Arizona and Tennessee are one step away from making it harder for students to learn about sexual and gender identity in school

Gender Identity
Arizona and Tennessee are one step away from making it harder for students to learn about sexual and gender identity in school.
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(CNN) — Arizona and Tennessee are one step away from restricting students’ access to lessons on sexual and gender identity, with lawmakers in the states sending bills to their governors this week that would allow parents and guardians to play a key role in the curriculum their students are receiving.

The legislation in Arizona passed the state’s Republican-controlled House on Wednesday by a vote of 31-28. It previously passed the state’s GOP-led Senate by a vote of 16-14 and now heads to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey for signature.

If approved by the governor, SB 1456 would require students to obtain “signed, written consent” from a parent or guardian before their school provides “sex education instruction or instruction regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression to the student.” Parents will also be informed of their “right to review the instructional materials and activities.”

CNN has reached out to Ducey’s office for comment.

While conservatives in the state have said the legislation helps give parents and guardians more oversight in their students’ education, the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights group, called SB 1456 discriminatory and said that if passed, it “would make Arizona’s sex education laws some of the strictest in the nation when it comes to teaching about LGBTQ issues.”

Among other things, the Arizona bill would also require parents and guardians to provide written permission for their student to receive instruction on HIV and AIDS, and mandates that a “school district or charter school shall provide a description of the course curriculum to all parents and notify all parents” before such lessons are taught.

SB 1456 and a Tennessee bill sent on Wednesday to the state’s governor that would allow parents and guardians to excuse their students from lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity are both part of a growing trend among Republican-controlled legislatures around the country that have been moving in recent weeks to push members of the LGBTQ community further to the margins of society. Tennessee has already approved a law that will require students to play sports based on their birth certificate’s gender identification, something advocates say will prevent trans athletes from competing.

Arizona Republican state Sen. Nancy Barto, the sponsor of SB 1456, said in a statement to CNN that the bill “protects a parent’s right to decide when their child is ready for and what their child is exposed to regarding sexual materials at school” and argued that it will help provide more transparency about a student’s curriculum.

“It is the parent, not the school, that has the ultimate responsibility for guarding the education, health, safety and well-being of their child, but too often the parent is kept out of loop,” she said.

And Cathi Herrod, the president of the conservative group Center for Arizona Policy, which supported the bill, said in a statement following its passage that “in the end, parents won because SB 1456 acknowledges parents have the fundamental right to control what, when, and how their children will learn about human sexuality — not the culture or the government.”

But Alphonso David, HRC’s president, said that “LGBTQ children should be able to see themselves in school curriculum, be affirmed, and have the opportunity to learn about themselves, including critically important health information as they develop.”

“This bill is nothing more than a harmful attempt by Arizona legislators to discriminate against LGBTQ children,” he said in a statement.

Similar law heads to Tennessee governor

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee’s House, meanwhile, passed SB 1229 on Wednesday by a vote of 64-23. The bill, which passed the state Senate earlier this month by a vote of 24-6, allows parents and guardians to excuse their student from part or all of a “sexual orientation curriculum or gender identity curriculum” by submitting a request to the student’s teacher, counselor or principal.

The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Bill Lee for signature. CNN has reached out to Lee’s office for comment.

The legislation requires the school to notify parents or guardians 30 days “prior to commencing instruction of a sexual orientation curriculum or gender identity curriculum, regardless of whether the curriculum is offered as part of a family life program, sex education program, or other program” so that they can review the relevant material before making a decision about their student’s involvement in the instruction.

CNN has reached out to the bill’s sponsor for comment.

Republican state Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, who voted for the bill and serves as vice chair of the chamber’s Education Instruction Committee, said on the House floor Thursday that “parents are in charge of their children, not government, not entities. And I think this is a great piece of legislation that reminds who’s in charge.”

“This is in no way a piece of legislation to cause harm to anyone other than — just put the focus back on the parents,” she said.

But David, HRC’s president, called the bill “hateful” and said that “its ramifications could actually impact everything from history class to reading literature.”

“The Tennessee state legislature is continuing on a discriminatory rampage to craft hateful bills that harm LGBTQ children, and signing this bill into law would hurt all Tennesseeans, including and especially LGBTQ youth,” he said in a statement.