In a now-viral exchange shared widely on social media, a gay Republican lawmaker from Missouri grilled one of his fellow Republicans over a bill she sponsored seeking to prohibit teachings about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
State Rep. Phil Christofanelli (R-St. Peters) challenged Rep. Ann Kelley (R-Lamar) over the bill, patterned after Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” law, which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law based on its prohibitions or restrictions on LGBTQ-related topics, depending on grade level.
Under Kelley’s bill, instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity would be barred in all grades from kindergarten through 12th grade in all public and charter schools throughout the state, reports HuffPost. (Even Florida’s only goes up to third grade, while requiring that such topics be “age or developmentally appropriate” in older grades.)
According to Newsweek, Kelley, a former teacher, said, in remarks introducing the bill, that school-age children are “very naive and easily influenced,” arguing that “exposure to such topics is inappropriate for children, creating confusion which may then cause doubt in their identities.”
“It is not the place of the school to indoctrinate our children by exposing them to gender and sexual identity curriculums and courses,” she said. “Therefore, we must keep our educational instruction pure, without the political nuances.”
But Christofanelli challenged the wording of Kelley’s bill and the logic behind it, wondering if the prohibitions on “sexual orientation” might prohibit teaching about heterosexuality as well as homosexuality.
“I’m just going to read you the language in your bill,” Christofanelli said, referring to the prohibition on instruction regarding sexual orientation. “You mentioned George Washington [in your testimony]. Who is Martha Washington?”
“His wife,” Kelley replied.
“Under your bill, how could you mention that in a classroom?” Christofanelli asked.
Kelley responded: “To me, that’s not sexual orientation.”
“So it’s only really certain sexual orientations that you want prohibited from introduction in the classroom,” Christofanelli shot back.
Kelley argued that she planned to improve the bill’s language. (She previously had said, separate from her exchange with Christofanelli, that her bill will have to be amended in order to avoid it limiting teaching for Advanced Placement courses.)
“Lady, I didn’t introduce your bill,” Christofanelli interrupted. “And I didn’t write it. You wrote it. And so I’m asking what it means. Which sexual orientations do you believe should be prohibited from Missouri classrooms?”
After a short pause, Kelley responded, “We all have a moral compass. And my moral compass is compared with [the] Bible.”
“Lady, I believe in your testimony, you said that you didn’t want teachers’ personal beliefs entering the classroom. But it seems a lot like your personal belief — you would like to enter all Missouri classrooms,” Christofanelli said.
“You can believe something without…putting that onto somebody by the way you behave. And you can have beliefs and morals and values that guide you through life,” Kelley responded.
“I don’t dispute that,” said Christofanelli. “But I’m asking you about the language of your bill and how it would permit the mention of the historical figure Martha Washington. Can you explain that to me?”
In the end, Kelley was unable to answer the question. “I don’t know, sir,” she said.
Kelley previously made headlines after she proposed a dress code — since adopted by Missouri Republicans — that required that women must wear jackets with their outfits to cover up their bodies in an effort to “maintain a formal and professional atmosphere.”
Twitter users praised Christofanelli’s takedown of the bill’s language.
“Absolutely perfect, no notes,” commented one Twitter user. “Corner them with their hatred and bigotry and they will either admit it out loud or have to admit they simply don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“She is so close — SO CLOSE — to getting it. Like, she actually says it…” wrote another.
A third user wrote, “The way he keeps calling her ‘lady’ is SENDING me,” with a laughing while crying emoji, apparently unaware that “lady” is an honorific commonly used to refer to female members in the Missouri Assembly.
A fourth Twitter user replied to a clip of the exchange: “A brilliant takedown that exposes how far some Christians will go to thwart free speech to protect their worldview. Christian heterosexuals only make up about 40% of this country. And that number will continue to decline no matter how dishonest or how censoring our government.”
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