Conservative state lawmakers across the country are considering new legislation that would bar teachers from introducing concepts of sexual orientation or gender identity to young students, imitating a new Florida law that opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Lawmakers in Ohio and Louisiana have filed legislation that mimics the Florida law, signed last month by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). In Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who controls the state Senate, said he would make his state’s version of the bill a top priority in the next legislative session.
The specifics of the measures vary between states, but they largely contain provisions that mirror the Florida law. The bills would bar schools from using curriculum that includes topics about sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Louisiana version would bar educators and school employees from discussing their own sexual orientation or gender identity with any student through 12th grade.
“There’s no need for any child to ever know the private life of their educator,” state Rep. Dodie Horton (R), the bill’s chief sponsor, told KSLA-TV. “It’s not prejudice to one group or another. It just doesn’t discuss it at all.”
Patrick, who is running for reelection, told supporters in an email that he was furious at Disney, which came out against the Florida law after pressure from LGBTQ groups.
“Some may think parents, including me, are overreacting. We are not,” Patrick wrote. “If we cannot fight for our children, then what can we fight for?”
Opponents of the measures say they intentionally target students who are already at risk.
“All of these curriculum censorship bills seek to erase and stigmatize young people who already experience marginalization,” said Aaron Ridings, chief of staff and deputy executive director for public policy and research at GLSEN, a group founded by teachers that supports LGBTQ youth. “All elected officials should be getting back to work on reopening schools and making sure that young people can learn and thrive and reach their own potential. These bills are a step backward.”
It is not immediately clear whether or how quickly the copycat legislation will move. Louisiana’s legislature has two months left on its calendar, making progress on its bill unlikely this year. In Ohio, where the legislature is in session year-round, the bill was introduced by state Reps. Mike Loychik (R) and Jean Schmidt (R), the former U.S. congresswoman, without co-sponsors.
Texas lawmakers hold sessions every other year, and the next kicks off in January. As leader of the state Senate, Patrick, who is likely to win reelection, has a heavy influence over the bills that come up for votes, though he has clashed over some priorities with state House Speaker Dade Phelan (R).
The early move to introduce legislation similar to Florida’s new law is reminiscent of how bills focused on other culture war issues in recent years have started in one Republican-led state before becoming a template for others.
Several states this year moved toward adopting a version of a Texas law that not only banned almost all abortion rights, but also allowed individuals to sue abortion providers. Other states moved to bar transgender girls from girls’ sports or to block gender-affirming medical care for transgender children.
Patrick, whose office released a list of priorities for the Senate before returning to Austin next year, also said the state Senate Education Committee would consider how schools handle controversial library books, after several other states have made it easier for parents to challenge ostensibly offensive titles.
Battles over sex education in schools have been a constant front in the culture wars that have raged between liberals and conservatives for decades. More recently, those fights have grown to encompass sexual orientation and gender identity, both in the classroom and on sports fields. GLSEN was founded three decades ago as a way to fight an earlier version of bills that sought to marginalize discussion of sexual orientation, legislation dubbed “No Promo Homo” bills at the time.
“It’s part of the same strategy that reduces and creates barriers to educational opportunities in our schools,” Ridings said. “There’s a chilling effect from all of these bills on people who are LGBTQ+.”