BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — As Republican-drafted legislation that prohibits school employees from teaching sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom mounts, Louisiana lawmakers advanced their own “Don’t Say Gay” bill Tuesday.
This legislative session season, conservatives across the country have filed bills taking aim at nearly every facet of transgender existence, from health care to athletics to bathroom access. The culture war is not lost in Louisiana, where LGBTQ+ advocates argue at least four bills would have irreversible and harmful impacts on young LGBTQ+ people.
The latest measure, which passed in the House 67-28 and advanced to the GOP-dominated Senate, is legislation that would broadly ban K-12 public school staff from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in school and during extracurricular activities “in a manner that deviates from state content standards or curricula developed or approved by the public school governing authority.” Additionally, the bill would require teachers to use a student’s name and pronouns that align with their sex assigned at birth.
Proponents of the bill say that it will “protect children” and allow parents to decide how and when to broach the subjects of sexual orientation and gender identity. Those opposing it argued that the bill is a targeted attack on the LGBTQ+ community and could harm an already vulnerable group.
“We cannot keep telling our children they do not matter, and that is what we’re saying with legislation like this,” state Rep. Candace Newell, a New Orleans Democrat, said during floor debate Tuesday. “Just because a person is different does not mean that we should discriminate against them.”
Louisiana’s bill is similar to legislation that Florida passed last year, which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The legislation signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last year barred instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through the third grade. The state’s policy has since been expanded to include all grades unless required by existing state standards or as part of reproductive health instruction that students can choose not to take.
As of March, at least 30 proposals similar to Florida’s law were filed in 16 states. So far, at least three other states — Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky — have enacted similar “Don’t Say Gay” laws.
Republican state Rep. Dodie Horton, who authored Louisiana’s legislation, said the bill has “nothing to do with someone’s personal lifestyle,” but rather was created to “protect all children” and allow parents to broach the subjects how they see fit.
“No one should talk to our children about sensitive subjects without consent of their parents,” Horton said.
Those against the bill said it would do the opposite of protecting students and teachers, calling it a “mean-spirited” attack on the LGBTQ+ community. Opponents fear that the legislation could send already vulnerable members of the community spiraling further into depression and anxiety by taking away a “safe space” for them in school. Additionally, they say it would have a negative effect on teachers who fear being penalized for mentioning anything related to homosexuality.
“Every educator knows that having strong relationships with students is critical to building a community of trust in the classroom,” Dave Cash, the United Teachers of New Orleans union president, told The Advocate. “Imagine not being able to share stories from your own family experiences to connect with those you teach. These bills would have a deeply chilling effect on schools, students, and educators alike.”
Additionally, for a student to be called a name or use pronouns that differ from their sex assigned at birth, they must receive parental permission. However, a teacher can reject the parent’s choice if it’s contrary to the educator’s religious or moral convictions. A similar bill passed the state House Monday.
The pronoun legislation in Louisiana is among a wave of interchangeable bills being considered in statehouses across the nation, which would formally allow or require schools to deadname transgender students or could out them to their parents without consent. Deadnaming refers to using the name a transgender person used prior to transitioning.