Photo: Will Larkins - FFRF's Catherine Fahringer Student Activist awardee
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dismayed to see that a number of state legislators have introduced legislation that mirrors Florida’s notorious — and religiously motivated — 2022 “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Now, a year after the passage of this controversial proposal, the fallout is not stopping other states from introducing similar legislation. At least 14 states have introduced at least 21 varying bills aimed at accomplishing the same thing as Florida's detrimental legislation.
Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay'' law inhibits or outright prohibits public classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through grade 3. Additionally, the law decrees that sexual orientation or gender identity may not be referenced in any grade in a manner that is not “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” The law also essentially encourages parents to sue districts over alleged violations and teachers to effectively “out” students to parents.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed that the law is nothing more than anti-LGBTQ bigotry when he said that it will protect children from “grooming.” The despicable implication being, of course, that all LGBTQ individuals are sexual predators and that any mention or acknowledgment of sexual orientation is an attempt to prey on children.
As FFRF’s Catherine Fahringer Student Activist awardee Will Larkins movingly described in his guest essay in The New York Times, “Florida’s ‘Don’t Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Will Hurt Teens Like Me.” Larkin wrote: “From an early age I knew I was different. . . . By fourth grade, I was convinced that I was broken. I didn’t know how to defend myself when other kids made hateful comments or bullied me — I didn’t know why I was the way that I was.” In learning “how common the experience of falling outside the gender binary was . . . I grew to understand and love myself. Education made me hate myself less.” The Trevor Project shows that LGBTQ teenagers are far less likely to attempt suicide if they learn about LGBTQ issues in school.
The “Don’t Say Gay” law, for example, makes it impossible for school libraries to openly stock books like “My Two Moms,” and could put teachers in trouble when dealing with a trans child, or if students reveal personal things about themselves or their families in the classroom.
Unfortunately, now three separate bills have been introduced in Florida to expand the “Don’t Say Gay” rule through eighth grade, to bar such discussion in charter schools and to define “sex” as “an immutable biological trait.” Such expansion would muzzle appropriate or meaningful sex education.
So far, only one of these copycat bills, in the state of Arkansas, has passed both legislative chambers. In addition to dreadful provisions in Senate Bill 294 that create a state voucher system to give public funds to religious schools, much of the Arkansas bill mirrors Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill quickly advanced through both chambers of the legislature and is now headed to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s desk to be enacted into law. Huckabee Sanders remarked that she will eagerly sign into law “the boldest, most far-reaching, most conservative education reforms in the country.”
The following bills are still working their way through their respective legislatures:
- Iowa House File 348 (renumbered from House File 8) has passed the House of Representatives and is awaiting a committee hearing in the Senate. The bill states that school districts “shall not provide any program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion, or instruction relating to gender identity or sexual orientation to students in kindergarten through grade six.”
- Senate Bill 102 in Kentucky directs that public school employees are not to "discuss with or provide instruction to any student in kindergarten through grade eight on the topics of sexual orientation, sexual preference, or gender expression inconsistent with biological sex.” This bill was referred to a Senate committee where it has remained since early February.
- Missouri Senate Bill 634 and House Bill 134 are companion bills that prohibit any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity from any school personnel. The Senate version of the bill passed, while the house version has yet to be heard in committee.
- Senate Bill 49 in North Carolina passed the Senate and is headed to a House committee. Similar to other bills, SB 49 prohibits “instruction on gender identity, sexual activity, or sexuality,” from being discussed with school children up to fourth grade.
- North Dakota introduced Senate Bill 2231, a bill to prohibit teachers from recognizing a student’s expressed gender identity unless it matches with the student’s assigned sex at birth. The amended version of the bill allows teachers to use a student’s preferred pronouns, but only after getting consent from the student’s parent or guardian.
- Legislators in Oklahoma are currently considering five bills that would undermine LGBTQ students and faculty in public schools. Senate Bill 30, Senate Bill 866, Senate Bill 973, Senate Bill 937 and House Bill 2546 all attack the rights of students and faculty members in public schools in slightly different ways. However, the common theme is that any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity is severely restricted. Only HB 2546 has made it out of committee; the others have not had a hearing.
- South Carolina lawmakers are mulling over a couple pieces of legislation that would restrict discussion of LGBTQ and gender identity topics. The bills differ, but the key similarity lies in the implication that gender theory and sexuality must not be discussed in public schools in any capacity. House Bill 3728 moved quickly through the House of Representatives, but has slowed in the Senate. Meanwhile, House Bill 3827 has not gotten a lot of movement in its initial chamber.
The good news is that bills in at least five states appear to have stalled out, or died altogether:
- Indiana’s Senate Bill 413 was introduced in January and has not been acted on. It prohibits individuals affiliated with a school from providing “instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity to any students of the school corporation enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12.”
- Hawaii’s House Bill 509 bans instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools. This bill has stalled after being introduced.
- New Jersey introduced Assembly Bill 4042 during the first year of their 2022-23 biennium and failed to get the bill off the ground. This bill is a bit broader and prohibits “classroom instruction by school district personnel or third parties on sex, sex acts, abortion, birth control, sexual orientation, or gender identity shall not occur in any manner in kindergarten through grade five,” in a public school.
- Senate Bill 413 in Montana seems to have died after the lone sponsor of the bill missed a necessary deadline to keep it alive.
- Oregon House Bill 3044 was introduced in January and has since stalled without a committee hearing. This bill includes a provision that reads: “classroom instruction by school employees, contractors, agents and volunteers on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur without parental notification.”
Similar to the anti-transgender legislation that is moving through legislatures alongside these bills, backers of “Don’t Say Gay” bills are just getting started. They know they are laying the groundwork to fight for anti-LGBTQ legislation and they are digging in.
These bills are often titled something completely innocuous such as a “Parental Bill of Rights,” or masked under the pretense of protecting children. DeSantis already gave away the true intent of such bills. They are religiously motivated, anti-LGBTQ attempts to stoke fear in parents of public school children. The increase in the number of these bills being introduced is alarming. FFRF will continue to monitor the progression of these bills for the rest of this legislative session and beyond, asking for membership help in thwarting them.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 39,000 members across the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.