By Ben Tavener from Curitiba, Brazil - São Paulo LGBT Pride Parade 2014, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45375500

There are currently eight states in the U.S. that still have active “No Promo Homo” laws. Utah is one of these states. These laws forbid teachers from discussing gay and transgender issues in a positive way, including in any type of sex education. The laws prohibit the “advocacy of homosexuality” in any course or class at any public or charter school. They also state that teachers may portray the LGBTQ community in a negative and misleading way. The laws are vague and create an environment of intimidation for people who identify with the LGBTQ community. It is clear that Utah uses these laws to openly suppress all support for this community and Utah has hurt its youth by doing so.

But LGBTQ activist groups Equality Utah and the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the law firm Ropes and Gray are fighting to put down “No Promo Homo” laws permanently. On Friday, Oct. 21, Equality Utah held an event at the Salt Palace Convention Center where they announced the group’s decision to file a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against the Utah State Board of Education and several Utah school districts. Their goal is to stop the bullying and intolerance of LGBTQ youth in Utah for good.

At the event, executive director of Equality Utah, Troy Williams, made a speech about the law suit, stating, “Utah’s public schools have violated the equal protection and free speech rights of both students and teachers. We believe that this law is blatantly unconstitutional. So Equality Utah, our friends at the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the powerhouse national law firm Ropes and Grey have joined forces. Last night we filed a lawsuit to strike down ‘No Promo Homo’ once and for all.” The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of three youth from Utah who have suffered from severe bullying, discrimination and hardships in schools.

“No Promo Homo” has had many consequences for the youth of Utah. Utah has one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the country, many from the LGBTQ community. Children not being able to speak openly about their identity in school can suffer from depression, anxiety, bullying, etc., which can lead to suicide. School is a place where you spend most of your time when you’re young and, by creating a hateful environment, hate is normalized for kids.

Utah culture is driven largely by the LDS church, on which Equality Utah puts blame for the reasoning behind the laws. The church has openly stated their anti-gay marriage views as well implemented policies prohibiting children of same-sex couples from being baptized and becoming full members of the church until the age of 18. Some critics of “No Promo Homo” have aggressively blamed the religion for the stigma in Utah around identifying as a member of the LBGTQ community. A gay man I spoke with about the lawsuit told me, “If it wasn’t for the state being majority Mormon, then I believe suicide rates of the LGBTQ youth would drop in this state. I had a friend who was excommunicated from the church and in-turn shunned from his family, who ended up hanging himself when he was 16.” Of course, not all members of the LDS faith treat LGBTQ people with such negativity, but the culture surrounding it has allowed these laws and attitudes to proliferate.

I applaud Equality Utah and the National Center for Lesbian Rights for raising awareness of “No Promo Homo” and fighting it. The “No Promo Homo” laws should be destroyed and quickly. No matter your beliefs, you should stand against hate being taught or allowed in our schools.

letters@dailyutahchronicle.com

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