A decades-old South Carolina law that prohibits teachers from discussing LGBTQ relationships and other issues in public schools, except in the context of sexually-transmitted diseases, has been ruled unconstitutional, NBC News reports.
Back in 1988, South Carolina legislators passed a bill that prohibited public school teachers from discussing “alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships,” putting them at risk of being fired if they did. The only way teachers were allowed to bring up the subject was when talking about STDs.
As Charleston high school student Eli Bundy tells The State, that means that, if a student were to ask a teacher a question related to LGBTQ issues, the teacher couldn’t legally give an answer without risking their job.
“I know how frustrating it can feel to be told by a teacher that they can’t talk about who you are,” Bundy said.
In February, a coalition of LGBTQ advocacy groups filed a lawsuit seeking to have the law nullified, arguing that it violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
“The state law sends a message to students that ‘homosexual relationships’ are so shameful or dangerous that they can only be discussed in a negative context,” Julie Wilensky, an attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said.
Indeed, in some cases, the law led to alleged cases of bullying. For example, the lawsuit claims that one student was told they were “diseased” and had a sanitary wipe thrown at them, was kicked in the chest and was told that the “stairway to hell” is “rainbow-colored.”
Similarly, a 2017 survey found that 88 percent of LGBTQ students in South Carolina regularly heard homophobic slurs or remarks. Seventy-six percent said they’d been verbally bullied because of their sexual orientation.
This week, the coalition of LGBTQ advocates and South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, reached what is known as a consent decree, meaning essentially that the two sides reached an agreement on their own.
At one time, South Carolina was one of several states with what is colloquially referred to as “no promo homo” laws. However, the late 2010s saw them going by the wayside in some states, as Utah and Arizona both ditched theirs. However, such laws remain on the books in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama.
Bundy hopes that the changes will bring about acceptance of LGBTQ students in South Carolina public schools.
“My hope is that for school communities across the state, including our school specifically, the environment and the climate for LGBTQ students will be more accepting,” they said.