A federal judge has ruled that teachers may talk about LGBT+ relationships in South Carolina schools, striking down a local law which would have stopped them.
The move is a major victory for students and teachers in the state who took the case to court.
Moreover, it will encourage campaigners in the handful of states that still have anti-LGBT+ curriculum laws. Already Arizona struck down its law in 2019 and Utah in 2017 following similar legal challenges.
The law is South Carolina prohibited any discussion of same-sex relationships in health education in public schools. The only exception was teachers talking about sexually transmitted diseases.
Not only did the law single out LGBT+ students for negative treatment. But also, any teacher who violated it could face dismissal. Moreover, the South Carolina Attorney General had issued an opinion that a court would likely find the law unconstitutional.
Now the court has struck down the law, which dates from 1988. The judge agreed the discriminatory law violated the equal protection requirement of the US Constitution and barred state officials from continuing to enforce it.
‘Students will no longer have to feel they have been erased’
Eli Bundy is a 10th grader who is the president of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA). The GSA is an organization of high school students in the Charleston County School District.
Bundy said: ‘I am very excited that this discriminatory law can no longer be enforced in South Carolina. And I hope we can continue to work toward a more accepting and equal state-wide community.
‘I know how frustrating it can feel to be told by a teacher that they can’t talk about who you are. I’m so grateful that no other South Carolina student will have to go through school feeling like they have been erased.’
Meanwhile Kevin Hall, office managing partner at Womble Bond Dickinson based in Columbia, South Carolina, helped bring the case.
He said: ‘This court order means that we can put this clearly unconstitutional 32-year-old law behind us.
‘And it marks a new day for LGBTQ students here, who can now go to school without the stigma that this law cast over them. My hat’s off to the courageous students in South Carolina who spoke out against this damaging law.’
Meanwhile, students in states with discriminatory curriculum laws report more hostile school climates.
2017 data from GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey demonstrates that South Carolina schools are not safe for most LGBT+ students. Indeed nearly 90% said they regularly heard homophobic remarks.
Moreover, in the last year, 76% of LGBTQ students experienced verbal harassment and 34% experienced physical harassment.
Lawyers filed the case on behalf of the GSA, the Campaign for Southern Equality and South Carolina Equality Coalition, including their public school student members in South Carolina.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights and Lambda Legal, along with private counsel Womble Bond Dickinson, Brazil & Burke, and law professor Clifford Rosky, were the lawyers.