Mar 14, 2022 • 8M

Action Alert: LGBTQ+ Censorship and Privacy Violations in Schools

Stand up for LGBTQ+ kids at Tuesday’s Senate Education committee meeting

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Tomorrow afternoon, the Senate Education Committee will meet to discuss and vote on two bills – HB 2161 and HB 2495 – that carry considerable risks for LGBTQ+ kids in Arizona. With just two weeks left before a major legislative deadline, this will be one of the last opportunities of the session for public testimony before these and other anti-LGBTQ+ bills move to potential floor votes and then to the Governor’s desk. 

About the Bills

HB 2161: Sponsored by Representative Kaiser, HB 2161 is a parental rights bill with serious privacy concerns for LGBTQ+ youth. Building on the Parental Bill of Rights framework, the bill grants parents total access to all medical and educational records of their minor children – including “medical records for services not requiring parental consent” – and specifically prohibits teachers (and other school and state workers) from withholding “any information that is relevant to the physical, emotional or mental health” of a child from their parents. Under this law, parents would be given the ability to sue their children’s schools and teachers for any action they feel interferes with their parental rights, with the burden of proof placed on the school or teacher who is the object of their suit. 

It’s important to note in most cases, the consent of a parent is required for minors to receive medical care, and that in these cases, parents have full access to all records; however, when an adolescent can consent to a treatment, they should be allowed confidentiality. This isn’t just about privacy either: when teenagers feel that they can have confidentiality, they are more likely to seek important healthcare for sensitive issues. For LGBTQ+ youth coming to terms with their identities, this can be a particular concern. LGBTQ+ youth are also compromised by the sections of the bill that focus on education. Words like “coerce” or even “withhold” sound nefarious, but the phrase “physical, emotional or mental health” is so broad that students could not reasonably expect to share anything with a trusted teacher that the teacher would not then be required to report to the student’s parents. 

Parents need to have access to their children’s medical records, and likewise, parents should be involved in their children’s education. But the reality is that parents already do have access to those records, and that parents already can be and often are intricately involved in their children’s education. What this bill would actually accomplish is to rob adolescents of agency and privacy – two particularly precious commodities for LGBTQ+ youth – and to deny them the opportunity to form critical bonds of trust with the world around them.

HB 2495: Sponsored by Representative Hoffman, HB 2495 presents itself as a ban on pornography in schools. This is false. The bill’s definition of sexually explicit material includes “textual, visual, and audio materials” that depict “sexual conduct,” “sexual excitement,” or “ultimate sexual acts,” all defined so broadly that the banned materials list would span from biology and history textbooks to iconic literature and young adult fiction. After it became clear that the original bill would have banned most of Shakespeare and even religious texts, an amendment was made to introduce exceptions for “classical” and “early American literature” as well as any “required book for a course to obtain college credit,” but this is still very narrow (and legally vague) and could jeopardize access to AP classes. Moreover, the use of exempted materials would require parental opt-in on a “per-material basis.” In practice, the bill would censor LGBTQ+ stories from both history and literature, and further constrain the scope and potential of public education. An early version of the bill explicitly banned depictions of “homosexuality,” and while this has since been removed by amendment, it’s fair to compare HB 2495 to Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” – or “Don’t Say Gay” – bill. 

What all of these bills share is an antipathy for public education, using the legal framework of parental rights to pare public education down to nothing more than “reading, writing, and arithmetic,” a popular phrase among proponents of measures to ban and censor LGBTQ+ topics or other “objectionable” material. Of course, in Arizona and the rest of the country, public education as a whole is already opt-out, and many families choose private schools or teach their children at home. No real conflict between parental rights and public education exists, but this manufactured conflict has very real consequences. When LGBTQ+ children grow up with history books that pretend people like them do not exist or are taught that their identities are inappropriate, and when LGBTQ+ adolescents learn to keep their identities secret instead of learning how to trust the people around them, they are put at risk, in a world where they have less opportunity and less safety, simply because of who they are.

What You Can Do Right Now

The Senate Education Committee meets at 2 PM on Tuesday. Before then, log into the legislature’s Request to Speak system to register your opposition to HB 2161 and HB 2495 or to sign up to give testimony.

If you don’t already have an account with Request to Speak (RTS), an account needs to be activated at the state capitol before the first time you use it. Civic Engagement Beyond Voting has an online form you can use, and a team of volunteers who will activate your account at the capitol on your behalf. Click here to sign up.

For more information on RTS, the legislature provides a nice PDF guide to the system

Today and tomorrow, take time to call and email the members of the Senate Education committee to ask them to vote no on both bills unless they can be amended to protect the privacy and agency of LGBTQ+ youth.