Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has just signed a bill to repeal the state’s requirement that sex education in schools teach that homosexuality is unacceptable, unhealthy, and illegal.
“It was just trying to make the language appropriate and scientifically correct,” said state Rep. Laura Hall (D) about the bill she sponsored in the Alabama House. “That’s why we also changed some definitions or words.”
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Schools in the state don’t have to teach sex education. If they do teach it, however, the original 1992 law states that they have to include certain issues, including “An emphasis, in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.”
That language isn’t just discriminatory, it’s also out of date. Homosexuality isn’t illegal in Alabama anymore.
That requirement is now gone, even though the state will still require that sex education focus on abstinence until marriage and tell students that “abstinence from sexual intercourse outside of lawful marriage is the expected social standard for unmarried school-age persons.”
Still, the law is a feat for Alabama, one of the most conservative states in the country that just passed a bill to ban transgender girls from participating in school sports last week.
The state senate also passed a bill to criminalize doctors who provide gender-affirming care to trans people under the age of 19 and threatens them with up to 10 years in jail. The extreme measure would even ban psychotherapists from affirming a transgender minor’s gender.
Politicians from the state have made headlines in recent years for calling LGBTQ people “freaking queers,” and as recently as 2019, Republican lawmakers have tried to end marriage licenses entirely to stop marriage equality.
Hall said that to get her bill through the state house, she and her colleagues didn’t draw attention to the gay parts of the bill and instead made it about all the language being updated to be more accurate.
“We didn’t let it become a controversial part,” she said when her bill passed the state house last month with a 69-30 vote. “It was more emphasis on bringing it in line with terms that are being used today.”
Hall’s bill also updates terms used for sex education. It changes “AIDS” to “HIV”; “sexually transmitted diseases” to “sexually transmitted infections”; “unwanted pregnancy” to “unintended pregnancy”; and “the importance of self-control and ethical conduct pertaining to sexual behavior” to “delaying sexual activity and discouraging risky sexual behavior.”
“Ending state-mandated homophobia in sex ed is a hard-won fight by advocates who’ve been working toward this for years,” said Courtney Roark, the Alabama policy and movement building director for URGE, a reproductive rights organization. “This win is just one step in the direction of the sex ed we’d like to see in Alabama, which is sex ed that is comprehensive and LGBTQ+ affirming.”
According to Power To Decide, Alabama has the 10th highest teen pregnancy rate in the U.S.
Gov. Ivey signed the bill just as several civil rights organizations, including the ACLU, the ACLU of Alabama, and Lambda Legal are threatening to take the state to court if the legislature passes and the governor signs the bill to criminalize doctors who provide gender affirming care to trans youth.
“If Alabama lawmakers insist on passing this cruel, dangerous, and unconstitutional legislation into law, the state will immediately have a lawsuit to deal with,” said Carl Charles of Lambda Legal.
“The Alabama Legislature and Governor Kay Ivey need to consider the time and resources they will invest, not to mention the stain of discrimination that often means lost opportunity and investment and ask themselves if targeting the health care of children is truly worth it because we are prepared to make that investment in order to protect transgender youth, their families, and their doctors, in Alabama.”