Republicans advance bill banning depictions of sex and homosexuality in Arizona schools

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Arizona Mirror

Republicans on Tuesday backed a bill that would ban books like ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, ‘1984’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ from Arizona schools because they contain candid descriptions of the sex and sexuality, and which critics say would effectively make it illegal to teach about homosexuality.

The legislation prohibits schools from teaching or requiring students to study any “sexually explicit” material, which the bill defines as “masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse or physical contact with the genitals, the pubis, the buttocks of a person, clothed or not, or if such the person is a woman, the breast.

An amendment was added to the bill by Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, that allowed classic literature, early American literature, and literature needed for college credit, but only with parental consent.

“We didn’t want it to become overly heavy and exempt literature that is important,” Udall said, adding that they still wanted to give parents the option to “opt out” of literature with sexually explicit material.

Although Udall has repeatedly described his amendment as a way for parents to remove their children from “explicit” school work, it actually forces parents to enroll their children in work – meaning it would be illegal to do so. teach all students by default.

The legislation would also apparently ban all sex education in Arizona schools.

Critics of House Bill 2495 have said they fear the inclusion of homosexuality considers any mention of the LGBT community – whether sexual or not – to be “explicit” and therefore illegal.

“It’s about acts of homosexuality, of not being gay,” said Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, sponsor of the bill.

For 18 years, Arizona law prohibited teaching or discussing homosexuality in the classroom until a 2019 bipartisan effort repealed the No Promo Homo law, which banned teaching of HIV/AIDS in schools that “promote a homosexual lifestyle”.

“There are four openly gay members of the Arizona Legislature,” Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, said, explaining his non-vote when he was visibly upset. “We are a minority of a minority.”

A comprehensive sex education

The bill appears to be a response to fears of comprehensive sex education that gripped Republican activists and lawmakers in 2019.

In 2019, Rusty Bowers, the Republican Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, pointed to a book called “It’s Perfectly Normal” when he attacked comprehensive sex education. Other lawmakers have also called for the book to be banned.

The book aims to teach children ages 10 and up about sexual health, emotional health, and relationships. It contains sections on puberty, pregnancy, and sexual orientation, as well as color illustrations of nude people.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Hoffman presented images of the book that he said he needed to clarify with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and legislative attorneys before printing. One image was a caricature of a man and a woman having sex, while others were caricatures of a boy masturbating.

The images presented by Hoffman are the same ones used by the SPLC-designated anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Watch International and their affiliate, the Protect Arizona Children Coalition, to mobilize against comprehensive sex education.

Bowers spoke at a forum in 2019 that featured a video showing the same footage Hoffman had posted.

The 1994 book was frequently the target of bans for its depictions of puberty, sex, and masturbation. When he critiqued it in 2019, Bowers offered no evidence that the book was in circulation in Arizona schools.

The book is so often attacked that the author of the book sits on the board of directors of the National Coalition Against Censorship.

And the Phoenix New Times reported in 2019 that there was no evidence the book was being used anywhere in the state.

Hoffman cited a National Institute of Health study claiming that exposure to sexually explicit material is dangerous for children and leads to adverse outcomes.

the Arizona Mirror attempted to find the research Hoffman was referring to, but could not. The only longitudinal study on the NIH website that mentioned adolescents and pornography said there was “no evidence that pornography use contributes to decreased subjective well-being in adolescent males.”

However, the study concluded that in adolescent girls, it caused “dysregulated mood and self-evaluation.” The study also noted that many studies on the matter have conflicting results and that more research is needed.

Hoffman also claimed that the American Bar Association agrees on the danger that sexually explicit content poses to children. However, the Mirror could only find a guest review which “should not be construed as representing” the position of the association shared its opinion on the matter and discussed issues of ease of access to online pornography and not explicit content in schools.

A heated debate

Hoffman rejected claims by Hernandez and others that including homosexuality in the bill would prohibit anything other than content depicting same-sex sexual acts, and he refused to remove the word from the definition of content. “sexually explicit”.

He also bristled when Hernandez pressed him about the input he sought when crafting the legislation.

“I don’t buy, as a straw man argument, that we need to have strong stakeholder input,” Hoffman told Hernandez.

“As legislators, we have the data and we have to process it as it comes along,” Hoffman said, adding “there hasn’t been a solid stakeholder meeting.”

The tension between Hernandez and Hoffman continued to mount. When Hernandez asked Hoffman to define homosexuality, Hoffman refused to answer.

“I get the point you’re trying to make to score political points,” Hoffman shot back.

“That’s why we have stakeholder processes,” Hernandez told the committee. “We have people coming in and introducing bills that haven’t.”

School administrators are also concerned

Jeanne Casteen, executive director of the Arizona Secular Coalition and former teacher, explained how the bill could impact literary works that have been classics for years, such as “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings “. Casteen was also concerned about other implications the bill might have.

“We are still facing a teacher retention crisis like we have never seen before,” she said, adding that this could see more teachers and other educators decide to flee. She also wondered if this bill would see the Bible banned because of its more explicit verses.

Lobbyist Rebecca Beebe said the Arizona Association of School Administrators opposes the bill in part because it includes homosexuality as an “explicit” topic.

“We’re not trying to hide things from parents or certainly not show these things to kids,” she said of the explicit images and parents’ concerns that school administrators are trying to hide explicit content. .

Beebe noted that state law already prohibits schools from showing sex acts to children.

But a lawmaker with a history of backing anti-LGBTQ legislation and making transphobic statements slammed the bill’s opposition to a sinister “gay agenda”.

“In the committee today, the agenda of homosexuality is pushed forward,” said Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction. “Members of this community want us to come out and celebrate it.”

“This curriculum is being pushed, and sex shouldn’t be in schools at all,” he added.

During his explanation of his vote, Hernandez hit back at his colleague’s comments.

“The LGBTQ agenda is simple: to be treated like every other Arizonan,” Hernandez said.

The bill has moved along partisan lines and will then make its way to the House.

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