Students seek to repeal Alabama law forcing teachers to say homosexuality is criminal

In Alabama, a 1992 state law requires that sex education teachers tell students that homosexuality is a crime and that it is “not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public.” Now two Alabama students have started a petition on change.org in support of a bill introduced in the state legislature to repeal the law. (See video below)

More than 70,000 people have already signed the petition, which supports legislation by state Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), Alabama’s first openly gay legislator, to repeal the law. Interestingly, Todd’s ally in the legislative fight is a conservative Republican lawmaker, state Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, who doesn’t want sex education taught at all. Todd first tried to get her bill through the legislature in 2012, but it didn’t get out of committee.

 The wording of the 1992 sex education law is reprinted in an appendix of the sex ed Course of Study to be used by teachers, this piece in ThinkProgress noted, but Maureen Downey notes on her AJC blog that there is no evidence that the old law is actually being followed or enforced in Alabama schools.

Although Alabama passed a law years ago criminalizing gay sex, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar one in Texas in 2003, invalidating sodomy laws in other states, as well.

The petition was started by Sarah Noone, 16, of Indian Springs School, and Adam Pratt, 17, of Homewood High School, according to the petition, which starts this way:

My name is Sarah and I’m a 16-year-old student from Alabama. Along with my friend Adam, we’re asking the Alabama legislature to remove a section of Alabama law that requires sexual education teachers to emphasize “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense.”

Think of the effect that this law has on lesbian, gay and bisexual youth in schools. It incorrectly tells them that being gay is a criminal act and that society will never accept them. Imagine the self-hatred you would feel inside you after hearing this in class, despite having done nothing wrong? Imagine the message its giving to bullies, too.

I am a queer high school student living in Alabama, and the world I live in can be frightening. I’ve devoted my life to helping the LGBT youth of this state find safe places and thrive as a community. As a Youth Leader of the Birmingham Alliance of Gay, Straight and Lesbian Youth (BAGSLY), I spend considerable time with individuals who face some of the worst homophobia and transphobia that this country has to offer. Adam, who is just 17, has had to endure disgust and hatred in school, just for being himself. I have a friend whose father refused to speak to him for months after he came out, despite living in the same house.

I have friends who have been disowned by family members, sent to conversion therapy, or kicked out of their homes. And still, we are the lucky ones because we live in an urban area that has support systems like BAGSLY or school Gay-Straight Alliance clubs. A great deal of the state is completely lacking those resources.

Every single gay teen in Alabama wakes up each day knowing that so much of the world is against them. More than forty percent of the state’s homeless youth are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Teen suicide rates, especially among LGBT teens, are alarming and horrific. Supporting Rep. Patricia Todd’s bill isn’t about accepting gay people, it’s about making our schools a place where all students can feel safe.

 

But beyond being hurtful, this law is legally and factually inaccurate. In 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex sodomy laws are illegal and cannot be enforced, affecting not only Alabama’s pre-existing sodomy law but also this segment of sexual education curriculum. Telling students that being gay is a crime is not only wrong, it’s unconstitutional according to our nation’s highest court.

We, the LGBT youth of Alabama, are a minority that exists within every religion, every race, every socio-economic level, and every single school in this state. We want to grow up and make Alabama beautiful. We want to be your future doctors, rocket scientists, dancers, engineers, and teachers. We want to build our lives here, raise our children here, and be successful, contributing parts of society. But we need a great education to do these things.

Help our schools become a safe space for everyone. Please support Rep. Todd’s bill today.

Sincerely,
Sarah Noone, 16, Indian Springs School
Adam Pratt, 17, Homewood High School

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | March 21, 2013