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Pennsylvania lawmaker introduces bill modeled after Florida ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law: ‘Mine goes further’

The measure would bar public school educators from addressing sexual orientation and gender identity with their students through the fifth grade.
Pennsylvania State Representative Stephanie Borowicz delivers his speech during a rally against vaccination mandates at the Pennsylvania State Capitol. (Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Story at a glance

  • Pennsylvania state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R) last week introduced legislation to ban lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools through the fifth grade, telling supporters during a news conference that her bill was modeled after Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

  • Borowicz has argued that measures to ban topics including sexual orientation and gender identity from the classroom should extend through high school.

  • Borowicz’s measure is backed by Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, the GOP nominee for governor.

A conservative Pennsylvania House member has introduced legislation to ban discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in public school classrooms, arguing the measure is necessary to protect the state’s youth from “indoctrination.”

The measure, introduced last week by Pennsylvania state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R), was patterned after Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education law — legislation that has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by its critics for its ban on classroom instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity through the third grade.

Florida educators through high school are restricted from addressing either topic with their students in a manner that is not “age appropriate.”

Borowicz during a news conference at the state capitol building in Harrisburg last week said her bill “goes further” than than the Florida law because it bans instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity through the fifth grade.

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“It needs to really be protected all the way up to twelfth grade,” she said. “We need to go all the way.”

Borowicz’s legislation would also give parents greater latitude to withhold consent or decline a health care service offered by their child’s school and would bar public school administrators, faculty or staff from “encouraging” students to withhold information about their mental or physical health from their parents.

“This is a bill to protect our children from gender ideology and sexual orientation being taught in our children’s school – the same nonsense that is now on the Department of Education’s website,” Borowicz said last week.

She criticized the department for launching a webpage dedicated to creating gender-inclusive classrooms by providing educators with examples of gender-neutral pronouns they can use to address their students. The page also lists definitions for words like cisgender, transgender and genderqueer.

Borowicz added that she believes transgender students should not be allowed to use facilities like restrooms or locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, though such a clause is not included in her proposed legislation. The state Supreme Court in 2019 declined to take up a challenge to one Pennsylvania school district’s gender-inclusive restroom policy, allowing it to take effect.

Borowicz’s bill also borrows language from a state Senate bill passed in June that is awaiting consideration in the House.

The Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, which advises Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on policies that affect the LGBTQ+ community, has condemned the Senate measure, calling it a “cruel attempt to politicize LGBTQ people and deny their humanity.”

Borowicz last week refuted that claim, doubling down on an argument used by proponents of similar legislation that such measures are necessary to protect the innocence of children and preserve fundamental parental rights. She said multiple parents had approached her to report they had found “sexually explicit content and pornographic images” in their children’s schoolbooks, which she said were “repulsive” and “horrific.”

“Clearly, the need to enact a comprehensive and enforceable Parental Bill of Rights has never been more imperative,” Borowicz said.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the GOP nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, called Borowicz’s bill “common sense legislation” to protect children from “sexually explicit content.”

“It’s time to restore order,” he said. “The parents know best.”

Mastriano is also the sponsor of a similar bill that aims to strengthen the rights of parents in education and health care, and has promised to place an immediate ban on “gender theory studies” – as well as critical race theory – in Pennsylvania schools on “day one” if he is elected governor in November.

Recent polling shows Mastriano trailing nearly 10 points behind his Democratic opponent Josh Shapiro, the state’s Attorney General.