In just the first three months of the year, more than 200 bills targeting LGBTQ+ people have been introduced in state legislatures nationwide. Dozens of them aim to restrict talk of sexual orientation and gender identity within school walls, with proponents arguing that exposure to such topics may be “inappropriate” for young children – or even confuse them enough to make them doubt their identities.
In Florida, the now-infamous Parental Rights in Education law, which has been labeled by its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, will, beginning this summer, forbid the state’s public primary school teachers from engaging in instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity. Teachers through high school will not be permitted to address those subjects in a manner not considered “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate” for their students.
Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis during a signing ceremony for the bill last week said the “gender-bread man” had invaded the state’s classrooms, intent on sowing the seeds of doubt in children about their gender identity.
“It’s trying to say that you know, they can be whatever they want to be,” the governor said, seemingly calling into question the validity or existence of transgender children.
While legislation restricting curriculum in Florida has gained the most ground – and the most media attention – similar battles are being waged across the country.
Ohio lawmakers made waves this week when they introduced House Bill 616, which, like the new Florida law, would expressly prohibit public kindergarten through third grade teachers from using or providing “any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity.” Also like Florida, fourth through twelfth grade educators in Ohio would be barred from addressing those topics in any way that is not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Similar language has been used in legislation introduced in Georgia and Iowa. In Alabama, an amendment to a bill barring transgender students from using gender-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity would also prohibit classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity.
An Indiana bill would prohibit educators from including “certain concepts related to race or sex” in their classrooms, as would another piece of legislation in Kentucky, which would also subject school district employees who violate the law to “disciplinary action” and penalties including a $5,000 a day fine.
Parental rights bills
More popular than Florida-style legislation are bills which seek to bolster the rights of parents by giving them greater authority to review classroom lesson plans and instructional materials, which they are then entitled to challenge. (Florida’s law includes a similar provision)
In Georgia, House Bill 1158 would create a “Parent’s Bill of Rights,” which would codify a parent’s fundamental right to “direct the upbringing, education, and healthcare of their minor children.” It would also require school staff to disclose “important” information related to a child’s health and well-being to their parents, which some have argued could mean “outing” an LGBTQ+ student to their families, who may not be accepting of their identity.
Similar legislation introducing a “Parents Bill of Rights” has been introduced in Missouri and Rhode Island. A South Carolina bill establishes a slightly different “Parental Bill of Rights,” but uses the same justification for its introduction.
Another bill, in Iowa, would require school districts offering any instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity to release learning materials to parents. Similarly, in Illinois, House Bill 5505 would create the “Parental Access and Curriculum Transparency Act.”
Legislation in Arizona would take that one step further, prohibiting school districts from allowing any student to participate in groups “involving sexuality, gender or gender identity” unless it receives written consent from the student’s parent or guardian.
Book banning bills
A recent report from the American Library Association found that half of the most challenged books last year were found controversial or inappropriate for children because they contained LGBTQ-related content.
An Oklahoma bill certainly supports that finding, seeking to prohibit school libraries in the state from “maintaining” or “promoting” titles addressing certain “sexual lifestyles.” Similarly, proposed legislation in Tennessee would bar public schools from using textbooks that “promote, normalize, support, or address controversial social issues, such as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) lifestyles.”
Sex education bills
Proposed legislation in Arizona would mandate public schools offering sex education instruction “emphasize biological sex and not gender identities.” The bill would also ban public schools from providing any sex education instruction before the sixth grade and allow parents to excuse their child, regardless of the student’s age, from class.
An Oklahoma bill aims to “modify” language used to teach sex education and prohibits surveys or questionnaires administered as part of a sex ed class to include “topics relating to gender or sexuality.” Educators are also not permitted to use any instructional materials which study LGBTQ+ issues or “recreational sex.”
In Rhode Island, a bill under consideration mandates that sex education instruction “not explore sexual preference, gender dysphoria, or sexual lifestyles.”
This analysis uses data provided by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).