Metro Weekly

Louisiana Lawmakers Reject “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

Supporters of proposed bill wanted to prohibit teachers from sharing information about their personal lives with students.

State Rep. Dodie Horton - Photo Illustration: Todd Franson
State Rep. Dodie Horton – Photo Illustration: Todd Franson

Louisiana lawmakers have defeated a bill that sought to ban lessons related to sexual orientation or gender identity from school classrooms and would have gagged school employees from mentioning their own sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Dodie Horton (R-Haughton), is based on similar legislation introduced in other states, where Republican lawmakers have sought to “protect” school-age youth from being exposed to LGBTQ-related content or discussions, arguing that such topics are best addressed by parents in the home rather than in school.

One such example is in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that prohibits discussion of LGBTQ-related content in primary grades, and in secondary grades if the topic is broached in a manner that is not “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” Critics, who have dubbed the new law the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, argue that the only way its provisions can be enforced is either by trampling on the speech rights of LGBTQ students, students with same-sex parents, and teachers, or by censoring entire lessons related to history, biology, or sex education.

On Tuesday, Louisiana’s House Committee on Education rejected the Pelican State’s own version of the law by a 7-4 vote, with three Republicans joining all the committee’s Democrats in opposing the legislation.

Chief among the objections to Horton’s bill were that banning gender identity — writ large — would not simply censor transgender-related issues, but might bar teachers from using gender-related titles like “Mr.,” “Ms.” or “Mrs.” — since even cisgender people have a gender identity of their own. While Horton said that was not the bill’s intention, the committee struck down an amendment that would have removed that provision before ultimately killing the bill, reports Forbes.

But Horton insisted that the legislation remains necessary, arguing that it is inappropriate for teachers to share details about their personal lives with students. She cited an incident involving a Shreveport teacher, Blaine Banghart — who identifies as nonbinary — who posted a video to TikTok about their inability to be open about their identity at work.

The TikTok video sparked outrage and complaints from parents, who flocked to a Caddo Parish School Board meeting to debate whether any action should be taken against Banghart. Ultimately, no disciplinary action was taken, reports the Shreveport Times. 

“Unfortunately, some teachers are interjecting their own lifestyle choices into the classroom,” Horton said in defending the LGBTQ content bill. “[This bill] defines the line that has recently been blurred by some teachers to share their personal sexual identity and gender preferences with our children.”

The Rev. Mike Holloway, of Ouachita Baptist Church, in West Monroe, Louisiana, testified in favor of Horton’s bill, saying parents’ right to decide which information their children are exposed to in school needs to be respected.

“We don’t put the Ten Commandments on the wall because it’s considered offensive; well, this is offensive to me,” Holloway said, according to the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. “It creates confusion in children’s minds and hardships in the home. People have the right to choose what they want to be but they don’t have the right to promote it to our children in schools.”

But opponents of the bill argued that it would only send a negative message to LGBTQ youth that they are unwelcome or that something is wrong with them — potentially leading to feelings of isolation and depression among a group that already faces higher levels of suicidal ideation.

“If they learn that this is taboo, they will learn to hate themselves,” said Mary Lee Montgomery, a sophomore at Tulane University.

According to a 2021 national survey by The Trevor Project, the nation’s LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention group, 42% of LGBTQ teens and young adults reported seriously considering attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half transgender and nonbinary youth.

A recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project found that 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of LGBTQ youth overall — in the United States said recent debates LGBTQ rights have negatively impacted their mental health.

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