By: Jamie Gregory
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we want all the good news we can get. I wrote about South Carolina’s outdated and harmful law supporting LGBTQ disinformation in public schools in my January and March posts. Not long after my March post went live, I read the news of a lawsuit filed against this law in South Carolina.
Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights brought the federal lawsuit, the main defendant being Molly Spearman, SC’s State Superintendent of Education. The lawsuit claims that the South Carolina law violates the 14th Amendment which guarantees equal protection under the law free from discrimination.
The South Carolina Code of Laws states in SECTION 59-32-30: (5) “The program of instruction provided for in this section may not include a discussion of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships including, but not limited to, homosexual relationships except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases.”
This article raises important points in explaining how the law violates the 14th Amendment. The law restricts information provided about certain groups of people and not others, which promotes the spread of disinformation and prevents the proper and appropriate health education of young adults.
A common refrain among those who support the law is that schools should not be teaching sexuality to students. But the sexual health of our young citizens is indeed a legitimate concern. Parents are able to opt their children out of these sexual education classes; I signed a form last year allowing my 6th grader to opt in to the instruction. Parents always have the right to educate their children in ways they see fit. However, when making laws about public education, federal laws must be obeyed to protect the rights of all students.
Moreover, I hope that others see how the law promotes disinformation. It is not wise to teach young adults that only homosexual partners spread sexually transmitted diseases. To rebut a common argument, public schools are not teaching students to become homosexual by teaching medically accurate information. We should all want to ensure the well-being of our citizens, and that can’t happen if a law dictates the instruction of disinformation.
And we haven’t even gotten to the mental health effects of laws such as this. Treating groups of people as if they don’t exist or spreading information that isn’t true affects people. A public school should not be implying that a group of people is immoral solely based on their sexual orientation.
I encourage everyone to read this GLSEN research brief about the impact of these laws on students. Some important takeaways: LGBQ students may feel invisible; these laws prevent the positive portrayal of LGBQ people; LGBQ students may internalize feelings of inadequacy; they may feel isolated; students in states with these laws are more likely to face harassment.
For more facts about the devastating emotional and physical impacts of these laws, read this 2017 GLSEN report from the National School Climate Survey. Seventy-six percent of LGBTQ students in South Carolina reported verbal harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, and 34% report physical harassment. Only 7% reported being taught positive representations of LBGTQ people or history in the school curriculum. The effects of this law are far-reaching, and school librarians continue to fight against censorship for equal representation in library materials as well.
The federal lawsuit was settled, with the SC Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman directed to provide guidance to school districts about how to move forward without enforcing the law. Every student deserves to attend a public school which teaches factually correct information and encourages a mentally healthy, safe learning environment. At a time in your life when your self-identity is possibly the most vulnerable, young people need to know that we care about them as individuals enough to protect their mental health and to present them with correct health information.
Jamie M. Gregory is a National Board Certified Teacher in Library Media working in her 6th year as a school librarian at James F. Byrnes High School in Duncan, SC. Previously she taught high school English and French for 8 years. Her academic interests include book censorship and academic freedom in K-12 schools, inquiry-based learning, information literacy, and literacy in high school classrooms. She is an active member of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians serving as the 2019-2020 Chair of the South Carolina Book Award committees. When she is not reading or researching, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two sons cooking, traveling, playing board games, and going to Iron Maiden concerts. Find her on Twitter @gregorjm.