The National Center for Lesbian Rights and Lambda Legal, along with law professor Clifford Rosky and pro bono counsel Perkins Coie LLP, Thursday filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Equality Arizona, including its members who are public school students, challenging the State of Arizona’s anti-LGBTQ curriculum law, which bars students from receiving medically accurate, age-appropriate information about non-heterosexual people in their health education classes.
Arizona law prohibits instruction in HIV/AIDS curriculum that “[p]romotes a homosexual life-style,” “[p]ortrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style,” or “[s]uggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.”
“In 2019, it is shocking to see Arizona enforcing a law that openly disparages a group of students and requires them to be treated differently from all other students,” said NCLR Senior Staff Attorney Julie Wilensky. “It is time for this harmful law to be eliminated from Arizona’s schools so all children can feel safe and valued.”
“Arizona is stigmatizing and demeaning LGBTQ students and preventing them from getting medically-accurate information that literally could save their lives,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Puneet Cheema said. “They are breeding a school environment that is hostile to LGBTQ students and their relationships, and exposing LGBTQ students to harassment and abuse in classrooms, hallways, and locker rooms.”
Thursday’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on behalf of Equality Arizona, a non-profit organization that advocates for the equality of LGBTQ people. The organization includes student members, two of whom are described in the complaint. One student, referred to by the anonymous initials, “A.A.,” is a gay freshman in a greater Phoenix high school. Another student, who is identified by the initials S.C. and is also named as a plaintiff, is a seventh-grade student at a middle school in Tucson. The lawsuit argues the anti-LGBTQ curriculum law violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“We know that Arizona schools are not safe spaces for LGBTQ students,” said Michael Soto, Executive Director, Equality Arizona. “Recent surveys of LGBTQ students reveal that almost 80 percent regularly heard homophobic remarks, 71 percent experienced verbal harassment, and 12 percent were physically assaulted. A state law that explicitly demeans and dismisses LGBTQ students and their relationships cannot help but encourage that abuse and discrimination. The toxic school environment created by this law also contributes to higher rates of depression and suicidal thoughts among LGBTQ students.”
“I just want to feel safe at school like every other student, but this law makes me feel like an outsider just because I’m gay,” said the student identified as A.A. “I’ve been bullied because of my sexual orientation, and this law just encourages more of the same by labeling who I am as something to be ashamed of.”
“School is supposed to be a safe place where my child, like any other student, can receive education and support that will help as they move through life,” said Carol Brochin, the mother of S.C. “Rather than encouraging schools to provide that support, this law tries to erase LGBTQ students. The message it sends to these young people is devastating—that they don’t matter, they are not valued, and their lives and future don’t count. No parent wants to see their child harmed in this way.”
Arizona’s anti-LGBTQ curriculum law was enacted nearly thirty years ago in 1991. The law is outdated, harmful, and wrong, as Kathy Hoffman – the Arizona Superintendent of Public Education and a defendant in the lawsuit – has herself acknowledged. Repeated legislative efforts to repeal the law have failed, however, and the State continues to enforce it.
The case is Equality Arizona v. Hoffman. Read about the case here: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/equality-arizona_az_20190329_complaint
Attorneys working on the case are: Puneet Cheema and Peter Renn, Lambda Legal; Julie Wilensky and Asaf Orr, National Center for Lesbian Rights; law professor Clifford Rosky; and pro bono co-counsel Dan Barr, Barry Stratford, Randal McDonald, and Katherine May at Perkins Coie LLP.