House panel advances legislation to keep 'sexually explicit materials' out of schools

By Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Published: Friday, January 28, 2022 - 12:30pm

A House panel approved legislation late Tuesday that is aimed at keeping "sexually explicit materials" out of the hands of school children.

But the discussion about HB 2495 at the Education Committee turned into a debate whether this was a bid to quash all references to homosexuality in public schools.

Rep. Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) said he crafted the measure after finding what he said were books and other materials available at some schools — none in the Gilbert district which he represents — that showed sexual activity. He even held up drawings of young people having sex or masturbating.

Hoffman did agree to amend the measure to exempt "classical literature" and "early American literature," though in both cases, a parent would need to approve each specific reading. That drew some questions about what fits within that — it is not defined in the bill — and whether it would preclude reading texts like "The Color Purple" which has a rape scene.

But the real objection came to exactly where Hoffman seeks to draw the line. As approved, HB 2495 would ban any materials that depict "sexual conduct." And Hoffman went on to define that including "acts of masturbation, homosexuality (and) sexual intercourse."

That drew questions from Rep. Daniel Hernandez (D-Tucson) one of a handful of openly gay legislators at the Capitol. He pointed out that it was less than three years ago that lawmakers finally removed prohibitions from sex education laws that prohibited teachers from promoting homosexuality as a positive lifestyle. That same law also spelled out that if schools taught about "safe sex" they could not say there is any such possibility when it involves homosexual conduct.

"No one advocates teaching pornography," Hernandez said.

"What this bill does is once again try and erase the LGBTQ community from Arizona public schools under the guise of protecting children," he said. "Children keep getting used as footballs for politics."

He said Hoffman could accomplish his goal by simply prohibiting depictions of sexual conduct without making a specific reference to homosexuality. That view was shared by Rebecca Beebe, lobbyist for the Arizona School Administrators Association who said a specific reference to homosexuality was not only unnecessary but also could raise questions.

Hoffman, however, refused to remove the reference to homosexuality.

"I understand the point that you're attempting to make," he told Hernandez.

"However, it's a political point that you're trying to score," he continued. "It actually isn't relevant to the merits of the bill."

Hernandez said, though, that Hoffman invites such criticism because nowhere in the bill does it define "acts of homosexuality," leaving it up to interpretation. For example, he asked whether a picture or description of two men kissing could be considered a "homosexual act" which would subject the teacher and school district to punishment.

"I'm here, once again, having to stand up and say, 'This is something that is wrong,' " he said. "Homosexuality is not inherently wrong."

Hoffman said his legislation is not about sexual orientation.

"I don't care what you do," he said.

"This is not an issue of homosexuality," Hoffman continued. "This is an issue of should sexually explicit materials which has been well documented in terms of medical science has an adverse effect on children, and whether or not it should be shown in K-12 classrooms."

But some lawmakers appeared uncomfortable with the whole idea of any materials dealing with homosexuality – whether explicit or otherwise – being in classrooms at all. Rep. John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction) who is 71, said that there has been a change in the "homosexuality agenda" since he graduated from high school in 1969.

"The argument by the homosexual community at that time was, 'What I do in the bedroom is my own business,"' he said.

"And I agree with that," Fillmore continued. "But what has happened over the last many years is it's been brought out of the bedroom."

Anyway, he said, the bill has nothing to do with homosexuality.

"But I feel in today's committee the homosexuality agenda is being pushed forward," Fillmore said.

While all those who voted in favor of the measure were Republicans, Rep. Joel John (R-Arlington) expressed some concern about adopting a broad new law.

The former public school teacher said the kinds of materials that Hoffman cited have not shown up in his local school district. In fact, John said, he considers these "isolated incidents" by some "bad actors" that probably could and should be dealt with by local school boards.

After a review by the Rules Committee the measure goes to the full House.

Politics Education