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Arizona bill limits sex ed, discussion of sexual orientation

March 3, 2021 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona lawmakers are considering banning sex education before fifth grade and requiring written parental permission before discussing sexuality or gender identity in any classes.

Critics said the measure would have far reaching consequences, muzzle teachers and isolate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

“It is a repressive bill that threatens to take us back before the 1950s,” said Sen. Victoria Steele, a Democrat from Tucson.

Sen. Nancy Barto, a Phoenix Republican who introduced the bill, said it’s designed to give parents more of a voice in what their children are hearing in school.

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“Children are being inundated with sexual education materials and 24/7 in their lives,” Barto said. “It’s having a negative effect on many children.”

The measure follows the repeal two years ago of a 1991 law that had barred HIV and AIDS instruction that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle,” which was being targeted in court by LGBT advocacy groups. Democrats say the measure would reimpose restrictions on discussing homosexuality in the classroom.

Parental permission is already required for sex education in Arizona, and parents must be given a chance to opt out of instruction on HIV and AIDS. Barto’s bill, SB1456, would ban any sex ed before fifth grade and require them to opt-in to HIV/AIDS instruction and any discussion of sexuality, gender identity or gender expression. Schools would also be required to notify parents of their right to review instructional materials.

Democratic Sen. Christine Marsh of Phoenix, an English teacher, said the bill would make it difficult to discuss literature with potentially gay characters. Without a permission slip, she said, the discussion would be off limits, but seeking advance approval would blow the issue out of proportion.

“There are some really pretty far-reaching unintended consequences of this bill,” Marsh said.

The Senate gave the measure preliminary approval on Tuesday, setting up a formal vote in the coming days.