PHOENIX — State lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to legislation that will require special parental permission before a student is taught anything about sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
The 31-28 party-line vote by the House also spells out that sex education of any type is forbidden before the fifth grade. And SB 1456 would mandate yet another special permission — beyond what parents need to provide for their children to take sex-ed classes — to be taught anything about AIDS and the HIV virus that causes it.
Approval of the measure came as proponents said this ensures that parents know — and approve — what their children are being taught. SB 1456 specifically gives parents more rights and time than they have now to review the instructional materials and activities before deciding whether to opt-in to such instruction.
And it specifically requires governing boards to not just review and approve what is in the sex-ed classes being offered.
“This is huge,” said Rep. David Cook, R-Globe.
But foes pointed out that parents already have to opt-in to all sex education courses. Rep. Diego Rodriguez said requiring a separate opt-in for discussions about things like sexual orientation is both unnecessary and discriminatory.
“It’s clearly meant to highlight that there is something different about gender identity and gender expression,” he said. “And that difference is something that should be feared.”
More problematic, Rodriguez said, is the admission by Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, during hearings that the wording of the measure means that parents would have to opt in any time the question of sexuality or sexual orientation came up anywhere in the curriculum. That would include historical events like the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York that are viewed as a precursor to the modern gay-rights movement, and any discussion of LGBTQ individuals in literature.
Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said it even could impair discussion of the suffrage movement where some of the leaders argued for the right to love people of the same sex.
But Barto said that, as far as she’s concerned, existing law already requires such parental permission for such discussions.
“We’re not doing anything different,” she said, with the language seeking to clarify what’s required. “We’re just making it work.”
House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, noted that Wednesday’s vote comes two years after lawmakers voted to repeal sections of sex-ed law that prohibited teachers from promoting homosexuality as a positive lifestyle. That same law also said that if teachers talk about “safe sex” they cannot say there is any such possibility when it involves homosexual conduct.
But that overwhelming vote came only after Equality Arizona filed suit to challenge the law — and Attorney General Mark Brnovich saying he would not defend it in court.
This step backward, Bolding said, is “fear-mongering among what our educators are teaching our kids.”
The ban on sex-ed before fifth grade concerned Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, D-Chandler. She said that could lead to more cases of sexual abuse.
“The fifth grade is absolutely too late for a lot of these children,” she said.
“It is too late for them to learn good touch/bad touch because they have already been molested, they have already been abused,” Jermaine continued. “And, more than likely, it was from somebody within their own household.”
And Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, said that absolute ban will leave younger children without information to protect themselves.
“Leaving out information puts them at risk because they don’t know what’s happening to them,” she said.
Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, objected to imposing a new written permission requirement to teach about AIDS and HIV.
“That really leads to more sexually transmitted diseases,” he said, leaving students ignorant about how one contracts the disease and how to prevent it.
In the end, however, the measure which now goes to the governor, was approved because supporters see it as an issue of parental rights.
“I do appreciate teachers and what the schools have done and what public schools offer our kids,” said Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake.
“But at the end of the day, it’s the parent’s right or not to include their child in whatever type of curriculum they want to do for them, based on the values of their home,” he said. “Why is it, as a parent, I am forced to do something that I see differently in my family?”
Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chander, said no one is being forced to do anything. She said parents already have the right to review curriculum and can opt their children out of any sort of sex-ed classes.
But Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, said more is needed.
“The purpose of this bill is to provide transparency to parents and allow them to determine what’s best for their child,” she said. And Parker rejected arguments that singling out issues of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression for special mention — and special parental permission — that the measure is discriminatory.
“No rights are being denied to any group of people,” she said. “It’s just requiring the schools to get parents involved in sensitive topics.
Parker said it’s no different than anything else that already goes on.
“When I was in school, we were learning about one of the world wars and one of my teachers wanted to show an R-rated movie,” she said, something that required parental permission, including a form that had to be signed.
“If parents denied permission, we went to another room and got our homework done for that day,” Parker said. “It wasn’t really that big of a deal.”
Nor was she alarmed by comments that this legislation sets a precedent where parents would now be getting involved in what their children are taught in math, science or history.
“Parents should have a say over all of those subjects,” Parker said. “Parents already have that level of control and should keep that level of control.”
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said updating the laws on sex education are necessary.
“Today’s sex-ed has morphed into sex indoctrination,” he said. And he said arguments about providing “scientifically correct” sex-ed have become a mandate to teach what is “politically correct.”