Advocating homosexuality in Utah public schools is currently prohibited. Seeking to overturn the law, Equality Utah and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a suit against the state in October. In response, Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams (Republican – Layton) brought forth SB 196 – Health Education Amendments. The bill deletes the reference to homosexuality, replacing it with a ban on advocating premarital or extramarital sex.
“We’re focusing on making sure we treat all kids equally. What this bill does is it allows us to focus on just that, making sure we treat everyone equally whether it’s homosexuality or heterosexuality. The state has a compelling interest to teach all children,” said Adams.
Clifford Rosky, a University of Utah law professor and member of Equality Utah’s advisory board, said vagueness of the word “advocacy” has sometimes prevented teachers from helping bullied LGBT students out of fear of violating state law. “It’s very important, not because anyone wants to tell students that they should be one sexual orientation or another. That just never happens,” said Rosky. “It’s really just to make sure that our schools are safe for all students.”
In addition, representatives from the Utah Board of Education, Utah Commission on LGBT Suicide Awareness and Prevention, Utah Eagle Forum, Sutherland Institute, and Family Policy Resource spoke in favor of the bill.
Calling SB 196 “an ingenious solution,” Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper) praised Adams for bringing the matter forward in such a non-controversial manner. “I think you’re a genius, because this could have been a very divisive bill with hours and hours of debate. What you’ve done here is create win-win,” said Stephenson. “Most of all, our children will be the winners from this bill. Not only will they feel safer in our schools and that teachers and faculty will have the capacity to make all children feel safe, they will also feel safer in our communities and hopefully this will create Utah as a better place.”
Members of the Senate Education Committee voted unanimously to approve the legislation, which now heads to the full Senate.