The Arizona Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey repealed Thursday a 28-year-old law that prohibited discussing homosexuality during public schools’ HIV/AIDS instruction.
Senate Bill 1346 was originally drafted to delay the implementation of the Menu of Assessments for grades 3-8, but a strike-everything amendment and then floor amendment sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tempore T. J. Shope changed that. The bill was approved 55-5 in the House on Wednesday, the Senate passed it 19-10 on Thursday and Gov. Doug Ducey signed it into law soon after.
Rep. Shope’s amendment removed a clause in the law enacted in 1991 that allows school districts to develop grade-appropriate, medically-accurate instruction on HIV/AIDS, but prohibited instruction 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.”
Video by Brooke Razo/ASBA: SB 1346 Press Conference
Advocates call repeal an important step
During a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Arizona Capitol, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said, “We send a signal to Arizona’s LGBTQ students, educators and families that says no matter who you are or who you love, you are welcome, and we are proud to have you in our schools.”
“My fellow educators can tell you that the repercussions of this legislation went well-beyond HIV AIDS curriculum,” Hoffman said. “For almost 30 years, the ‘no promo’ law created a myth and a fear that even mentioning LGBTQ relationships in your classroom could result in punishment or firing.”
Supt. Hoffman said young adults in the LGBTQ community at one.n.ten who went to Arizona schools told her about the fear and bullying they faced in the classroom, homelessness from not being welcome within their own families and their struggle to feel accepted at school.
“That’s why we prioritized this law’s repeal on the campaign trail, and in the first few months of my administration, we knew that change could not wait, and as of this morning, that change is here,” Hoffman said.
Slideshow: SB 1346 Press Conference at the Capitol’ work by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews
The law’s repeal would not have been possible without the the longstanding work of many advocates and organizations across the state, Hoffman said.
“It has been nearly 30 years that we’ve been struggling and being concerned about what our young people are being taught or not being taught in our K-12 schools,” said Madelaine Adelman, founder of GLSEN’s Phoenix chapter and a member of Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network‘s national board.
“The decision today and the fact that the governor signed that bill this afternoon, gives us hope that we can now change some of the policies and hopefully some of the ways people treat each other in our schools, and that’s really what we’re aiming for,” Adelman said.
“Young people need to be educated about their bodies and how they work, and healthy relationships and so one of the reasons why this Section C being repealed is so critical is that young people will now be able to learn about themselves and about other people,” said Adelman, a professor at Arizona State University.
It’s appropriate that the law was repealed the day before the student-led Day of Silence, because “our laws kept people invisible and silenced, and we are ready to break that silence with the erasure of this law,” Adelman said.
For years, students have been “taking their parents to school board meetings to advocate for this and comprehensive, medically-accurate, non-shaming sex education,” said Jodi Liggett with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.
“Polling done in 2016 showed that 83% of Arizonans believe that the legislature has no business for passing shaming legislation for LGBTQ people. They also support by a 2-1 margin having comprehensive and inclusive sex ed in class for all kids,” Liggett said.
“The role of government in public education should be to enlighten and illuminate and not to degrade or shame,” Liggett said. “Students should learn that they are empowered, and they have all the information they need to make smart decisions for themselves and their future.”
In 2017, there were 768 new diagnoses of HIV in Arizona and 40% of those were in people who were younger than 30 years old, said Glen Spencer, executive director of Aunt Rita’s Foundation.
“When I go to ASU and ask student there to raise their hands if they were educated in Arizona, and to keep their hands up if they received comprehensive sex education in the classroom – I’m left with no hands,” Spencer said. “I am so happy that now we can start to paint a new picture in Arizona to provide our children with that education that they so need.”
Sen. Martin Quezada, who has sponsored legislation to repeal this law each year for the past four years, said, “Today, the Arizona Legislature finally did the right thing and repealed an archaic, narrow-minded and discriminatory statute from our books.”
“For nearly 30 years now, we have failed to give our kids medically accurate information to keep them healthy, and we have failed to create a culture of inclusiveness and acceptance of who they are and the way that God made them. Today that failure stops,” Sen. Quezada said.
There’s still a lot more work to do to to remove discriminatory laws, policies, practices and procedures, and “we have a moral obligation to fix these things,” Sen. Quezada said.
Rep. Robert Meza said this legislation is important to the diverse communities in the State of Arizona.
“Sexual orientation should not matter or should not be discriminated upon. That’s why I’m here today,” said Rep. Meza said. “We pulled that out of statute, and it’s a good day for Arizona.”
Meza said the business community, theologians and everyday citizens were saying get this repealed, and now “we have that done.”
Rep. Daniel Hernandez, a member of the LGBTQ Caucus at the Arizona Legislature, said, “We know that the thing that we did today is going to change lives for children in all of Arizona’s public schools.”
Rep. Hernandez said LGBTQ stakeholders, GLSEN the Human Rights Campaign, One Community and more organizations told the LGBTQ Caucus “We want to repeal ‘no promo homo’ and we want nondiscrimination.”
“People told us that this was going to be impossible, that this was not something that would happen in a Republican-led Legislature, and yet, despite the odds against us, we said no, we know that equality will win – the moral arc of justice is going to bend in our direction as Sen. Quezada said,” Rep Hernandez said.
“We did that by working with some of our great friends and allies like Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, who was the prime sponsor of nondiscrimination this year, and Rep. T.J. Shope, who was the sponsor of the amendment that led us to today,” Rep. Hernandez said.
Rep. T. J. Shope, who introduced the amendment in the House and helped gather bipartisan support for the bill, said a lot of the credit goes to Rep. Hernandez and the LGBTQ Caucus who educated him on the issue.
“If there’s one thing to take away from this today and yesterday, it’s that when we come together to work on issues, there’s nothing that we can’t solve,” Rep. Shope said.
Law passed soon after lawsuit filed
The approval of the new law might avoid the state having to fight a lawsuit filed by Equality Arizona in March challenging the previous law’s constitutionality, which named Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman as a defendant.
Earlier this week, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a letter to Arizona Legislature leadership that he would not intervene on behalf of the state in the lawsuit.
Supt. Hoffman said in a press release yesterday that the effect of the “no promo homo” laws against the LGBTQ community have “harmed Arizona’s students and families” for three decades.
“As I have previously stated, I believe this law is indefensible and its repeal is long overdue. I urge the legislature to take immediate action and remove this law from statute,” Hoffman said.
Earlier misconceptions and what comes next
This legislation just applies to health education, but “one of the reasons we needed it to be repealed is that people misinterpreted it and misapplied it,” Adelman said.
“There was such a mythology about it that teachers thought that they couldn’t teach about LGBTQ issues in history class or social studies or talk about an author’s identity in an English class, and that actually is not true,” Adelman said.
Since there are no discrimination policies “that cover LGBTQ people based on sexual orientation or gender identity expression in our schools,” the previous law was “being extended to the entire school day, when it really only covered the five minutes that you had for HIV education and that’s it,” Adelman said.
“We’re glad it’s gone, and now we can educate people about what they could have been doing all along and that they want to do now,” Adelman said.
Caryn Bird, co-chair of GLSEN Phoenix, said, “As a former high school teacher, I witnessed first-hand how misinterpretation of this law prevented districts, schools and educators from incorporating positive representations of all students in their classrooms including LGBTQ historical figures and fictional characters in the curriculum.”
“The GLSEN national school climate survey finds time and time again that LGBTQ students and their peers who attend schools with curriculum including sexual health that is inclusive of LGBTQ people, history and events have more accepting schools and better academic outcomes,” Bird said.
Bird said she looks forward to working with local schools and Supt. Hoffman to “continue to create LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum and ensure safer schools for all Arizona students.”