A State Senate committee in Utah has voted unanimously to strike language from the state's education code that prohibits the advocacy of homosexuality in sex-education classes.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the legislative panel took the action in response to a lawsuit by Equality Utah, a pro-LGBTQ rights group that accuses the state of promoting an anti-gay curriculum in public schools.
Clifford Rosky, a University of Utah professor and Equality Utah board member, says the legal ambiguity of what "advocacy" means has created instances in which educators are unwilling to intervene when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are bullied for fear of violating state law.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights filed the lawsuit on behalf of Equality Utah, three minor students and their parents. Shannon Minter, legal director of the Center, says: "School should be a place where all students feel welcome and valued, and we appreciate the legislature's leadership in seeking to advance those goals. We are hopeful these efforts will be successful and help eliminate the need for further litigation."
Debra Coe, a member of the Utah Commission on LGBT Suicide Awareness and Prevention, says the state's youth suicide rate has swelled during the past two decades, with anecdotal evidence suggesting LGBT youths are contributing to, if not driving, that trend.
Coe says schools often are unable to help those students. At one high school, teachers were asked to remove "safe space" posters from their classrooms to comply with the state's ban on "advocacy."
"They feel like nobody can say anything positive," she says. "It's OK to say negative things, but nothing positive."
With the committee's approval, the full senate now will consider the bill.
But Rosky said that if the bill is ultimately approved by lawmakers, it would not necessarily end Equality Utah's lawsuit. The ban on "advocacy of homosexuality," he says, is one of several areas of state law that discriminate against same-sex relationships.