‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in Louisiana Legislature would ‘isolate’ LGBTQ students, critic says

Lawmaker says sexual orientation, gender identity are choices

By: and - March 18, 2022 2:41 pm

A bill that would bar discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in K-12 schools has been filed in the Louisiana Legislature. It follows similar efforts in Florida and more than a dozen other states referred to as “Don’t Say Gay” proposals.

Filed by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, House Bill 837 would make it illegal for schools to incorporate “classroom instruction or discussion relative to sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through eight-grade classes and for teachers and other school employees to discuss “personal sexual orientation or gender identity” with students in grades K-12th grade.

Horton said she filed the bill to “protect our children from conversations that are not age-appropriate.”

“Teachers influence our children and they should never teach them their own preference,” Horton said.

SarahJane Guidry, executive director of Forum for Equality, an umbrella LGBTQ group in Louisiana, said Horton’s bill is designed to “stigmatize LGBTQ people, isolate LGBTQ kids, and make teachers fearful of providing safe, inclusive classrooms” across the state.

“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.”

Guidry said lawmakers should be creating laws that provide more support for LGBTQ youth in the state “instead of trying to force LGBTQ people back into the closet by policing identity or stopping kids from talking about their same-sex parents.” 

She added that the bill would make matters worse for LGBTQ youth, who already experience higher rates of bullying and suicide.

When asked for an opinion on Horton’s bill, a spokesperson from Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office didn’t issue a direct response but reiterated an excerpt from his remarks opening the state legislative session this week. 

“Some of the bills being brought up this session do nothing to make lives better. Nothing to continue moving us forward. They only serve to divide us. And frankly, some are reminiscent of a dark past that we should learn from, not relive,” Edwards said. 

In an interview with the Illuminator, Horton continually referred to a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity as a person choice. She also objected to labeling her proposal as as a “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

“This is not a ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill,” Horton said. “It has nothing to do with someone’s lifestyle choice. Their sexual orientation is between them and God and it’s their choice.”

“If we worked towards access to safe and inclusive classrooms, then individuals like Rep. Horton would understand that one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is not a choice,” Guidry said.

Pushback against LGBTQ teachers has recently been an issue in Louisiana. 

In Shreveport, parents clashed at a Caddo Parish School Board meeting this week over a music teacher who identifies as nonbinary, but said they aren’t allowed to make their identity or orientation known at work.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is an award-winning journalist at The Louisiana Illuminator. Canicosa has previous experience at Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.

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