BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A bill that would broadly ban K-12 public school employees in Louisiana from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom is nearing final passage after securing the endorsement of a key Senate committee Thursday.
Louisiana’s legislation, which already passed the House and advanced from the Senate Committee on Education to the GOP-dominated Senate floor on Thursday, is similar to a law enacted in Florida last year that critics dubbed, “Don’t Say Gay.” Florida’s law bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in all grades unless required by existing state standards or as part of reproductive health instruction that students can choose not to take.
As of March, at least 30 proposals similar to Florida’s law were filed in 16 states. At least three other states — Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky — have enacted similar “Don’t Say Gay” laws.
“This is a hateful piece of legislation,” state Public Service Commissioner Devante Lewis, Louisiana’s first openly gay elected state official, told the Republican-controlled Senate committee.
Opponents of Louisiana’s bill argue that it constitutes a targeted attack on the LGBTQ+ community. They note it comes during a year in wihch conservatives around the country have filed measures taking aim at nearly every facet of transgender existence, from health care to athletics to bathroom access. Additionally, the critics say that instead of protecting students, the legislation would harm an already vulnerable community, as research suggests transgender children and adults face heightened risks of stress, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Proponents argue that the bill allows parents to broach the “sensitive topics” of gender identity and sexual orientation how and when they best see fit. Republican state Rep. Dodie Horton, who drafted the legislation, said it is not meant to be “anti-anyone” or against a certain lifestyle.
“We are the last line of protection for our children,” Horton said Thursday. “This is meant to protect them from conversations that their parents are having to approve that have no part of the curriculum, has no part of the subject being taught.”
There have multiple bills in Louisiana this session that LGBTQ+ advocates say target transgender existence. Republicans have framed the bills as parental rights legislation, but opponents say the measures do the opposite.
Among those bills is a piece of legislation that also advanced from the Senate committee to final passage Thursday. The measure would require teachers to use the pronouns and name that align with a student’s sex assigned at birth. A parent can give written consent to do otherwise, however a teacher can override the parent’s request if it goes against their own religious or moral values.
“We agree parental rights are very important, yet this bill takes away parental rights and says some teachers based on their moral feelings can do whatever they want even if a parent signs the form,” said Melissa Flournoy, a former Louisiana lawmaker who opposes the bill. “Why do we care what children want to be called? What legitimate purpose does this bill have but to make life harder for children in school?”
With a week left in Louisiana’s legislative session, both bills are headed to the Senate floor for debate. If they receive final passage, the legislation will be sent to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards. Edwards, a Democrat who opposes the bills, has not said whether or not he would veto them.
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