Two more states have decided to copy the state of Florida’s actions, with Republican lawmakers introducing bills to ban discussions of LGBTQ-related matters in elementary and middle schools.
In Texas, State Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) has introduced a bill that would bar any public or public charter school employee from providing “instruction regarding sexual orientation or gender identity” to students in grades K-8, and requires that if such topics are addressed at the high school level, that the material must be “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”
“Parents and taxpayers have spoken loudly over the past year-plus,” Patterson said in a tweet. ‘The message is no more radical ideology in the classroom — particularly when it comes to inappropriate or obscene content. The sexualization of our children must stop.”
The bill also embraces the call for “parental rights” by barring school districts from providing health-related services, including mental health counseling, without first consulting parents. Under the bill, school districts would be barred from providing students with health-related questionnaires without receiving parental consent or allowing parents the option of declining health-related services for the remainder of the year. They would also be prohibited from barring parents from accessing their children’s educational or health records or discouraging communications with parents regarding children’s well-being.
The bill also directs the Texas State Board of Education to review school counseling frameworks and standards, education practices, and student services personnel guidelines or standards by August 1, 2024. Patterson has said the bill’s provisions are needed to provide parents with “maximum transparency” over what services or counseling their children may be receiving at school.
In an appearance on Newsmax’s National Report, Patterson said that adults are forcing a “radical sexualized agenda” on children, and limits need to be put in place to protect children from sexually explicit material in the classroom, in libraries, and in other venues where children are separated from their parents.
“I think that every human being is made in the image of God and has value and worth, but I would say that the adults’ radical agenda of sexualizing our children … no one needs to talk about sex to my third grader or fifth grader or seventh grader other than me, the parent,” Patterson said. “I’ve got three young kids, and I’ve got to tell you, if my local school started pushing this radical agenda on my kids, I’d be up there in about two minutes.”
Patterson’s bill goes farther than a similar bill introduced by Texas State Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands), which seeks to ban LGBTQ-related instruction up to the fifth grade. Both bills are nearly identical to Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” law — dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by critics — which bans LGBTQ-related content in grades K-3, and which is likely to be expanded to apply to students in middle schools under pending legislation.
House Speaker Dade Phelan has already signaled support for such measures, saying they’re needed to protect children from age-inappropriate topics, according to the Texas Tribune.
Proponents of such bills say that prohibitions that leave such topics up to individual parents to broach with their children are needed to protect students from “indoctrination” and respect parents’ individual decisions on how to raise their children. But critics of such measures are skeptical of the motivation behind such bills, seeing them as political “messaging” bills that are pushed to cater to the right-wing base by exploiting Texans’ feelings of animus toward the LGBTQ community.
Cece Cox, the CEO of The Resource Center, a Dallas-based advocacy organization for the LGBTQ community, called Patterson’s bill “another attempt by Republicans in Texas to further marginalize and erase LGBTQIA+ youth at school.”
“Nobody is asking for learning standards that are not accurate and age-appropriate,” Cox told the Corsicana Daily Sun. “This bill seems like just another political stunt that will end up harming kids.”
Similar legislation has been introduced by Republicans in Iowa, with a bill barring instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3, and requiring any instruction related to human growth and development to be “age-appropriate” and “research-based,” according to The Gazette, a Cedar Rapids-based newspaper.
A separate bill that’s considered a companion piece of legislation would prohibit schools from affirming or recognizing a student’s preferred gender identity in school without first receiving written consent from their parents.
That bill also prohibits school administrators and teachers from encouraging or coercing students into holding information about their gender identity from parents — thus effectively forcing teachers to “out” LGBTQ-identifying youth to their parents. It also prevents teachers from suggesting to parents that their children “undergo any medical procedure, treatment or intervention that is designed to affirm the student’s gender identity if that gender identity is different than the sex listed on a student’s official birth certificate.”
Like their counterparts in Florida and Texas, Iowa LGBTQ advocates say the proposed bills will further encourage censorship of LGBTQ-identifying students in schools, break any trust between teachers and their students, and potentially lead to more negative mental and emotional health problems among youth who feel isolated or ostracized.
“It only took the Iowa Legislature three days to release an unrelenting attack on LGBTQ youth,” Becky Tayler, the executive director for Iowa Safe Schools, said in a statement. “HF 9 will put LGBTQ youth directly in harm’s way and create a legal and administrative nightmare for school administrators. HF 8 is ultimately a form of big government censorship intended to create a hostile school climate for LGBTQ students.”
Democratic Sen. Liz Bennett (D-Cedar Rapids), the first out LGBTQ woman to serve in the upper chamber, told The Gazette she’s concerned that the proposed bills will simply discourage LGBTQ youth from confiding in school staff if they are struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity. She also sees the bills as attempts by Republicans to distract from other, more pressing issues.
“I think it’s really sad that at a time when Iowans are struggling to afford groceries, trying to find jobs, struggling to go the doctor, etc. that we’re seeing more extreme culture war legislation,” Bennett said. “That should not be the priority here in Iowa.”
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