The gay gag harms Arizona students, it's time for repeal

The statute against promoting "homosexuality" in Arizona schools is dangerously outdated

Sex and relationship education, by law, cannot be LGBT-inclusive in the State of Arizona. State Senator Martin Quezada tried to change that with his yearly re-introduction of a bill to repeal the so-called “no promo-homo” statute. 

However, a more powerful state Democratic Party was not enough to begin sex and relationship education that considers the health of all students, and the repeal did not pass.

This legislative failure allows for state-sanctioned, anti-LGBT discrimination to remain in Arizona classrooms, creating an unsafe educational environment. 

Sexual health education has always been subject to fierce debate in the U.S. After the sexual revolution of the 1960s, topics of pleasure, contraceptives and the LGBT community gained attention.

In Arizona, like in many states, sex and relationship education only requires a brief discussion about HIV. This leaves many students unprepared for sexual relationships regardless of their sexual orientation.

LGBT students are explicitly not allowed to receive information pertinent to their experiences under these current rules.

The Arizona Revised Statutes 15-716 delineates Arizona's sex and relationship education guidelines, stating “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.”

Sen. Quezada sought to eliminate this language from the ARS this year with the failed SB1225, which ranks amongst the friendliest pages of red ink in recent memory.

Quezada's yearly reintroduction of the bill could and should have signaled a move toward a more progressive sex and relationship education curriculum throughout the state.

Districts like Tempe Union High School District already are working to make certain that they maintain the letter of the current law while trying to protect LGBT students. 

TUHSD School Board member Sandy Lowe approved the current opt-in program, which includes a day to discuss gender identity terminology. She believes the current curriculum fosters respect between students and helps to reduce bullying directed at the LGBT community. 

“We want every student to feel welcomed,” Lowe said. "By starting the conversation with some basic definitions, we want to show our students how to build a healthy lifestyle." 

study released by JAMA Pediatrics this week notes that LGBT students’ rates of suicide, the highest among adolescents, dropped by seven percent after the passage of marriage equality. The study suggests that this is likely due to the destigmatizing effects of recognizing sexual minorities.

Destigmatizing the LGBT community is vital to preventing rates of student suicide from climbing. No promo-homo laws are stigmatizing and ensure that the same community which coined the term “safer sex” is denied the education to practice it.

The decision by the Arizona State Senate to not hear Senator Quezada’s SB1225 in the education committee was a willful decision to keep Arizona students less healthy and less safe in their schools.

Sen. Quezada explained in a written statement that “There’s still hope that we can still amend the language onto another bill” in the next portion of the 2017 legislative session, which begins next week. He did not seem hopeful, however, adding “the chances of that being successful are pretty slim.”

It’s not too late for the Arizona legislature to protect Arizona’s LGBT students. The question is whether they will listen to the data, rather than outdated, discriminatory and dangerous rhetoric.


Reach the columnist at benjamin.steele@asu.edu or follow @blsteele17 on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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