State Sex-Ed Laws on Sexual Orientation
Determining sex education curriculum is, for the most part, a school district’s responsibility. If local controversies erupt over curriculum topics, such as sexual orientation, states may need to weigh in on the debates. Most states have general statutes concerning sex education programs or HIV/AIDS education, according to new research by the Education Commission of the States (ECS). The EPE Research Center conducted an analysis of the laws compiled by ECS. Of the 38 states that have sex education laws, only 11 address sexual orientation. Each state’s mention of sexual orientation was coded, and the results fell into five different categories (with some states falling into more than one category):
Sex education curriculum...
Cannot depict, discuss, or promote homosexuality
4 states—Arizona, Louisiana, South Carolina, Utah
Must discuss state laws regarding homosexual acts*
3 states—Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina
Can only discuss homosexuality in the context of sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS
3 states—North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina
Must promote monogamous heterosexual marriage
3 states—Florida, Illinois, North Carolina
Must be appropriate for students of all sexual orientations and may not promote bias against persons in any protected categories (includes sexual orientation)
*Click image to see the full map.
SOURCE: EPE Research Center, 2007
Twenty-seven states do not mention sexual orientation in sex education laws, and 13 states—including Maryland—do not have any laws concerning sex education curriculum. Maryland Superintendent Nancy Grasmick recently had to make a decision about the topic of sexual orientation in the new sex education curriculum being piloted in Montgomery County schools. The county’s board of education approved the curriculum, which covers sexual orientation in scripted lessons on tolerance for eighth graders and sexual identity for 10th graders. Citizens groups opposed to the measure petitioned the Maryland Department of Education, saying the lessons are in conflict with the belief of some religions that homosexuality is a sin. Grasmick sided with the county board of education, but she noted that those parents who disagree with the lessons have the chance to opt out. The state board of education will now consider the petition and vote on whether or not the curriculum can be implemented in all county schools.
For more information about the debate on the sex education curriculum in Montgomery County, Maryland schools, see:
Board of Education Approves New Sex-Ed Curriculum
Sex-Ed Pilot Is Endorsed By Grasmick
For Education Week coverage on this issue, see:
Guidelines Urge a Dialogue on Gay Issues in Schools
*The U.S. Supreme Court struck down state anti-sodomy laws in the case Lawrence v. Texas (2003).
To find out more about education policies in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, access the Education Counts database.