Marchers walk through the French Quarter in New Orleans for Transgender Day of Visibility on Friday, March 31, 2023. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)
A pair of anti-LGBTQ+ bills targeting young transgender and queer students were advanced Thursday from a state Senate committee, likely putting them just one step away from the governor’s desk for approval.
The Senate Education Committee passed both on party line 3-1 votes, with committee Chair Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, being the sole vote in opposition both times. The committee’s other Democrat, the more conservative Sen. Katrina Jackson of Monroe, was not present for most of the hearing. Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, attended the meeting but was not in the room for either vote.
House Bill 81 by Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, would prohibit school employees from using transgender students’ preferred name or pronouns unless they have parental approval. House Bill 466 by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, prohibits the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools.
LGBTQ+ rights advocates noted that it was ironic that the committee took the action on the first day of Pride month.
The bills are part of an unprecedented nationwide barrage of state level bills that target the LGBTQ+ community. While anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has been introduced in Louisiana in the past, it has gotten much further this year than last year when Horton’s proposal did not even make it out of committee.
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While proponents of Crews’ proposal argue the bill prioritizes parental rights, teachers could opt to override parental consent and to use the student’s given name, also called a deadname, as well as the pronouns associated with their sex assigned at birth if they have a religious or moral objection. Referencing a person by pronouns other than what they identify as is referred to as misgendering.
There is no recourse for educators who have a religious or moral objection to deadnaming or misgendering their students.
At the core of Crews’ proposal is his belief that parents have the right to know whether their kids are transgender.
“I don’t think it’s ever good for the parents to not to know what’s going on in school, and it ensures the rights of parents as primary caregivers to know what’s occurring in their children’s lives,” Crews said.
Advocates have raised concerns about what happens when parents find out — and don’t approve.
A survey from the Trevor Project found that 38% of transgender women, 39% of transgender men, 35% of nonbinary youth experienced homelessness as a result of parental rejection.
Crews’ proposal was supported by several religious and conservative groups, including the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
Several pro-LGBTQ+ rights advocates also cited their Christian faith in opposition to the bill.
“In my faith, I am guided by the words of Jesus Christ, who emphasized the importance of treating others with respect, and dignity, regardless of their backgrounds, race or gender,” the Rev. Tommy Dillon, an Episcopal priest, said.
Horton’s bill is similar to a Florida law referred to by critics as a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Her proposal is much broader and would apply to K-12 grades, whereas Florida’s law applies only through the third grade.
Horton’s legislation applies to any school employee or volunteer, and it covers discussions in the classroom and during any extracurricular activity, meaning it effectively outlaws Gay Straight Alliance clubs.
“The sexualization and indoctrination of children without permission of parents should be a noncontroversial issue. Parents are concerned that their children are being exposed to dangerous innocence-destroying topics,” Horton said.
The proposal was supported by several conservative activists who argued the bill would protect children from inappropriate topics and grooming, which typically refers to behaviors sexual predators use to coerce potential victims. “Grooming” is a frequently used anti-LGBTQ dog whistle.
“Parents should feel comfortable sending their children off to school without any fear that their minds and hearts will be used as a social or sexual experiment at their most defenseless age,” John Raymond, a Slidell Pastor facing juvenile cruelty charges, wrote in a statement read to the committee.
“I urge you to support HB 466 and clarify that public school teachers stay in their lane on the academic highway, not traffic our children off the exit ramps of sexual grooming and indoctrination,” he added.
Horton’s proposal was opposed by Public Service Commissioner Davante Lewis, Louisiana’s first openly-gay state-level elected official.
“I say with the deepest respect, this is a hateful piece of legislation because what it does is punitive,” Lewis said.
Lewis, a former public school teacher, said he never indoctrinated his students.
“I loved every one of my children accordingly… At no time did I ever try to indoctrinate, as we keep hearing, but it was a recognition that we’re different and we should cherish our differences,” Lewis said.
Jacob Newsom, another public school teacher, also opposed the bill.
“I have 18 weeks to teach the course of European history. I don’t have time to… sit on my desk and tell kids about different gender orientations,” Newsom said, adding that his students not turning in their homework is proof that he doesn’t have the power of indoctrination.
Londyn Taylor, a 16-year-old high school student who identifies as a lesbian, also spoke against Horton’s bill.
Taylor said she worried about what would happen to her transgender friend, who has been rejected by their family, when they are unable to attend Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) meetings.
“It hurts me to know that they don’t have somebody in their family when the GSA that’s in our school has been there for them through everything,” Taylor said. “Because the GSA was the only thing that they had.”
Both bills faced a compressed timeline as the clock ticks on the legislative session, which must adjourn no later than 6 p.m. June 8.
The bills have to to receive Senate backing as well as House approval of any amendments that may be added on the Senate floor before the legislature adjourns. If not acted upon immediately, the legislation faces a constitutional provision that requires two-thirds of each chamber to approve calling a bill for a vote in the last 72 hours of a legislative session.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has not yet said whether he would veto the bills, but he has previously state the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation would have a negative impact on the already high suicide rate for transgender Louisianians.
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