In wake of Florida law, additional states seek to restrict certain LGBTQ discussions in schools
This text discusses how there are 15 states considering bills that would ban instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
According to data from the American Civil Liberties Union, at least 15 states are considering bills similar to Florida's controversial law banning certain instruction in schools about gender identity and sexual orientation. CNN reviewed this data and found that it is being considered.
Some bills go beyond the Florida law. This was dubbed by critics "Don't Say Gay" and sparked a national debate about LGBTQ rights, education policy, parental involvement in the classroom, and other issues.
This debate is a reflection of the sensitive forces that LGBTQ rights are becoming more prominent at a moment when some parents seek greater input in their children’s education, particularly in the wake the Covid-19 pandemic.
Republicans argue that conversations about gender identity and sexuality should not be allowed to occur in young children's schools. They use the slogan of "parental rights" to call for the curtailment of these discussions, even though there are many opinions among parents. Advocates for LGBTQ rights see this as a deliberate decision to stigmatize a vulnerable segment of American society, and potentially a chilling effect on the urgently needed conversations.
Gillian Branstetter (a communications strategist at the ACLU), stated that these bills were based on the belief queer identities are contagious while straight, transgender identities are more pure or right. Every student has the right to see their life stories and students can benefit from stories that give insight into the lives of others. While homogeneity and censorship do not benefit anyone, they deny all students the chance to grow, learn and thrive.
While the ACLU has been tracking 61 bills in 26 states, efforts in many other states, such as Montana and Mississippi, have failed so far. Arkansas passed restrictions on such discussions earlier this month.
It is not clear how many of these bills will actually be passed. According to a January Human Rights Campaign report, 29 of the 315 anti-LGBTQ bills they considered were passed last year were made law. This is less than 10%.
Efforts resemble Florida law
Florida's law, called the "Parental Rights In Education" bill, prohibits teachers from teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity to students in kindergarten through third grade. It also prohibits them from teaching in classrooms in any way that isn't appropriate or developmental for their students, in accordance state standards. The law also requires that districts notify students' parents if they notice any significant changes in their mental or physical well-being. This could result in some LGBTQ rights advocates arguing that some students may be exposed to their parents without their consent.
"We will continue to recognize the fundamental role of parents in education, health, and well-being for their children in Florida," Gov. Rick Scott said. That is what we will not change,' Gov. Ron DeSantis (a Republican) signed the bill on March 20, 2022.
The Movement Advancement Project is a non-profit think tank that advocates on issues including LGBTQ rights. According to them, Florida's law was the catalyst of the current bills being considered in other states.
There are multiple bills in Florida to increase the impact of last year's legislation. One requires that employees be instructed that'sex determination is determined by biology, reproductive function at birth'. Another prohibits students from using pronouns that don't correspond to their sex.
The legislation has a recurring theme that requires school employees to notify parents if a child wishes to be addressed with a pronoun that corresponds to their gender identity, if it is different from that assigned at birth.
"We're saying that you cannot do this," said Phil Fortunato (Washington Republican state senator), who introduced legislation to limit instruction about gender and sexual identity from kindergarten through third grade. "I don't agree with it. But, parents and children can make their own decisions. They shouldn't be making it behind their child's back, but they should. That's why the bill is important.
Missouri's bill is unique in that no teacher at public or charter schools would be permitted to encourage a student to adopt a gender identity, or sexual orientation. However, the meaning of 'encouragement' is unclear. If their child confides in school officials, they would have to notify their parents immediately. Teachers would also not be permitted to use their preferred pronouns to refer to students without the parent's consent.
The bill provides whistleblower protections to school employees who report violations. They would then be charged with 'charges seeking suspend or revoke teacher's license to instruct based on charges of incompetence or immorality, neglect or neglect of duty'
Missouri GOP state senator Mike Moon, who sponsored this legislation, wrote a blog entitled "Evil perpetrated upon our children". He called it a "lie that boys can change into girls and boys can become girls."
He said, "One thing that we can all agree on is that parents are responsible to the education of their children." Parents must participate in the education and training of their children.
Potential legal challenges
These measures will likely face rapid legal challenges if they are enacted. However, at least two attempts to block Florida's law have failed to remove it from the books. A group of parents, students and teachers from Florida filed a lawsuit last month. US District Judge Allen Winsor was appointed by Trump. He said that the challengers could not show that they had been hurt by the law.
Winsor stated in his order that the plaintiffs had expressed a strong disagreement with the new law and had alleged facts that showed its existence caused them deep hurt, disappointment and pain. They must add more to be able to invoke the federal court's jurisdiction. Their failure to do so requires dismissal.'
Opponents are concerned about the law's vagueness as written. They point out that LGBTQ issues are not a part of the public school curriculum. This leaves educators facing the possibility of having to decide where legal fault lines are drawn.
What counts as classroom discussion? Is it classroom instruction? Is it only the curriculum? Alice O'Brien was the general counsel of the Alice O'Brien in an interview with CNN. "Is it inclusive of teachers' lesson plans or is it broad enough to cover classroom discussion? Teacher answering student's questions, or intervening in an incident when a student bullies another student due to their prestige, sexual orientation, gender identity. It isn't clear what is allowed and prohibited.
Other concerns are also present. Naomi G. Goldberg (Deputy Director of MAP) worries about a chilling effect on teachers in terms of their ability support students in class as well as students in the classroom.
Claire McCully, a trans mom who is outraged by Florida's law, made a similar point in a CNN opinion piece last year.
McCully wrote, "Like any parent, I expect my children to be accepted and welcomed by the school." This acceptance may be easier if there are two parents, two moms, or even a trans mother in the stories that children hear in class.
Cathryn Oakley is the state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. She stated that while it's harmless for other students, it has a profound meaning to trans children. Cathryn Oakley, the state legislative director and senior counsel of the Human Rights Campaign, advised a cautious approach to recognize that schools must be safe spaces for vulnerable children. This is especially important if there's a chance that outing a child too soon could result in 'family rejection' or even violence.
She said that she was not suggesting that parents won't find this information useful. "But, what we mean is that young people should be able have this conversation on the terms they prefer with their parents without having to be brokered by a third party. This could place that child in danger.