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Controversial sex ed bill divides Arizona, as governor weighs putting brakes on ‘gender identity’ and sexual orientation classes

Controversial sex ed bill divides Arizona, as governor weighs putting brakes on ‘gender identity’ and sexual orientation classes
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is deciding whether to sign a bill requiring parents to opt in to classes teaching their children about “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” Opponents say the bill is anti-LGBT.

Protesters gathered outside the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, on Thursday, demanding Ducey veto a controversial sex education bill passed this week by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. SB 1456 would allow parents to review the state’s sex education curriculum and opt out of having their children learn about “gender identity or gender expression,” HIV and AIDS or “sexual orientation.” 

The opt-in would extend beyond sex education classes and into any subject touching on these issues – for example a history class discussing homosexuality in ancient Greece, or the 1969 Stonewall Riots, considered the start of the ‘gay liberation’ movement.

Liberal parents at the protest told Fox 10 that the bill would “harm” LGBT kids and make them feel unwelcome in school. Democrats in the state have vocally opposed the bill too, with the Democratic minority in the state Senate claiming it would “further push already marginalized people from resources,” and progressive activist Alison Macklin describing it to AP as “a subliminal way of trying to get anti-homosexual legislation put in, by saying you can’t speak or talk about it in schools.”

Yet, like all hot-button culture-war issues in the US, opposition is split along ideological lines. Proponents of the Republican-sponsored bill argue that it gives parents oversight over what liberal teachers tell their children in the classroom. 

“It is the parent, not the school, that has the ultimate responsibility for guarding the education, health, safety and well-being of their child,” state Senator Nancy Bardo (R) told Fox 10. “[The bill] solely protects a parent’s right to decide when their child is ready for and what their child is exposed to regarding sexual materials at school.”

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Arizona is one of five states that already requires parents’ permission before their child attends sex education classes. The new bill would give parents an extra brake, and would require them to opt in twice for their children to receive the full, “gender identity” and all, sex education suite.

Debate over the bill is fierce in a purple state like Arizona, which in 2019 struck down a law that banned any sex education teaching that portrayed homosexuality in a positive light. While Arizona was since the late 1990s a reliable Republican stronghold (no Democrat won a single statewide election there between 2008 and 2018, from gubernatorial races to education board battles), the state narrowly elected Joe Biden in 2020, and a combination of demographic change and suburban voters drifting left has made it more difficult to pass conservative laws in Arizona.

In more reliably red states, legislatures are busy passing similar laws to SB 1456. Idaho passed an almost identical bill last month, which now awaits Governor Brad Little’s signature. Tennessee passed a similar bill this week, which is now making its way to Governor Bill Lee for approval. Montana passed a bill this month that was amended from an opt-in to an opt-out system after complaints from teachers, and Missouri too is considering the opt-in system.

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All of these legislative actions fit into a broader Republican pushback against the perceived encroachment of LGBT and transgender ideology in schools. Numerous states have passed laws preventing transgender women from competing against biological women in school and college athletics, while others have moved to forbid doctors from helping minors change their gender.

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