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July 6, 2016

How to use anti-LGBTQ laws to explore social justice

In order to learn more about social justice issues, students will look at important laws affecting members of the LGBTQ community, including Mississippi’s House Bill 1523.


History, Social Studies, Government, English

Estimated Time

Two 50-minute class periods

Grade Level



In order to learn more about social justice issues, students will look at important laws affecting members of the LGBTQ community, including Mississippi’s House Bill 1523.

Warm up Activity

Recently, there has been a lot of media attention and controversy regarding LGBTQ rights, and the matter has increasingly been politicized. Familiarize students with the issue by watching this PBS NewsHour video story entitled ‘Transgender bathroom battle goes national with Obama school directive.’

Read Section 2 of HB1523 and ask students if they agree or disagree. Why have laws dealing with the LGBT community been in the news lately?

SECTION 2.  The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:

(a)  Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;

(b)  Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and

(c)  Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.

Main Activity

Have everyone write for a five-minute, uninterrupted period after each question is posed so students are forced to think before speaking.

Conversation One: The History of Marriage Equality in America

The ways that marriage has been defined in America has changed over the years from Loving v. Virginia to Windsor v. United States and Obergefell v. Hodges.  We recognize that people can marry regardless of race or gender. The Mississippi law defines marriage more narrowly, though. Does the Mississippi law seem to be consistent with the Supreme Court’s definition of what marriage is? Can a state law protect a definition of marriage that conflicts with Supreme Court’s definition of marriage?

Conversation Two: The Difference in Sex and Gender

The American Psychological Association defines sex as referring “to a person’s biological status and is typically categorized as male, female, or intersex.” Intersex individuals have an ambiguous biological sex at birth. According to the APA, gender “refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex.” The law presents a black-and-white, absolute binary while the ideas of sex and gender are much more complicated. How does a more nuanced view of sex compromise the law?

Conversation Three: Transgender People Exist

Transgender people’s gender identity differs from the sex assigned by a doctor at birth. The Mississippi law acknowledges the existence of two types of people: male or female. There’s no discussion, acknowledgement, or space for those who do not identify as male or female. Are these people, then, beyond the law?

Conversation Four: Equal Protection Under the Law

In the 1996 decision, Romer v. Evans, the Supreme Court cited the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment in its decision.The Court saw that an Amendment to the Colorado State Constitution would allow for discrimination against LGBT people based on a sole trait, which would violate the Equal Protection Clause.The clause has been inclusive and affirming of those people who had been traditionally marginalized. How does the Mississippi law seem to view this idea of equal protection?

Extension Activities

Activity 1: Create a Timeline and Overview of Supreme Court Cases Related to a Significant Social Issue

Have students think about an issue that is important to them. Have them research four to six significant Supreme Court decisions that shaped America’s legal and social understanding of the issue. Students can produce a poster, a paper, a presentation, website or short video.

Activity 2: Justices as Writers

Have students take one Supreme Court case and read each opinion. Break the students into groups and assign each group one of the justice’s opinions to analyze.

First, highlight each main argument within the opinion.

Select a sentence that is representative of the justice’s style.

Write a few sentences characterizing the justice’s style and how that style works to accomplish his or her purpose.

Activity 3: Finding Bias

It can be easily argued that there is no neutral piece of writing. Read the full text of Mississippi’s HB1523. Find four opinion pieces written in response to the legislation that reflect as broad a range of opinion as possible. For each piece, determine the bias. Ask yourself what purpose the bias serves and to what audience it appeals.

Douglas Ray has taught at Indian Springs School since 2010. In the fall, he joins the faculty of Western Reserve Academy as an upper school English teacher. He is author of He Will Laugh, a collection of poems, and editor of The Queer South: LGBTQ Writers on the American South, which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.

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