The state’s new schools chief is calling on lawmakers to repeal a law that prohibits any courses on AIDS and HIV from portraying homosexuality “as a positive alternative lifestyle.”
In her first State of Education speech, Kathy Hoffman told members of the House Education Committee on Monday that the system needs to support the emotional well-being of students. She said that means “creating an inclusive environment that supports children from all backgrounds.”
And Hoffman said that also means recognizing that students come from all types of families, even those with two moms or two dads.
But Hoffman said educators also must consider students who are more likely to be bullied and harassed. She said that includes students in the LGBTQ community.
“A simple step we can take to help reduce discrimination and bullying for these students is to repeal the ‘no promo homo’ law,” Hoffman said, saying it “contributes to an unsafe school environment.”
The statute in question permits schools to provide education into AIDS and HIV — but with conditions. That includes being medically accurate, appropriate for the grade level at which it is offered, and discouraging drug abuse.
But the law also makes it illegal for any school to include anything in the program that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle” or “portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative lifestyle.” And it also forbids teachers from suggesting “that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.”
“This policy is not just outdated, it has always been harmful and wrong,” said Hoffman.
Hoffman, who was a speech therapist in the Peoria Unified School District
before running for office and getting elected last year, is not the only one looking for repeal.
SB 1415, introduced by Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, would scrap the law.
The problem, he said, is that schools interpret the prohibition as a ban from discussing homosexuality at all in the context of sex education programs.
“They’re discussing sex ed between heterosexual individuals,” Quezada said. “But they’re really leaving out a class of people that need to learn how to practice safe sex themselves and keep themselves healthy.”
That, he said, puts students in danger.
“Like it or not, there are a lot of homosexual students in our K-12 classrooms right now that are at vulnerable points in their lives,” Quezada said. “They’re learning about themselves, they’re learning about their sexuality and I think they deserve to get an education to help keep them safe.”
Any move to repeal the language will get a fight from the Center for Arizona Policy.
“The current law has worked to provide appropriate instruction on AIDS without promoting a political agenda,” said CAP President Cathi Herrod. Her organization lists its mission as “to promote and defend the foundational values of life, marriage and family, and religious freedom.”
Herrod said any bill to repeal the statute “is a solution in search of a problem.
But Hoffman, speaking about the issue with Capitol Media Services after her speech, said that’s not her experience. And she said the law itself was written for all the wrong reasons.
“I see it for what it was truly written into law for, which is to say that lifestyle, a homosexual lifestyle, is not acceptable and it’s not something our students should learn about,” Hoffman said. And she agreed with Quezada that the law scares teachers away from having any discussions with students − even gay ones − about the issues they face.
“It makes teachers afraid to say anything or to do anything to support students in the LGBTQ community,” Hoffman said. “It’s holding back our kids because we want all of our kids to feel safe and welcome in our schools.”
Hoffman said she supports sex education in schools, with programs designed to help all students, both straight and gay.
“It’s a matter of safety,” she said. “I will continue to be supportive of having comprehensive health-type of classes in our schools.”
No date has been set for a hearing on the Quezada measure − even assuming he can convince whoever chairs the committee to which it is eventually assigned to schedule it to be discussed.