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Utah Legislature Passes Historic Bill Repealing Anti-LGBT State Public Education Law

Tags: Pro Bono

On March 8, the Utah Legislature passed a bill repealing a state law prohibiting supportive discussions of homosexuality in public and charter school curricula and classrooms. The legislation passed with bipartisan support by a 27-1 vote in the Senate and a 68- 1 vote in the House. The bill now goes to Governor Gary Herbert for signature. The repeal bill was sponsored by Senator J. Stuart Adams.

Last October, Equality Utah and three students, represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Ropes & Gray, filed a federal lawsuit challenging state laws that ban supportive speech about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Utah public schools.

“The Utah legislature has made it clear that every citizen has equal worth, and that the state has no right to censor the important conversations that take place in its schools,” said appellate & Supreme Court partner Douglas Hallward-Driemeier. The Ropes & Gray team working on the suit includes business & securities litigation counsel Jeremiah Williams.

The lawsuit challenges several Utah laws and regulations that prevent supportive discussions of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people in curricula, classroom discussions, and student clubs. The lawsuit argues that these discriminatory restrictions create a negative environment for LGBTQ students, perpetuate discrimination and bullying, and contribute to the high rates of anti-LGBTQ harassment in Utah schools. The lawsuit alleges that the laws violate the U.S. Constitution and federal education law by discriminating against LGBT people and restricting the First Amendment rights of students and teachers.

Earlier this year, the parties agreed to put the case on hold while the Utah legislature considered a legislative solution. The bill passed today repeals the key language challenged in the lawsuit.

“This is a historic day for LGBTQ students in Utah,” declared Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams. “We commend Senator Adams and the Utah Legislature for recognizing that LGBTQ students should be treated with the same respect and dignity as other students. The removal of this discriminatory language from the school curriculum laws will send a positive message that all students are valued in Utah.”

Said Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and a Utah native: “We applaud Senator Adams and the Utah Legislature for acting in the interest of Utah students and repealing this outdated law. These public officials performed a great public service by recognizing that this statue serves no good purpose and actively harms LGBT students. This is a very gratifying development and a significant step forward in resolving our litigation challenging this stigmatizing and unconstitutional law.

Professor Cliff Rosky, a member of Equality Utah’s Advisory Council stated: “The intent of SB 196 is crystal clear: all students are equal. We are confident that in the coming weeks, we can work with the Attorney General’s Office, the Utah State Board of Education, and local school districts to resolve our lawsuit, by ensuring that the intent of SB 196 is carried out in all of our state’s public schools and charter schools.”