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Did You Know at Least 8 U.S. States Have Russian-Style Gay Gag Laws?

Did You Know at Least 8 U.S. States Have Russian-Style Gay Gag Laws?

There are at least 8 U.S. states that have anti-gay laws that are roughly similar to Russia’s infamous gay propaganda ban.

Writing in the Washington Post, law professors Ian Ayres and William Eskridge of Yale University draw our attention to the fact that there are a number of U.S. states that still carry laws that make it unlawful to tell kids about homosexuality and gay rights. This, they write, doesn’t invalidate arguments against Russia’s so-called gay propaganda ban, but it does emphasize that the United States has some matters of its own to address.

The professors write:

The underlying ideology of these statutes is the same: Everybody should be heterosexual, and homosexuality is per se bad. This ideology has never rested on any kind of evidence that homosexuality is a bad “choice” that the state ought to discourage. The ideology is a prejudice-laden legacy of a fading era. (In fact, the strategy is daffy: Even if homosexuality were a bad lifestyle choice, state laws are not an effective way to head off such a choice.)

[...]

Putin’s inability to justify this law puts a spotlight on the inability of Utah, Texas, Arizona and other states to justify their gay-stigmatizing statutes. They should be repealed or challenged in court. Just as judges led the way against compulsory sterilization and racial-segregation laws, so they should subject anti-gay laws to critical scrutiny.

These laws, dubbed “No-Promo Homo” laws crop up in at least eight states. They include: Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah, and are all focused on how teachers and teaching materials should address homosexuality. The laws mostly carry offensive language that dehumanizes gay people, and many are fairly similar.

As an example, the Texas “No-Promo Homo” law can be found in the state’s Health and Safety Code and reads:

(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.

Homosexuality of course is not an offense as the United States Supreme Court has invalidated all sodomy bans. However, sodomy bans remain on the books in a number of states including Texas.

The Arizona “No Promo” law is particularly explicit in its twin agenda against sex education and gay rights, stating:

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.

Some of the states listed here have gradually started to water down their so-called “promotion of homosexuality” bans. Among them, North Carolina recently changed its statute so that it doesn’t read as explicitly anti-gay but of course still is by virtue of what it excludes:

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.

There is also some debate as to whether more states could technically fall into the “No-Promo Homo” category because they have similarly attempted to forestall discussion of homosexuality by simply banning all kinds of sex education outside of the lines of heterosexual monogamy and no sex before marriage.

It is of course worth mentioning that individual districts within states where these laws do not exist have also been known to use similar bans on discussing homosexuality. Among the most infamous of these is the Annoka Hennepin district in Minnesota which was the subject of a federal court case for its carrying policies that hampered teachers to such an extent that they feared involving themselves with cases of anti-gay bullying, something critics say led to several teenagers taking their own lives.

On top of that, we also have a number of states that have tried to institute what we have come to call Don’t Say Gay laws, Tennessee being the state to lead that charge. No word yet on whether ringleader Senator Stacey Campfield will introduce yet another version of that bill which last year carried an extra kick in the pants that basically forced teachers to out gay students to their parents.

So does all this mean the United States is being hypocritical in calling out Russia’s gay propaganda law? I’d argue no because there is one quite large difference here. As ridiculous and ignorant as these bans are, they are not capable of being used to systematically silence a minority, unlike the Russian law which is specifically designed to be as broad as possible so that all public demonstrations and gay rights advocacy – even mention of gay rights or homosexuality in books — is now suspect. Even if the intent is the same, and I would argue it is, there remains a substantial difference in the effect of these laws.

That said, the laws serve to degrade the United States’ authority on the world stage as a country leading the charge on progressive change, and they inflict harm on LGBT kids by reinforcing their otherization and even in some cases specifically implying that LGBT kids will be criminals for who they may, in the future, love.

The fact that those laws still exist is deeply shameful, and they must be repealed without delay.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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115 comments

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8:57AM PST on Feb 14, 2014

I'm proud of you, Tim!

7:38AM PST on Feb 13, 2014

Quite disgraceful. :-(

9:00PM PST on Feb 10, 2014

By the way. I have been meaning to make a point for a while.
Several people have made statements suggest that those of us in America (USA) should clean up our own house before pointing fingers elsewhere.

Just so those people understand. The LGBT community and their friends and families, have been working hard for many years at doing this, and we continue to do so. However for those of you that do not understand, we have a common phrase we use to describe ourselves. WE ARE FAMILY. That is not just those of us in the USA, UK, Uganda, China, Russia, or any other place on earth. We are family everywhere. We are everywhere, and we will stand up and shout wherever we see this type of unjust tyranny existing. So yes, we do need to clean up our own house here in the USA, but that doesn't mean we should help our neighbors clean house as well. The christian community in the USA didn't keep it to the USA they have sparked hate campaigns all over the globe, so why shouldn't the LGBT community spark a little love campaign?

4:44PM PST on Feb 10, 2014

ty

4:20AM PST on Feb 10, 2014

Of course there are.
These blinders we wear are ridiculous.
Hateful behaviours live and thrive in America.

10:17PM PST on Feb 9, 2014

Thank You Pam W.
Sometimes I wonder if people get it, It is nice to hear from you so I can be reminded there are still good people in the world

7:44PM PST on Feb 9, 2014

-_- Looks like some people are suck in old and stupid ways.

7:41PM PST on Feb 9, 2014

And this is exactly why Americans need to clean up their own dung hill before they worry about a little pile of dust somewhere else. As Americans dive in on Russia's stance toward homosexuality, they totally overlook that nobody authorized them to stand on some pedestal criticizing other countries over something that takes place here as well. Homosexuality isn't the only issue in this respect. Americans also keep harping around on other countries' historic black marks which are even less severe that those in America's past. Until the US becomes flawless, maybe it's high time Americans put duct tape across the mouth, hein?

7:40PM PST on Feb 9, 2014

Please try to be patient as it is only human nature that it is taking a long time for some states and countries to lose their bigotry. Old ideas are very deeply entrenched in their thinking and it will take time for the whole world to adopt new and fairer ideas. The more we petition and the more gay people are seen to be behaving in a normal manner and going about their business like everyone else in society, the stigma and ignorance will gradually dissipate. Think of how long it has taken for the world to adopt new ideas in the past! In some places women are still being stoned! Does it make you surprised at the old-fashoioned attitude of some places still to people being gay? It is a crazy world and we must never give up on our ideal of trying to turn it into a saner and more accepting and loving place! it WILL happen if we don't give up!

6:10PM PST on Feb 9, 2014

I want to be sure you see what Timothy has written:

"Asking for equal rights and treatment is not shoving ones sexuality in someones face, however passing anti gay laws is shoving someones bigotry in ones face. Asking for the same right to marry or adopt is not shoving sexuality in ones face. Forcing me to pay taxes, and then using that money to pay for heterosexuals child care and education, when you won't allow me to have a family....that is shoving your sexuality in my face. Making me pay into social security but not allowing me to know that my loved one will receive it when I die, but rather it will be mixed in with all the money being paid out to straight couples and families...that is shoving it in my face!"

A shower of stars to you, Timothy!

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