ST. GEORGE – A lawsuit against the Utah State Board of Education was filed by a pair of LGBT rights advocacy groups Friday. In the lawsuit, Equality Utah and the National Center for Lesbian Rights challenge state law that prohibits discussion in public schools that appears to advocate homosexuality or even speak positively to it.
Based on what some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups are calling Utah’s “No Promo Homo” law, the lawsuit argues the First and 14th amendments of teachers and students are being violated by limiting their rights of free speech, equal protection and free access.
The law, often referred to as “anti-gay school laws” in the lawsuit, also creates a negative environment for LBGT youth, the lawsuit states.
“Such laws foster school climates that stigmatize and isolate LGBT youth,” the lawsuits states, “putting them at heightened risk of bullying and discouraging and preventing them from participating openly and equally in school activities.”
Along with Equality Utah and the National Center of Lesbian Rights, other plaintiffs include three students in the state’s public school system who are listed as “John Doe,” James Doe” and Jessie Doe” due to their being minors.
John Doe is a 7-year-old who the lawsuit states was a student in the Weber School District and was harassed in kindergarten due to being a non-gender conforming boy.
James Doe is a gay teen who attends school in the Cache County School District. According to the lawsuit, he has also been bullied and harassed in school. Due to the state laws against advocating homosexuality in school, the lawsuit states, he was unable to give a report on his family in school which would have included information about an uncle who is in a same-sex marriage.
“Because of the teacher’s resistance to his choice of his uncle, James ultimately chose to present a report about his grandmother instead,” the lawsuit states.
Jane Doe, who is described as a lesbian teen, also currently attends a public high school and states in the lawsuit that she was singled out in middle school and disciplined for holding another girl’s hand.
“Since then, Jane has been afraid to speak about her identity and ask questions about LGBT issues because she might get in trouble again,” the lawsuit states.
The topic of homosexuality is not covered in the curriculum used in pubic school health classes due to the state law, according to the lawsuit. It also states that same-sex marriage is not to be discussed class, yet the concept of marriage being between a man and a woman only is reinforced.
“These laws prevent presentation of accurate information concerning lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in health class and other classes even when such information serves important educational purposes, while imposing no similar restrictions on discussion of heterosexuality or heterosexual people,” according to the lawsuit.
“These discriminatory laws are outdated, harmful, and blatantly unconstitutional,” attorney Douglass Hallward-Dremeier said in a statement. “They serve no purpose other than to isolate and stigmatize young people who deserve to be fully supported and embraced.”
As a partner of Ropes & Gray law firm, Hallward-Dremeier argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down state laws barring same-sex couples from marrying. The law firm will be representing Equality Utah and the three students in the case.
Troy Williams, executive director for Equality Utah, called the laws “especially odious,” according to Fox 13 News.
“These are some of the last remaining anti-LGBT laws that are currently being enforced in the country,” Williams said, “and they’re especially odious, because they explicitly apply to school classes on every subject.”
“These laws send a message that our lives are shameful and must be hidden and censored,” Williams continued. “They create a deadly culture of silence and non-acceptance, causing harms that can never fully be undone. The time has come to end the stigma and strike down this shameful law.”
The lawsuit list the defendants as the Utah State Board of Education, Sydnee Dickson in her capacity as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of Utah and the Cache County, Jordan and Weber school districts and related school boards.
According to Fox 13 News, the Utah Attorney’s Office, which represents the Utah State Board of Education, declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday evening.
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