Alabama has moved one step closer to removing anti-LGBTQ language from its sex ed curriculum following a Tuesday vote in the Senate.
Senate Bill 269, which is also known as the Alabama Youth Health Protection Act, is set to receive a full vote in the upper house of the legislature after being unanimously approved by the Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
The legislation strikes a phrase from a 1992 law urging teachers to denounce homosexuality in K-12 classrooms. It states faculty must emphasize “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 this state.”
Sen. Tom Whatley, the Republican who sponsored the bill, claims the statement is “blatantly not correct.”
When the law was introduced more than two decades ago, same-sex activity was illegal in Alabama under a statewide sodomy ban. That law was effectively struck down in 2003 following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which served to decriminalize sodomy in the United States.
“It clears up some of the language in the act right now that declares homosexuality a criminal offense,” bill sponsor Sen. Tom Whatley tells the Associated Press.
LGBTQ advocates applauded the Senate for allowing the bill to move forward.
Alex Smith, executive director of Equality Alabama, says SB 269 “brings our state’s minimum standards for youth health education in line with current science and educational standards.”
“Much of the language in the current statute was crafted during the HIV crisis of the 1980s and early 1990s, so SB 269 cleans up that language and brings it into the 21st century,” he claims in a statement, adding that the legislation “removes harmful language that both students and educators have reported is stigmatizing.”
Alabama is one of seven states with “no promo homo” laws on the books forbidding faculty from addressing LGBTQ topics in schools. Some mandate that teachers discuss queer and transgender people in a negative light.
A law in South Carolina states that teachers and staff in K-12 classrooms “may not include a discussion of alternative sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships including, but not limited to, homosexual relationships except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases.”
Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas have similar policies on the books.
Research from GLSEN shows these laws have extremely adverse effects on LGBTQ youth. Students living in “no promo homo” states are more likely to experience bullying and harassment in schools and less likely to feel supported by teachers and classmates.
But Watley claims SB 269 also updates the law by changing “some of the language to be medically accurate,” as well as “culturally appropriate.”
One criticism from LGBTQ advocates is that the bill retains the current focus on abstinence in sex education. For instance, the legislation amends existing language on “self-control and ethical conduct” regarding youth sexual behavior to “delaying sexual activity” until marriage.
“The push to remove harmful and debunked stereotypes from the state’s sex education law is an important step in the right direction for Alabama, but it also displays how much work still needs to be done to ensure that LGBTQ youth have access to affirming and reliable information,” said Zeke Stokes, Vice President of Programs at GLAAD, in a statement provided to INTO.
“With more and more young people coming out as LGBTQ, inclusive sex education is more crucial than ever,” he continues.
Alabama does not currently require schools to offer sexual education courses to students, as the Montgomery Advertiser reports. For those districts that do choose to teach sex ed, it “prescribes minimums” for how the subject should be discussed.
It remains to be seen whether an LGBTQ-affirming law stands a shot at passage in an overwhelmingly conservative legislature: The GOP boasts a supermajority in both the Senate and the House of Republicans. Of the 35 seats in the upper house of the Alabama Legislature, only seven are controlled by Democrats.
Education and Youth Affairs Committee Chairman Dick Brewbaker claimed prior to this week’s vote that the bill was unlikely to pass.
“There has been no enforcement of the sodomy laws in 40 years,” Brewbaker told AL.com in a Feb. 2 interview. “I don’t see the committee rejecting the bill, but this is the Alabama legislature. So who knows.”
Should the “no promo homo” law be repealed, Alabama would follow Utah in doing so. The Beehive State struck down its anti-LGBTQ policy last year.
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