SALT LAKE CITY – A pair of gay rights advocacy groups said Thursday a judge should halt Utah state laws that discriminate against LGBT students by restricting talk about homosexuality in schools.
The laws create a "chilling culture of silence that stigmatizes LGBTQ students," Equality Utah and the National Center for Lesbian Rights said in a news release a day after seeking a preliminary injunction against the laws. The move followed the filing of a lawsuit in October.
"Its only purpose is to express the state's moral disapproval of 'homosexuality' and codify the views of those within the community who harbor such disapproval," lawyers wrote in the legal filing.
The state of Utah has denied it has anti-gay school laws, saying the case quotes selectively from state law and school rules. They say the state school board is immune from the lawsuit and asked for the case to be dismissed.
Utah State Board of Education spokesman Mark Peterson said the board had no comment on the request for the injunction because it has not seen the filing. He referred questions to the state attorney general's office, where spokesman Dan Burton said the case is being reviewed and a response will be filed next month.
Several states have similar laws.
The Utah laws include a provision that prohibits instruction on "advocacy of homosexuality," contraceptives and sex outside marriage.
The provision was part of a wide-ranging sexual education bill passed with little dissent in 2001. The Utah State Board of Education adopted a similar rule a year earlier that applies to any class that covers marriage, childbirth or parenthood.
Supporters say the laws targeted in the lawsuit bar talk in school about any kind of sex, and the court case could result in wholesale changes to teaching other topics such abstinence before marriage.
Democratic state legislator Brian King introduced legislation Thursday that would strike the language in state law that bans "advocacy of homosexuality." King said his sex education reform bill wasn't spurred by the lawsuit, but he said that teachers need to be able to have age-appropriate, fact-based discussions with their students about homosexuality without worrying about violating the law.
The lawsuit also challenges a law put in place in the mid-1990s that bans gay-straight alliance clubs at school.
The case marks the latest effort by LGBT advocates in Utah to tear down what they see as discriminatory practices in the conservative state that until recently was seen as a hostile environment for gays and lesbians.
Three of the plaintiffs in the case are Utah students, including a boy in kindergarten who was targeted in a school bathroom, burned on a hot metal slide and beaten by other students for wearing dresses, the suit states.
His mother was told in 2014 that the law kept administrators from telling other kids it was OK to be gay or for children perceived as boys to wear girl's clothes, according to the suit. The mother eventually pulled her son out of school.
The groups say the laws also led a school district to put a book about a lesbian couple raising children behind the library counter in 2013 and require parent permission to check it out. It was put back on the shelves after the American Civil Liberties Union sued.
In the latest court filing, the groups contend the laws send the wrong message.
"The prohibition tells gay students that their sexual orientation is less valid than that of heterosexual students, and, thus, that they themselves are less valued," lawyers wrote.