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Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, along with private counsel Womble Bond Dickinson, Brazil & Burke, and law professor Clifford Rosky, filed a federal lawsuit challenging a South Carolina statute that prohibits public school health education from including any discussion of same-sex relationships except in the context of sexually transmitted diseases.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the student organization Gender and Sexuality Alliance, as well as the Campaign for Southern Equality and South Carolina Equality Coalition, including their members who are public school students in the state.

The lawsuit alleges that S.C. Code § 59-32-30(A)(5), a provision of the South Carolina’s 1988 Comprehensive Health Education Act, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ). The statute prohibits districts from including in their health education any “discussion of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships including, but not limited to, homosexual relationships except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases.”

The law singles out LGBTQ students for negative treatment and does not impose any comparable restriction on health education about heterosexual people. Any teacher who violates the provision is subject to dismissal. The South Carolina Attorney General has recently issued an opinion that a court would likely find the law unconstitutional.

Students in states with discriminatory curriculum laws report more hostile school climates. 2017 data from GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey surveying LGBTQ middle and high school students demonstrates that South Carolina schools are not safe for most LGBTQ students; nearly 90% said they regularly heard homophobic remarks, 76% experienced verbal harassment, 34% experienced physical harassment, and 14% were physically assaulted due to their sexual orientation.