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 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 They should be repealed or challenged in court.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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