At least eight states have “no-promo-homo” laws: Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. (As explained below, some people count Louisiana too.)
What does this mean?
[This post was last updated on 2/5/14. View the change log here.]
No Promo Homo Laws:
Encouraging Prejudice, Undermining Student Health & Spreading Misinformation
While they can take different forms, laws known as “no-promo-homo” laws generally prohibit gay-inclusive (or even sexual-orientation-neutral) instruction in public schools or require anti-gay instruction. To read excerpts from eight states’ laws, scroll down or click here.
Some of these laws condemn homosexuality more directly and explicitly than others. Alabama’s law, for example, is particularly vile: It requires sexual education courses to teach 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.” The state has not updated its law to reflect the fact that, under the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, private homosexual conduct between adults is no longer a criminal offense in any state. The state essentially mandates, therefore, not only that schools encourage anti-gay prejudice, but that they teach outdated and objectively false information about the law.
North Carolina’s law, in contrast, doesn’t explicitly condemn homosexuality, but it does so implicitly: Schools must teach “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.” This state-mandated message of heterosexual supremacy likely exacerbates the isolation and stigma faced by LGBT youth, and it certainly does nothing to protect a young gay person’s health. (Nor does it advance the well-being of heterosexual partners with whom some gay people, ashamed of their sexual orientation, might form a relationship in an effort to suppress and deny their homosexuality.) North Carolina’s message is also, of course, false: Assuming neither partner has a sexually transmitted disease (STD) to begin with, a “mutually faithful monogamous” relationship will protect a person from STDs regardless of whether the relationship is homosexual or heterosexual.
No-promo-homo policies may also exist at the local level. One particularly famous—and now defunct—policy is the 1995 directive from the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, which provided that “homosexuality [could] not be taught/addressed as a normal, valid lifestyle” in the district’s schools. The policy apparently extended beyond the classroom, as it prohibited all district staff from “advocat[ing] the homosexual lifestyle” or from using “their resources” to do so. In 2009, the district changed the policy a bit, toning down the hostility while continuing to gag gay-supportive speech: The 2009 policy required district staff, “in the course of their professional duties, [to] remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation.”
This so-called “neutrality policy” formed one piece of a larger problem in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, where students reported rampant harassment and discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation. Several students filed a discrimination lawsuit against the district in 2011, alleging, among many other things, that the district’s history of anti-gay policies had encouraged harassment among students. The federal Departments of Justice and Education also filed a civil-rights complaint against the district after an investigation into student allegations of discrimination. In 2012, the district finally abandoned its “neutrality” policy; it also settled the discrimination lawsuits by entering into a federal consent decree with the harassed students and the federal government.
But elsewhere in the country (including Alabama and North Carolina), no-promo-homo laws and policies remain in full effect. While some advocates and scholars have raised serious questions about laws’ and policies’ constitutionality, courts haven’t had the opportunity to say much of anything about them. For more legal analysis, check out the links at the end of this post.
The Legislative Path Remains Open—For Both Sides
Of course, regardless of what courts might say, state legislatures have the power to amend or repeal these laws. In the accompanying March 2013 video, two Alabama teenagers describe their on-line petition to get Alabama’s anti-gay law off the books. In particular, they urge support for a repeal bill introduced by Alabama State Representative Patricia Todd. The legislature’s website indicates (as of early February, 2014) that the most recent version of Representative Todd’s bill has been assigned to the the Education Policy Committee; it’s unclear what support it has among Todd’s colleagues.
Sadly but unsurprisingly, those who support LGBT-inclusive policies and curricula aren’t the only people organizing to change state laws. As Madelyn Rodrigeuz describes in a 2013 article (see page 34), legislators have recently tried to enact new anti-LGBT education bills (dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” bills by their opponents) in Tennessee and Missouri. Fortunately, neither state has approved these bills, but the battle isn’t over.
Excerpts from Eight States’ Anti-Gay Education Laws
Below you’ll find key excerpts from eight states’ no-promo-homo laws, with links to the full text of each law.
(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.
C. No [school] 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.
(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.
(4) Each local school administrative unit shall provide a reproductive health and safety education program commencing in the seventh grade that includes the following instruction:
. . . .
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.
(Interestingly, North Carolina also has an anti-bullying law that specifically prohibits bullying and harassment based on, among other things, sexual orientation and gender identity. The state also repealed a more explicitly anti-gay version of its “no promo homo” statute in 2009.)
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; . . . .
(5) The program of instruction provided for in this section [pertaining to, among other things, health and sex education] 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.
(b) The materials in the education programs intended for persons younger than 18 years of age must:
. . . .
(2) state that homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.
[The State Board of Education must prohibit] instruction in . . . the advocacy of homosexuality . . . .
Is it Seven or Eight or Nine?
A Note on Louisiana and North Carolina
Note that because there is no single, “official” definition of “no promo homo,” there may be some disagreement about which states have such a law. Some sources (including GLSEN) include Louisiana in their count, presumably based on a state law providing that “[n]o sex education course offered in the public schools of the state shall utilize any sexually explicit materials depicting male or female homosexual activity.” And some sources (including GLSEN) do not list North Carolina, perhaps because its law does not expressly condemn homosexuality, or because the state now has an inclusive anti-bullying law.
Learning More About Anti-Gay Legislation, Schools & the Law
For additional information about no-promo-homo laws and policies, check out these links, which I updated on February 4, 2014:
- “No Promo Homo” Laws (information from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network);
- Are ‘No Promo Homo’ Rules Like Anoka-Hennepin’s Unconstitutional?, by Ari Ezra Waldman (Towleroad, July 27, 2011);
- Anti-Gay Education Bills Struggling in Tennessee (Youth Allies, March 28, 2013);
- See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil; Stemming the Tide of No Promo Homo Laws in
American Schools, by Madelyn Rodrigeuz (The Modern American, Spring 2013); and
- When Schools Refuse to “Say Gay”: The Constitutionality of Anti-LGBTQ “No-Promo-Homo” Public School Policies in the United States, by Ashley E. McGovern (The Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Winter 2012).
Readers may also be interested in a provocative piece that a former professor of mine recently co-authored for the Washington Post: In The U.S. hypocrisy over Russia’s anti-gay laws (January 31, 2014), Professors Ian Ayres and William Eskridge call on Americans who condemn Russia’s anti-gay law to pay more attention to the “analogous” no-promo-homo laws that remain in force in the U.S. Referring to President Obama’s decision to send openly gay athletes to Sochi, for example, the professors half-jokingly write that “[m]aybe Obama ought to send Olympic delegates Billie Jean King and Brian Boitano to Alabama and Texas.”
This post, originally published in March 2013, was expanded and edited on February 4 and 5, 2014. As edited, the post now includes
- expanded descriptions and critiques of the laws in Alabama and North Carolina;
- a description of policies and related controversies in a school district in Minnesota;
- expanded descriptions of efforts to pass legislation in Alabama, Tennessee and Missouri;
- additional and updated links in the last section; and
- minor stylistic and formatting changes.