The Arizona House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to repeal the so-called "No Promo Homo" law, nearly 30 years after it was enshrined into Arizona's books, and two weeks after a federal lawsuit challenged its constitutionality.
A relic of '90s-era homophobic hysteria, the law prohibits public school instructors from promoting a "homosexual lifestyle" while teaching about AIDS, though critics say some districts have interpreted the statute as barring discussion of homosexuality in general.
The law also bars teachers from suggesting "that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex," which advocates say deprives gay students from receiving medically accurate information that could prevent the spread of AIDS.
During a floor session Wednesday, the House voted to take "No Promo Homo" off the books. Five Republicans opposed the amendment to repeal the law, including Anthony Kern, Bret Roberts, Warren Petersen, Mark Finchem, and John Fillmore. The amendment was sponsored by Republican State Representative T.J. Shope.
Several gay lawmakers gave impassioned speeches before their vote. State Representative César Chávez said he came out to his parents when he was 15 years old, a little more than ten years after the No Promo Homo law passed. Chávez emphasized that his parents embraced him, but that other closeted teens are forced to "hide or take their own life." He said repealing the law will help more LGBTQ students feel welcome.
"I know that this will allow many other individuals to do so and to be who they are, as members of society and contributing individuals of this state, of this country," Chávez said.
State Rep. Andrés Cano, who also identifies as LGBT, said he was not yet born when the law was passed.
"For more than 28 years, students in our schools have been forced to believe that being LGBT is wrong, is shameful, that they are less than their classmates," Cano said. "Repealing this divisive, this discriminatory language, is not a Republican win or Democratic win. It is a win for Arizona."
Democrats have attempted to repeal the law for years, but have been stymied by Republicans and interest groups, including the "family values"-oriented Center for Arizona Policy. A bill sponsored by State Sen. Martin Quezada to repeal the law this session did not make it past GOP gatekeepers.
But momentum against the law built when Equality Arizona — an LGBTQ rights organization — filed a civil rights lawsuit on March 28 claiming the law "stigmatizes" LGBTQ students by creating a "state-sanctioned climate of discrimination in schools and prevents LGBTQ students from having educational opportunities equal to those of their heterosexual peers."
Filed in conjunction with Lambda Legal and the National Center For Lesbian Rights, the lawsuit claimed the law put students at greater risk for bullying and harassment, citing data showing nearly 80 percent of LGBTQ middle and high school students regularly hear homophobic remarks at school.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced in a letter to legislators on Tuesday that his office does not plan to defend the law in court, noting that the lawsuit does not name Arizona individually, but instead names the Board of Education and State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman. Hoffman opposes the law and called for its repeal shortly after she took office.
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Without the state's top attorney and education official defending the law, that all but left its fate to the Arizona Legislature, which passed "No Promo Homo" in 1991. Republican leaders saw the writing on the wall.
"It allows the state to move forward and save taxpayer dollars," Shope said, explaining his amendment to repeal the law.
Even Center for Arizona president Cathi Herrod backed down, issuing a statement on Wednesday saying she agrees that repealing the law is an "appropriate" response to the lawsuit.
The bill now goes back to the Senate. If approved, it would then go to Governor Doug Ducey's desk.