On February 26, 2020, NCLR and Lambda Legal, 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 Gender and Sexuality Alliance, an organization of high school students at a public magnet school in Charleston County, as well as the Campaign for Southern Equality and South Carolina Equality Coalition, including their members who are public school students in the state.
Two weeks after the lawsuit was filed, on March 11, 2020, the district court entered a consent decree and judgment declaring the challenged provision unconstitutional and barring its enforcement in South Carolina.
The lawsuit, Gender and Sexuality Alliance v. Spearman, alleged that S.C. Code § 59-32-30(A)(5), a provision of 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 LGBTQ. The statute prohibited 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 singled out LGBTQ students for negative treatment and did not impose any comparable restrictions on health education about heterosexual people. Any teacher who violated the provision was subject to dismissal. In February 2020, the South Carolina Attorney General recently issued an opinion that a court would likely find the law unconstitutional. In response to a motion by the parties in the case, the court agreed the discriminatory law violated the equal protection requirement of the U.S. Constitution, and barred state officials from continuing to enforce the law any longer.
Gender and Sexuality Alliance v. Spearman is the latest constitutional challenge to anti-LGBTQ curriculum laws, which still remain in a handful of states. In 2019, a lawsuit in Arizona brought by NCLR, Lambda Legal, Professor Rosky, and private counsel led to the state legislature repealing the challenged law. In 2017, the Utah legislature repealed similar state laws following a 2016 lawsuit brought by NCLR and private counsel.