Republican-run states mimic Florida’s ‘don’t say gay’ bill in chilling wave of gag orders

Apr 11, 22
Republican-run states mimic Florida’s ‘don’t say gay’ bill in chilling wave of gag orders

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Over 156 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced or refiled in 39 states since January 2021, according to report

Revelers celebrate on the 7th Avenue during the Tampa Pride Parade in the Ybor City neighborhood on 26 March in Tampa, Florida.
Revelers celebrate on the 7th Avenue during the Tampa Pride Parade in the Ybor City neighborhood on 26 March in Tampa, Florida. Photograph: Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Since Florida passed its controrversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, conservative states across America have been taking on similar style bills as they attempt to ban the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms.

Last month, Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis signed into law the Parental Rights in Education bill. The law prohibits all discussion of sexuality and gender identity in schools, a move that advocates say will “erase” LGBTQ+ students and history.

Since the bill’s introduction and passage, various Republican-run states have filed similar legislation that mimics Florida’s, reflecting a chilling wave of speech and identity restrictions across the country.

Over 156 gag order bills have been introduced or refiled in 39 states since January 2021, according to a February report by Pen America, a nonprofit that seeks to protect freedom of expression in the US. At least 105 of those target K-12 schools, 49 target higher education and 62 include mandatory punishments for those found in violation.

“Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is just the tip of the iceberg. While race, sex, and American history remain the most common targets of censorship, bills silencing speech about LGBTQ+ identities have also surged to the fore,” the organizationsaid.

In March, Georgia legislators introduced the Common Humanity in Private Education Act. According to the act, “No private or nonpublic school or program…shall promote, compel, or encourage classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not appropriate for the age and developmental stage of the student.”

The act, which is sponsored by 10 Republican state senators, says “a focus on racial and gender identity and its resulting discrimination on the basis of color, race, ethnicity and national origin is destructive to the fabric of American society.”

LGBTQ+ advocates in Georgia have pushed back heavily against the bill, arguing that it is not about parental rights but rather “restricting the activities, participation and learning” of children in schools.

In Louisiana, a Republican state representative introduced a bill last month that seeks to ban discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in certain public school classrooms.

The bill, proposed by representative Dodie Horton, seeks to prohibit “teachers and others from discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity with students” from kindergarten through twelfth grade. It also seeks to also ban teachers and other presenters from discussing topics o sexual orientation and gender identity with students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

In February, Republicans in Kansas introduced a state House bill that would make the depiction of homosexuality in classroom materials a class B misdemeanor.

In Indiana, state legislators proposed a bill that would require schools to “obtain prior informed written consent from the parent of a student who is less than eighteen years of age…before the student may participate in any instruction on human sexuality.”

The listed topics in the bill that would require parental consent includes abortion, birth control or contraceptives, sexual activity, sexual orientation, transgenderism and gender identity. Prior to obtaining written consent from parents, the bill would require schools to provide parents with “informed written notice which shall accurately describe in detail the contents and nature of the instruction on human sexuality, including the purpose of the instruction on human sexuality.”

A bill introduced by Tennessee state Republicans in February seeks to prohibit any instructional materials that “promote, normalize, support, or address lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender issues or lifestyles”.

In Arizona, proposed bills by Republican state senators include those that would block gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth, as well as force teachers, nurses and other school staff to disclose a minor’s gender identity to their parents.

Oklahoma state legislators recently passed a bill that prevents students enrolled in colleges from being “required to engage in any form of mandatory gender or sexual diversity training or counseling; provided, voluntary counseling shall not be prohibited”. The law also states, “Any orientation or requirement that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or a bias on the basis of race or sex shall be prohibited.”

Earlier this week, Ohio Republican representatives Jean Schmidt and Mike Loychik introduced a bill that would ban kindergarten through third grade classrooms from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, classrooms with older students would be disallowed from featuring those topics in ways that are “not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”

In response to the bill’s introduction, Democratic representative Brigid Kelly called it a “huge problem} and said: “We’re not giving people access to the tools, the materials, the lessons they need to prepare children for the diverse world that exists.”

Similarly, South Carolina state lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban state entities, including schools from subjecting students to “instruction, presentations, discussions, counseling, or materials in any medium” that involves topics including “sexual lifestyles, acts, or practices,” as well as “gender identity or lifestyles”.

Additionally, like the Oklahoma law, another South Carolina bill seeks to prevent teachers, staff members and district employees from engaging in gender and sexual diversity training.

In states such as Wisconsin and Rhode Island, personal pronouns have also become a contentious subject for conservative lawmakers. Both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature have approved a bill which has yet to be signed into law that includes a parent’s right to choose pronouns for their children.

In Rhode Island, a proposed bill would require children to “be addressed by their common names and the pronouns associated with their biological gender” unless their parents grant permission to change them.

“Florida’s cruel ‘don’t say gay’ bill is one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills moving through state legislatures, most of which primarily attack trans youth,” the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted in February.

“Censoring classroom discussions won’t keep kids from being LGBTQ. It just piles on to the national pattern of attacks,” it added.

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