Metro Weekly

West Virginia bill would prohibit displays of sexuality in schools

Critics say bill is so broad that it could penalize teachers for teaching sex ed or for stopping anti-LGBTQ bullying

west virginia lgbtq
Pro-LGBTQ posters at Hurricane High School in West Virginia – Photo: Joe Jeffries, via Twitter.

A bill being pushed in West Virginia would forbid the teaching of sexuality and displays relating to sexual identity in public schools.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Dean Jeffries (R-Kanawha Co.), would add a section to the Code of West Virginia directing the State Board of Education to prohibit displays relating to sexuality in public school facilities. 

Under the bill, which is extremely broad in scope, an example of a display promoting sexuality could include a sign urging people not to bully or to support LGBTQ students, like one that was put up by a teacher at Hurricane High School in Hurricane, W.V., in September 2019.

Del. Joe Jeffries (R-Putnam Co.), a co-sponsor of the bill, caused a stir on social media after he railed against LGBTQ-supportive posters, arguing that they were a violation of school policy.

Dean Jeffries told Charleston-based CBS affiliate WOWK that he believes parents are best suited to teach their children about sexuality and sexual morality. But he has also acknowledged that the bill is not a “top priority,” given the number of other issues that are more pressing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

LGBTQ critics say the bill would further alienate LGBTQ youth by barring any mention of sexuality in the classroom. Some fear that the proposed bill is so broad in its scope and lacking in specifics that teachers could be penalized for simply acknowledging a student’s LGBTQ identity, or punished for attempting to stop bullying, harassment, or physical violence directed at LGBTQ-identifying students.

They also argue the ban on “displays” could also be interpreted by school administrators as prohibiting a flyer advertising a meeting of a GSA student organization from being posted, because GSAs provide a welcoming environment to people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Del. Cody Thompson (D-Randolph Co.), the only out gay member of the legislature, says the premise on which the bill is based is faulty, as schools do not teach sexuality. Thompson also characterized the bill as an attack on the free speech of students who identify as LGBTQ and any teachers or administrators seeking to affirm or support those students. 

“We have heard cries from the far-right about freedom of speech, well this is exactly that,” Thompson said in a statement to WOWK. “I have concerns that this could limit our health teachers from teaching about reproductive health as well.

See also: West Virginia assistant principal who confronted trans student in restroom has contract renewed

“Young people in high school need to know they’re accepted and loved,” added Thompson. “Far too many of our students who identify as LGBTQ+ are committing suicide or have those thoughts. I will do everything in my power for them to know they’re accepted and loved, including fighting against this bill.”

The statewide LGBTQ organization Fairness West Virginia warned that the legislation would be harmful to LGBTQ-identifying or questioning students, who face high rates of bullying and harassment.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 30% of LGB students in West Virginia have attempted suicide in the past year, and about 14% have skipped school due to fears about their safety.

“House Bill 2157 is a bad bill that will harm all of our students,” the organization said in a statement. “It was designed to silence teachers from showing any support to their LGBTQ students, but it’s written so broadly that it would likely also prevent health teachers from talking about teen pregnancy or ways to prevent the spread of STDs.

“Teachers and administrators have a responsibility to ensure that LGBTQ children are safe at school,” Fairness West Virginia continued. “This bill got started because a teacher from Hurricane High School created a bulletin board to support her LGBTQ students in 2019. Del. Joe Jeffries said at the time that the bulletin board was ‘political,’ but he’s the one playing politics with a teacher’s sincere attempt to protect and support her students from bullying.”

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