Whirlwind action to repeal ‘no promo homo’ earns cheers from LGBTQ community, ends lawsuit

By: - April 11, 2019 4:20 pm

Photo by Ludovic Bertron | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Arizona’s “no promo homo” law is officially a thing of the past.

The passage of Senate Bill 1346 on Thursday likely brings an end to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 1991 law, which made it illegal for K-12 public schools to provide HIV prevention instruction that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle,” “portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative lifestyle” or “suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.”

A staffer for Gov. Doug Ducey was waiting in the Senate lounge to bring the bill to the governor as soon as lawmakers gave it their final approval. Ducey signed it minutes later, calling it a “common sense solution” on Twitter and lauding its bipartisan support.

The Senate voted 19-10 to approve SB1346, which the House of Representatives amended a day earlier to include a repeal of the law, which was commonly referred to as “no promo homo.” Seven Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues, who voted unanimously to scrap the law.

One Democrat, Sen. Sean Bowie, didn’t vote because he is at home recovering from pneumonia.

Equality Arizona, an LGBTQ advocacy group, and an unnamed LGBTQ seventh-grader from Tucson sued the state last month over the law, alleging that it violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, and that it restricts the teaching of HIV prevention.

Now that the law is repealed, the lawsuit will come to an end, said Julie Wilensky of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the attorneys who represented the plaintiffs.

“Eliminating this harmful and discriminatory law means there’s no need for continued litigation over the law,” Wilensky told the Mirror. “We’re grateful to the leadership of the many people in Arizona who have been advocating for many years on this issue.”

TJ Shope
Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, introduced an amendment to SB1346 on Wednesday to repeal the disputed law. A day earlier, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office informed House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann that it would not defend the law in the court, which many opponents of the law interpreted as a sign that Attorney General Mark Brnovich believed it would be struck down.

Shope praised his Democratic colleague, Rep. Daniel Hernandez, and other members of the legislature’s LGBTQ caucus, for bringing the repeal to fruition. He noted that he was six years old when the original law passed, and said he’d been largely unfamiliar with the issue until earlier this year. But when he looked at the statute, he said the need to repeal it was obvious.

For opponents of the law, the repeal was about much more than simply settling a lawsuit. Openly gay lawmakers spoke in the House and Senate over the past two days of feeling of feeling like outsiders and not knowing where to turn while they were in school because of their sexuality, or of facing discrimination, abuse or bullying. Others said the law prevented LGBTQ students from obtaining needed information about how to prevent the spread of HIV.

Sen. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, said he might have come out as gay sooner if his schools had been able to answer his questions or teach about the issue.

“We have an opportunity to allow young boys and girls and in between to know that they’re OK being who they are and being able to identify as who they feel comfortable identifying as,” he said on the Senate floor.

Martin Quezada
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Sen. Martin Quezada noted that he’s sponsored bills to repeal the law in each of the past four legislative sessions, including this year. Quezada, a Glendale Democrat, said that in his view, his legislation didn’t ask for much.

“What this bill was asking for was that every kid in the state of Arizona be treated like the beautiful human being that they are. It was asking that every kid in the state of Arizona be acknowledged, that every kid in the state of Arizona was able to receive information that would help them become healthy and productive adults. All that we were asking for in this bill is for these kids to be respected,” he said. “And at times it seems as if asking for human dignity was asking for a bit too much sometimes.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat who took office in January, called on the Legislature to repeal the law in her first State of Education speech in February. On Thursday, she celebrated the end of a law that she said not only denied medically accurate information about HIV and AIDS to students, but “created a myth that even mentioning LGBTQ relationships in your classroom could result in punishment or firing.”

“Today, we send a signal to Arizona’s LGBTQ students, educators and families that says, no matter who you are or who you love, you are welcome and we are proud to have you in our schools,” Hoffman said during a press conference at the Capitol on Thursday afternoon.

Kathy Hoffman
Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

The House approved SB1346 on a 55-5 vote Wednesday. Though the Senate only has half as many members as the 60-person House, it saw twice as many votes against bill.

One of those votes came from Sen. Sylvia Allen, a Snowflake Republican who sponsored the underlying bill that the “no promo homo” repeal was attached to. Allen said she believes schools should be “neutral ground” when it comes to social issues and agendas, and lamented that, “as time has gone on, we have identified schools as the place to solve every problem that’s going on in our society.”

“Our teachers and administrators have become change agents. We have forgotten the parents, the parents who have the responsibility to care for their children and to guide their children,” she said on the Senate floor.

Nonetheless, Allen said she would have still voted for the bill if lawmakers had agreed to an amendment she wanted that would limited HIV education to high school students only. She told the Mirror she agreed to allow the amendment because it would end the lawsuit.

Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, also spoke in defense of his vote against SB1346, saying the intent of the underlying law wasn’t to discriminate against anyone.

“I would say to my colleagues, I don’t condone abuse of anybody. And I certainly am sorry that people were abused. This bill has nothing to do with that,” he said. “This statute has nothing to do with discrimination.”

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”