In Florida, it’s the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill. In Texas, it’s Governor Greg Abbott’s order mandating that state agencies investigate the parents of transgender children receiving gender-affirming healthcare — medical care that supports a child’s transition.
With each passing week, there are reports of new legislation aimed at the LGBTQ community — and particularly LGBTQ children — in Republican-controlled states around the country.
The Florida bill has received the most attention. President Biden has called it “hateful.” Employees of some of the state’s largest employers, including The Walt Disney Company, have pressed senior executives to speak out against the legislation. (Disney’s CEO initially refused to comment on the bill for fear of turning the company into a “political football,” but has since reversed course, issuing an apology and calling the bill a “challenge to basic human rights.”)
The bill, which is officially called the Parental Rights in Education Act, would prohibit public schools from teaching students in kindergarten through third grade about topics involving sexual orientation or gender identity.
While Governor Ron DeSantis said that the legislation is designed to prevent teachers from “inject[ing] some of this stuff in the school curriculum,” opponents of the bill say that the language is so vague that it could altogether ban conversations about LGBTQ issues. Here’s the most controversial provision in the bill:
“Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
That last part — banning instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation that is not “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” — extends the scope of the bill beyond kindergarten through third graders. Parents of students of all ages would be able to sue school districts if they believe their children received lessons that were not “age appropriate.”
What does “instruction” mean? Is it formal lesson plans or simply conversations? What does “age appropriate” mean? Whatever the answers to those questions, why would a school risk being sued for their interpretation of the bill? These are the concerns being raised by the bill’s critics.
In a statement, Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel for the ACLU of Florida, called the bill a “disgrace” that was written with discriminatory intent. “Make no mistake: this anti-LGBTQ+ bill affects all Florida students and teachers,” she said. “With this bill, politicians have essentially silenced teachers and students from speaking and learning about LGBTQ+ siblings, family members, friends, neighbors, and icons. This act of government censorship is ruthless and is designed to erase the existence of all LGBTQ+ stories and people from our Florida schools.”
In other states, anti-LGBTQ bills have targeted the trans community in particular. According to the Human Rights Campaign, there have been over 130 anti-trans bills introduced this year, 38 of which would deny trans children access to gender-affirming care.
This week, Republican governors in Utah and Indiana bucked conservative legislators within their own party, vetoing bills that would ban the participation of trans students in sports. Indiana’s proposed legislation stated that “a male, based on a student’s biological sex at birth in accordance with the student’s genetics and reproductive biology, may not participate on an athletic team or sport designated under this section as being a female, women’s, or girls’ athletic team or sport.”
Utah’s bill would’ve set up a similar ban. That state’s governor, Spencer Cox, said in a letter that he opposed the legislation, pointing out that only four of the 75,000 high school athletes in the state are transgender.
“Four kids and only one of them is playing girls sports. That’s what all of this is about. Four kids who aren’t dominating or winning trophies or taking scholarships. Four kids who are just trying to find some friends and feel like they are a part of something. Four kids trying to get through each day,” Cox said in his letter to the state’s Republican-led legislature. “Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live,” he added, citing data suggesting that 56% of trans youth have attempted suicide.
But in both Indiana and Utah, state lawmakers could potentially override the governors’ vetoes. And Republican leaders in both states have suggested that they have the votes to do exactly that.
The fissure between Republican governors and their rank-and-file exposes the shifting political dynamics around the issue. Many Republicans believe that anti-trans bills are a political wedge issue, particularly with the GOP’s conservative base. Dave Carney, a strategist for Texas Governor Greg Abbott, told a reporter that Abbott’s recent order is a “75-80% winner. That is a winning issue. Texans have common sense.”
“They are just weaponizing the fact that most everyday Americans don’t yet realize that they know someone who is transgender,” Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the Associated Press last month.
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