Lawsuit Overturns Utah Schools Ban on ‘Advocacy of Homosexuality’

Utah flagAdvocacy groups in Utah settled a discrimination lawsuit against the state last week, after both the legislature and the statewide board of education repealed rules that banned “advocacy of homosexuality” in public schools. In practice the rules had basically quashed any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity at all in many districts, including among LGBTQIA students themselves.

The lawsuit challenging Utah’s so-called “no promo homo” law was filed last year by Equality Utah and the National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of three anonymous students: a 7-year-old gender-nonconforming boy, a lesbian high school student who was disciplined for holding hands with another girl, and a gay teen who was subjected to years of unchecked bullying by fellow students and was furthermore prevented from mentioning at school that his uncle is in a same-sex marriage.

Equality Utah and NCLR settled the suit after the legislature repealed the original law last year, followed this past May by a unanimous vote of the state BOE to abolish the regulation based on it. Although the state’s new health curriculum law is certainly an improvement, it does require teachers to “stress…the importance of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage” and continues to prohibit “the advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices” in any situation.

In 2012, the previous law was misapplied when administrators in the Davis School District required the picture book In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco to be moved behind the service counter in an elementary school library, where students needed parental permission to check it out. The book which depicts a family headed by two women was publicly defended by one courageous school librarian who later won the Downs Intellectual Freedom Award for her efforts, and a parent then successfully sued to have it restored to open circulation. The district conceded at the time that the state law applied only to classroom materials and not to every book on library shelves.

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.