Eight U.S. states, and several cities and counties, have some version of what we call “no promo homo” provisions. Before the United States condemns the Russian statute’s infringement of free speech and academic freedom, it should recognize that our own republican forms of government have repeatedly given rise to analogous restrictions.
It is no coincidence that these examples focus on what must and must not be said to children. An explanatory note accompanying the 2013 Russian legislation makes clear that the statute seeks to protect children “from the factors that negatively affect their physical, intellectual, mental, spiritual, and moral development.” Proponents of the U.S. statutes have offered similar justification. And, like Russian President Vladimir Putin this month, the U.S. laws warn gay people and sympathizers to “leave kids alone, please.”
The underlying ideology of these statutes is the same: Everybody should be heterosexual, and homosexuality is per se bad. This ideology has never rested on any kind of evidence that homosexuality is a bad “choice” that the state ought to discourage. The ideology is a prejudice-laden legacy of a fading era. (In fact, the strategy is daffy: Even if homosexuality were a bad lifestyle choice, state laws are not an effective way to head off such a choice.)
Putin has assured the International Olympic Committee that the law is merely symbolic. But in the United States, officially sanctioned anti-gay prejudice has contributed to classroom bullying and to the high level of suicides among gay teens.At least one of these laws lives close to home, and will turn 18 in May: Greenville County, SC, declared homosexuality incompatible with its community standards by a 9-3 vote of its county commission in 1996.