIDS education. The statute does not apply to sexual health education in general, nor does it apply to the school curriculum or to the school day more broadly. Nevertheless, because educators are confused by the statute, lack guidance from their school district, often conflate sexuality and gender, and are concerned with employment security, students encounter overly broad interpretations of ARS 15-716 at school. In schools where these sorts of exclusionary laws or policies stand without commentary or reform, research has found that this breeds ambiguity and paralysis, leading educators to say nothing or only negative things about LGBT people. The resulting invisibility and stigma have immediate as well as long-term harmful effects on all students’ education and health.

We observe pernicious effects of ARS 15-716 Section C on LGBT students as a whole:

  • LGBT students & families pathologized and excluded from the school community.
  • LGBT students endure more bullying/harassment & disproportionate punishment.
  • LGBT students feel less supported by their teachers and less safe at school.
  • LGBT students more likely to participate in unhealthy and risky behaviors.
  • LGBT students more likely to experience sexual violence and dating violence.
  • LGBT students and students who are HIV+ more likely to face long-term education and health disparities.

We also find school-wide effects of ARS 15-716 Section C:

  • No, limited, or ineffective intervention into anti-LGBT harassment.
  • School employees unprepared or reticent to deliver LGBT-relevant support groups.
  • Students barred from doing research papers on LGBT topics.
  • General school curriculum either has no content or only negative content about LGBT people.
  • Students lack access to LGBT-inclusive library resources and/or school computers censor LGBT content.
  • Students unable to organize a Gender/Sexuality Alliance student club or find a GSA sponsor among school staff.
  • Health lessons delivered with no mention of medically accurate, relevant health resources about and for LGBT people, including guidance for students about healthy relationships.

What K-12 school community can do:

  • Clarify meaning and application of ARS 15-716 Section C with entire school community.
  • Provide medically accurate, LGBT-inclusive training to educators who deliver HIV/AIDS and sexual health lessons.
  • Measure the extent to which the school climate is LGBT-inclusive from student and staff perspectives.
  • Provide safe schools professional development training to K-12 educators to identify best practices to create an LGBT-inclusive learning environment.
  • Incorporate curricula that reflect gender identity, sexual orientation, and family diversity
  • Reform policies to include protection against bullying, harassment, and discrimination based on “actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression