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Louisiana is the latest state to file its own 'Don’t Say Gay' bill for public schools

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Louisiana became the latest state to file a Florida-style “Don’t Say Gay” bill when state Rep. Dodie Horton (R-Haughton) introduced new legislation Thursday on the house floor.

The bill would limit, and in some grades prohibit, the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.

While the bill directly identifies teachers, school employees and other presenters, opponents have raised concerns that students would also face consequences since the legislation could result in less inclusive schools.

Here’s what the bill, HB 837, says:

No teacher, school employee or other presenter shall cover the topics of sexual orientation or gender identity in any classroom discussion or instruction in kindergarten through grade eight. 

No teacher, school employee or other presenter shall discuss his own sexual orientation or gender identity with students in kindergarten through grade twelve. 

The language in the bill is subject to interpretation, especially when it comes to the phrase “classroom discussion.” This could mean eliminating books with LGBTQ characters or removing people who identified as gay or lesbian from history lessons.

It could also mean barring students with gay parents from participating in class discussions when that information is relevant.

Student groups focused on sexual orientation, gender identity and allyship could be prohibited until at least high school and possibly after, depending on interpretation of the bill.

LGBTQ Americans aren’t fully protected from discrimination in most states, including Louisiana.

Florida’s bill, which is still awaiting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature, has similar provisions as Horton’s but is much more expansive.

For example, it includes a measure that allows parents to opt their children out of counseling and mental health services and gives them the power to sue schools, at the district’s cost, if they think any part of the bill has been violated.

At least four states in addition to Florida had introduced “Don’t Say Gay” bills as of mid-February, according to The Hill. Those states are Tennessee, Kansas, Indiana and Oklahoma.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, at least four states — California, Colorado, Illinois and New Jersey — mandate that schools teach LGBTQ history, according to Education Week.

LGBTQ history is not a part of Louisiana’s current or forthcoming social studies standards. A recent draft of the state’s revised standards asked students to analyze “the major contributions and limitations placed on diverse groups” including “LGBT people,” but that version was later rejected.

This isn’t the first time states have tried to pass legislation restricting classroom discussion of gender and sexuality; rather it's just a new wave.

At least a half-dozen states, including Louisiana, already have “no promo homo” laws in place that limit how, or whether, teachers can talk about LGBTQ issues with students.

Louisiana’s current legislation is relatively narrow and only has to do with how sex education is taught in public schools.

“No sex education course offered in the public schools of the state shall utilize any sexually-explicit materials depicting male or female homosexual activity,” the policy states.

In a statement Thursday, SarahJane Guidry, executive director of Forum for Equality, said Horton’s bill was meant to “stigmatize LGBTQ people, isolate LGBTQ kids and make teachers fearful of providing safe, inclusive classrooms.”

“The existence of LGBTQ students, parents and teachers is not a taboo topic that should be regulated by the Louisiana Legislature,” Guidry said. “We will not stand by while our elected officials attempt to censor discussions of LGBTQ youth, families and history. HB 837 is about erasing our existence.”

The statement goes on to say that if adopted, the bill would have “devastating real-world consequences, especially for LGBTQ youth, who already experience higher rates of bullying and suicide.”

Lawmakers should be providing more support — not less — for these students, Guidry, said.

In an interview with Louisiana Illuminator reporter Julie O’Donoghue, Horton reportedly disagreed with the bill’s description as “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, arguing her motivation was to protect children “from conversations that are not age appropriate.”

“Because of teachers’ influence on children, they should never teach their own preference,” Horton reportedly told the Illuminator.

During the interview, Horton repeatedly referred to people who identify as LGBTQ as making a “lifestyle choice.”

"Sexual orientation is between them and God, and it's their choice,” she said.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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