Some Republican lawmakers noted that Arizona’s now repealed law barring public schools from providing HIV prevention instruction that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle” was actually passed by Democrats, a statement that’s technically true but doesn’t accurately portray the origins of the controversial law.
In 1991, Democratic Sen. Karan English sponsored Senate Bill 1396. The original version only allowed for age-appropriate, medically accurate HIV prevention education in K-12 public schools, and did not include the “no promo homo” language that would later become the target of a lawsuit and repeal efforts.
The Senate, which at the time was controlled by Democrats, passed English’s bill on a near-party line vote, with two Republicans crossing the aisle to vote in favor of SB1396, which passed 19-11. But it ran into trouble in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
On the House floor, Republican Rep. Karen Mills introduced an amendment that would come to be known as a “no promo homo” law. The new language prohibited HIV education 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.”
“Many people today still believe that homosexuality is not a positive, or even an alternative, lifestyle,” the Arizona Daily Star quoted Mills as saying. “Medical science has shown that there are no safe methods of homosexual sex.”
Even with that language, most House Republicans opposed the bill. Mills herself voted against it, saying that AIDS education, just like other sex education, ought to be provided by families, not schools.
But nine House Republicans joined with the Democrats, and the bill passed 32-22. The Senate approved the amended version, and Gov. Fife Symington signed it into law. Opponents of the new HIV education law unsuccessfully sought to overturn it through a citizen referendum.
Longtime Democratic Sen. Lela Alston, who co-sponsored English’s bill 28 years ago and voted for the “no promo homo” repeal on Thursday, said her understanding is that Democrats voted for the amended bill in 1991 because HIV prevention instruction was tied to federal funding.
“A couple of my colleagues misrepresented on the floor… the original situation,” Alston told the Mirror.