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By the Numbers: A new map reveals where it’s OK to “Say Gay” and where it’s not

By the Numbers: A new map reveals where it’s OK to “Say Gay” and where it’s not
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A new map produced by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) offers a snapshot of where LGBTQ+ education is under assault, and where other states are fighting back with laws explicitly requiring schools to include LGBTQ+ curricula.

After years of progress addressing discriminatory standards in schools, the map, titled “LGBTQ Curricular Laws,” reveals the tide is turning against LGBTQ+-inclusive education, students and teachers.

In 2019, with the support of Republican Governor Doug Ducey, the Republican-controlled Arizona State Legislature repealed that state’s so-called “no promo homo” law, which banned schools from portraying “homosexuality as a positive alternative lifestyle.”

Months later, in 2020, the U.S. District Court of South Carolina voided that state’s version of the law, finding it failed to “satisfy any level of judicial review under the Equal Protection Clause.”

Similar laws, many passed in the 1980’s and ’90’s as HIV/AIDS panic spread across the country, had also recently been repealed with bipartisan majorities in North Carolina and Utah, leaving just Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana with “no promo homo” language on their books.

It was the high-water mark in a decades-long effort to eliminate the discriminatory legislation, which in Texas still says that public education programs must “state that homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense.”

In addition to being inequitable, the language in that and similar laws is just legally wrong, following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, which struck down the Texas law criminalizing “homosexual conduct.”

Yet “no promo homo” laws in those states, and the anti-LGBTQ+ animus behind them, persist.

Now, with copycat versions of Florida’s restrictive “Don’t Say Gay” law, and bills promoting a “parents’ rights” agenda spreading throughout the South and into other red states, efforts to erase LGBTQ+ identity and history in schools are only growing.

Movement Advancement Project's MAP of states based on LGBTQ+ curriculum laws
Movement Advancement Project
Movement Advancement Project's MAP of states based on LGBTQ+ curriculum laws
Movement Advancement Project's MAP of states based on LGBTQ+ curriculum laws

Eight states now have “Don’t Say Gay” laws banning discussion of LGBTQ+ people and issues in at least some grades, including those “no promo homo” states: Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, plus Florida, Arkansas and Kentucky. Five states require parental notification of LGBTQ+ curricula and allow parents to opt their children out, including Arizona, Montana and Tennessee, while two others (Florida and Arkansas) have both opt-out and “Don’t Say Gay” laws.

In seven states — California, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey and Connecticut — standards explicitly require LGBTQ+ inclusion in subjects like history, civics and social studies. 

In the middle, 32 states, 5 territories and the District of Columbia have no LGBTQ+-specific curricular laws.

According to MAP, 27 percent of the adult LGBTQ+ population live in states requiring LGBTQ+ curricula, while 21 percent live in states with “Don’t Say Gay” laws. 10 percent live in states with parental consent rules.

Bringing together states with “Don’t Say Gay” laws and parental consent requirements, 31 percent of the LGBTQ+ adult population is living in states with discriminatory curricula vs. 27 percent with LGBTQ+-inclusive rules, or a 4 percent far-right advantage.

Looking at the U.S. population as a whole, 15 million more people live in states with “Don’t Say Gay” and parental opt-out rules vs. those with LGBTQ+-inclusive standards: 87,186,000 to 72,153,000, or a nearly 5 percent far-right advantage among a total population of 331,449,281.

GLSEN, the LGBTQ+ student education group and a MAP partner, identifies four core supports that improve school climates for LGBTQ+ youth: access to inclusive curriculum, comprehensive nondiscrimination and anti-bullying policies, supportive educators, and access to GSAs, or Gender and Sexuality Alliances and Gay Straight Alliances. All of these are imperiled by the growing number of “Don’t Say Gay” laws.

According to GLSEN’s 2019 National School Climate Survey, all four supports have a profoundly positive impact on LGBTQ+ youth when they’re in place. Compared to students without an inclusive curriculum, LGBTQ+ students were less likely to hear homophobic remarks, less likely to hear negative remarks about gender expression, performed better academically in school, and were more likely to plan on pursuing post-secondary education. Two-thirds of LGBTQ+ students (66.9%) who were taught an LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum reported that their classmates were somewhat or very accepting of LGBTQ+ people, as compared to 37.9% of LGBTQ+ students who were not taught an inclusive curriculum.

Inclusive curricula also promotes LGBTQ+ youth interest in STEM fields, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics, where they’re historically underrepresented.

Research also indicates that inclusive curricula, where LGBTQ+ students see themselves represented in history and other subjects, can serve as a protective factor for those experiencing discrimination, stigma and instability elsewhere in their lives, by promoting mental health, well-being and resilience.

In schools where LGBTQ+ students see their full identities represented in the classroom — in curricula that reflect their own lived experience and those of LGBTQ+ historical and public figures, in the identities of supportive teachers and staff, and in the shared experiences of associations like GSA’s — they thrive.

But these are not facts to persuade right-wing lawmakers that new “Don’t Say Gay” legislation and archaic “no promo homo” laws are undermining an honest education for LGBTQ+ students and straight peers alike.

Instead, they’re an argument for far-right Christian Nationalists to double down on the race to erase LGBTQ+ identity in schools.

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