March 8, 2017 at 11:31 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Repeal of Utah anti-gay school law heads to governor
Gary Herbert, Utah, gay news, Washington Blade, Republican Party

A bill to repeal an anti-gay school law is headed to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. (Photo public domain).

The Utah legislature on Wednesday sent legislation to the desk of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert that would an repeal an anti-gay law barring school officials from talking about homosexuality.

The Republican-controlled Utah legislature approved the legislation, number Senate Bill 196 and sponsored by Sen. J. Stuart Adams, with overwhelming bipartisan support. The legislation passed by a 27-1 vote in the Senate on Wednesday. The House has already approved the bill by a 68- 1 vote.

Nicknamed the “No Promo Homo” law, the anti-gay school law in Utah prohibits teachers from discussing homosexuality in a positive way, which has resulted in schools and teachers ignoring the bullying of kids perceived as gay.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said in a statement the legislature’s approval of the repeal bill represents “a historic day for LGBTQ students in Utah.”

“We commend Sen. Adams and the Utah Legislature for recognizing that LGBTQ students should be treated with the same respect and dignity as other students,” Williams said. “The removal of this discriminatory language from the school curriculum laws will send a positive message that all students are valued in Utah.”

The anti-gay school law is currently being challenged in federal court as a result of a lawsuit filed in October by the National Center of Lesbian Rights and the global law firm Ropes & Gray LLP on behalf of Equality Utah and three anonymous Utah-based plaintiffs: Two students and a former student.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, identified as John Doe, is a gender non-conforming seven-year-old who sometimes wears girl’s clothes and was subjected to bullying at school. One day, John’s main tormentor followed him into the school bathroom during recess. When John was found, he was highly upset and visibly shaken. He later experienced vomiting and severe panic attacks. He wouldn’t tell his mother what happened to him in the bathroom, and still refuses to talk about this incident years later.

The complaint says the boy drew a picture afterwards of how the incident made him feel, which was a page of angry scribbles. His mother reported this incident to school authorities, but they didn’t adequately investigate it as a result of the law. After this incident, the boy didn’t return to school.

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and a Utah native, commended the Utah legislature for approving the anti-gay school law and said it could make the litigation unnecessary.

“We applaud Sen. Adams and the Utah legislature for acting in the interest of Utah students and repealing this outdated law,” Kendell said. “These public officials performed a great public service by recognizing that this statue serves no good purpose and actively harms LGBT students. This is a very gratifying development and a significant step forward in resolving our litigation challenging this stigmatizing and unconstitutional law.”

Earlier this year, the parties in the lawsuit agreed to put it on hold while the Utah legislature considered a legislative solution. Gov. Gary Herbert may get his state out of costly lawsuit by signing the repeal bill.

Under the Utah constitution, the governor must sign or veto legislation within 20 days of it passage or it becomes law on its own accord.

Kirsten Rappleye, a Herbert spokesperson, said “the governor and his team have not yet begun to review this bill” in response to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on what action he’d take on the legislation.

 

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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