Students at Ben Franklin High School in New Orleans take part in a walkout event Friday, March 31, 2023, for Transgender Day of Visibility (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)
It could soon be illegal to say “gay” in Louisiana public schools. State lawmakers advanced two proposals Wednesday that would prohibit the use of certain language when referring to LGBTQ+ people.
House Bill 466, sponsored by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, cleared the House Education Committee in a 7-5 vote. The bill would prohibit any school employees, volunteers or guest presenters from discussing their own sexual orientation or gender identity.
It would prohibit any other discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity that don’t align with state standards. School employees would also not be allowed to use a student’s preferred pronoun that differs from the gender listed on their birth certificate unless a student’s parent provides written permission. It makes no allowances for legal guardians.
One of the more significant provisions would allow school employees to overrule a parent’s written permission and refuse to use a student’s preferred pronoun on religious or moral grounds.
The law would be enforceable by allowing any individual aggrieved by a violation to seek civil relief through a lawsuit.
Horton’s bill follows a conservative pattern of backlash against the rights of LGBTQ+ people across the nation. It closely resembles a law adopted in Florida last year but is much stricter. Where Florida’s law applies only in kindergarten through third grade, Louisiana’s would apply in all grades.
“This legislation is strictly based on the child,” Horton told the committee. “Our children go to school to learn, to be taught, not to be indoctrinated or confused by anyone else’s ideology.”
Horton spoke of a “growing trend that we see coming” but when pressed could not point to any specific problems or instances of indoctrination occurring in Louisiana’s schools. She said she saw a post on Twitter about “educators that delight in causing confusion to their children” by dressing differently on different days.
Baton Rouge Rep. Barbara Freiberg was the only Republican to vote against the bill. She argued it contradicts the conservative belief in allowing for curriculums and standards to be set at the local school district level.
The bill drew an enormous amount of public pushback from teenagers and adults who packed the committee room and testified against it.
“I am so disheartened by the discussion in Louisiana and the bizarre fascination of some elected officials about the sexual orientation of people they don’t even know,” said Melissa Flournoy, co-founder of the advocacy group 10,000 Women Louisiana.
Many people testified how they grew up smothered in conservative ideals and had zero exposure to LGBTQ+ culture but still turned out gay. Some who testified expressed anger or frustration.
Tucker Barker, a teacher, addressed Horton directly in a display of compassion.
“Just because something is confusing for you or new to you or feels new in your understanding of the world, Representative Horton, that doesn’t make it bad,” Barker said. “It’s OK, right. It’s OK to not know something. It’s OK to be learning. It’s OK to be new to our community… Representative Horton, I would love to see you in spaces with queer and trans leaders in your state. Again, feel free to look me in the eyes. We want to have you in the room. We want you to get to know us and our needs.”
Another opponent was removed by state troopers after she refused to stop speaking when her microphone was turned off.
The committee also passed a similar measure, House Bill 81, sponsored by Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, in a 7-5 vote. The bill has nearly identical provisions as Horton’s regulating the use of preferred pronouns in schools.
Both proposals will head to the House floor for consideration.
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