LGBT groups file lawsuit against Utah challenging ‘No Promo Homo’ law

Posted at 8:00 PM, Oct 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-23 00:57:52-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A pair of gay rights groups have filed a lawsuit against the state of Utah challenging a law that forbids discussion of homosexuality in schools that might be construed as "advocacy."

The lawsuit was filed Friday night in federal court against the Utah State Board of Education and several school districts by the LGBT rights groups Equality Utah and the National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of students in public schools identified in court documents only as "John Doe," "James Doe" and "Jessie Doe."

The legal challenge is the first of its kind in the nation and claims First Amendment rights of students and teachers are violated, as well as federal education laws.

The law, nicknamed "No Promo Homo" by LGBT rights activists, bans schools from any kind of discussion about homosexuality in classes like sex ed, history or student clubs that could be construed as a "positive" portrayal.

"These are some of the last remaining anti-LGBT laws that are currently being enforced in the country, and they’re especially odious, because they explicitly apply to school classes on every subject," Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams said. "These laws send a message that our lives are shameful and must be hidden and censored. 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 claims that children are harmed by the law because it prevents discussion of sexual orientation and LGBT people. Equality Utah said one of its plaintiffs is a gay teen who has been harassed in high school and claimed he could not give a school report on his family history because he wanted to mention his uncle, who is in a same-sex marriage.

A 7-year-old plaintiff claimed he was subjected to harassment in kindergarten because of gender non-conformity. When the child's parents complained to the school district, Equality Utah claims, the district said it could not protect the child from bullying because of the law.

The third plaintiff is a girl who claims she was targeted in middle school for holding another girl's hand, while heterosexual teenagers faced no punishment for public displays of affection.

"It is long past time for these dangerous laws to be struck from the books. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that sexual orientation is 'a normal expression of human sexuality' and that LGBT people must be treated equally under the law. These laws openly discriminate against LGBT students and teachers," said Kate Kendell, the executive director of NCLR in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

"They stigmatize vulnerable young people who should be celebrated and supported, and they censor constitutionally protected free speech, including students’ right to receive accurate information about sexual orientation and LGBT people."

The Utah Attorney General's Office, which represents the Utah State Board of Education, Superintendent Sydnee Dickson and the school districts named in the lawsuit, declined to comment on it Friday night. The lawsuit seeks an injunction stopping the so-called "No Promo Homo" law from being enforced in Utah schools.

Read the lawsuit here: