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Louisiana version of 'Don't Say Gay' bill rejected after strong opposition in House committee

The Louisiana State House in Baton Rouge
Kezia Setyawan
The Louisiana State House in Baton Rouge on April 5, 2022.

Louisiana’s version of Florida’s so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law was rejected by lawmakers in the state’s House Education Committee on Tuesday afternoon.

Members voted 7-4 to prevent the bill from advancing. Every Democrat on the committee voted against the legislation as well as three Republicans, some of whom argued the issue should be left up to local school boards to address.

The bill’s author, Dodie Horton (R-Haughton), said Tuesday that HB 837 is meant to protect parental rights by preventing students from learning about sexual orientation or gender identity during the school day.

“There’s nothing to do with a teacher’s lifestyle choice, who they live with, who they are married to,” Horton said. “This is about staying on topic when you’re in a classroom.”

But while the first part of the bill focused explicitly on “classroom discussion” in grades kindergarten through eighth, the second part completely barred educators from discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The legislation didn’t technically single out LGBTQ teachers, but several committee members acknowledged the bill’s implicit double standard during Tuesday's hearing.

Rep. Patrick Jefferson (D-Homer) asked Horton if students would no longer be allowed to call their teachers “Mr.” and “Ms.” since those titles fall under the category of gender identity.

Horton implied that the bill wouldn’t get in the way of established gender norms. When pushed to be more concrete about the bill’s intended impact, she said she didn’t think teachers should be allowed to tell students if they are transgender or gay.

“Nowhere in the [state] standards does it say it’s OK for a teacher to come out to a third grade class,” she said.

Opponents made a range of arguments against the bill Tuesday, including that the bill was too broad and that preventing educators from sharing their gender or sexual identity could harm students directly.

Horton argued the bill wouldn’t prevent students from “expressing themselves” outside of the classroom and said they would still be allowed to discuss their own sexual or gender identity with teachers and counselors.

But multiple speakers said knowing their teachers were members or allies of the LGBTQ community was what led them to reach out for help understanding their own identity. New Orleans resident Tucker Barker said the first person they came out to was a trusted high school teacher.

“As a teacher, I knew she wouldn’t violate my trust,” Barker said. “Her support is part of why I am alive today.”

More than a dozen states have proposed bills that resemble Florida’s so-called 'Don't Say Gay' law, which forbids classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

Florida's Gov. Ron Desantis signed the bill in late March, and the new law will take effect July 1 unless the courts intervene.

Gay rights advocates argue the law violates the constitutionally protected rights of free speech, due process and equal protection of students and families.

A challenge filed in federal court in Tallahassee describes the law as “state censorship” and an “abuse of power” that’s meant to demean LGBTQ people and their families by denying their existence in the classroom.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.