With the Winter Olympics in full swing in Sochi, Russia, there has been a lot of ink (traditional and digital) devoted to discussing Russia’s troubling policies regarding homosexuals in their country. The primary offense is their “Propaganda” law which criminalizes promoting “non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors. In effect, this law stands as a way to criminalize speech for individuals and non-governmental organizations that advocate for gay Russian citizens.
What’s surprising is a blog post from The Washington Post which details how “[e]ight states limit speech about homosexuality in ways similar to, though not as far-reaching as,” Russia’s law. Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and 2002 host of the Winter Olympics Utah all have what Yale law professors call “no pro homo” laws.
While none of these laws call for the arrest of gay actors or writers or even advocates, they also cite “the children” in promoting worldviews that are more homophobic than not. Both Alabama and Texas, according to The Post, “mandate that sex-education classes emphasize that homosexuality is ‘not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public.’” Arizona “prohibits portrayals of homosexuality as a ‘positive alternative life-style,’” and refuses to admit that any homosexual sex is “safe.”
Americans have long proven that they are willing to allow a little First Amendment infringement in the order of “protecting” society, specifically the children. Similar sentiments were behind Tipper Gore’s crusade to protect children from music deemed too offensive for minors, which lead to the Parental Advisory sticker on cassette tapes and compact discs that, if anything, made the “bad” music seem all the more cool. Recently, Pittsburgh rappers were sentenced to jail time for mentioning real police officers’ names in a song that contained violent lyrics.
Children are often far more savvy than these political movements are willing to admit. In the age of the internet the forbidden doesn’t stay secret for long. The danger of laws like these is that it prevents teachers from correcting misunderstandings about the real world. Laws like these ensure that all children know about sex will be learned on the school bus and over hushed whispers in the lunchroom.