Eight U.S. states, and several cities and counties, have some version of what we call “no promo homo” provisions. Before the United States condemns the Russian statute’s infringement of free speech and academic freedom, it should recognize that our own republican forms of government have repeatedly given rise to analogous restrictions.
It is no coincidence that these examples focus on what must and must not be said to children. An explanatory note accompanying the 2013 Russian legislation makes clear that the statute seeks to protect children “from the factors that negatively affect their physical, intellectual, mental, spiritual, and moral development.” Proponents of the U.S. statutes have offered similar justification. And, like Russian President Vladimir Putin this month, the U.S. laws warn gay people and sympathizers to “leave kids alone, please.”
The underlying ideology of these statutes is the same: Everybody should be heterosexual, and homosexuality is per se bad. This ideology has never rested on any kind of evidence that homosexuality is a bad “choice” that the state ought to discourage. The ideology is a prejudice-laden legacy of a fading era. (In fact, the strategy is daffy: Even if homosexuality were a bad lifestyle choice, state laws are not an effective way to head off such a choice.The authors include excerpts from the homophobic legislation they are referring to:
“Materials adopted by a local school board . . . shall . . . comply with state law and state board rules . . . prohibiting instruction . . . in the advocacy of homosexuality.”
“Propaganda of homosexualism among minors is punishable by an administrative fine.”
“No district shall include in its course of study instruction which: 1. Promotes a homosexual life-style. 2. Portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style. 3. Suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.”
“[I]nstruction relating to sexual education or sexually transmitted diseases should include . . . emphasis, provided in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense.”The second of these is from the Russian law that went into effect last year after President Putin's signature, the others are from actual laws in effect in Utah, Alabama and Texas.
If discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation must receive heightened scrutiny then it is hard to believe these kinds of laws can survive any kind of judicial review.