Metro Weekly

Utah Removes the ‘Gay’ from ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

State Rep. Jeff Stenquist agreed to remove LGBTQ-specific references after hearing concerns from advocates.

Utah State Rep. Jeff Stenquist – Photo: Facebook

A Utah lawmaker who introduced a bill concerning appropriate classroom instruction that was nearly identical to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill has removed LGBTQ-specific references from the measure, representing a victory for LGBTQ equality advocates.

State Rep. Jeff Stenquist (R-Draper) introduced HB 550, which seeks to ensure that classroom instruction or discussion of sexuality does not take place in grades K-3, and only takes place in older grades in a manner that is both age and developmentally appropriate.

Initially, Stenquist’s bill specifically included the terms “sexual orientation and gender identity” when talking about sexuality, but the Republican amended his bill in response to pushback from the LGBTQ community.

Unlike other GOP-dominated states, Utah has a long history of Republican legislators actually working to achieve compromises with LGBTQ activists, resulting in laws like Utah’s inclusive nondiscrimination law, which prohibits instances of anti-LGBTQ discrimination but also provides protections for religious entities and ensures people with traditional views of marriage or sexuality can’t be penalized or lose privileges for speaking their minds.

By striking specific references to sexual orientation or gender identity, Stenquist achieves his aim of ensuring younger children are not unnecessarily exposed to explicit sexual content or being forced to discuss topics that are not age appropriate for them, without censoring inadvertent or casual mentions or acknowledgments of LGBTQ identity.

“There were people who helped me understand that there could be issues with talking about families,” Stenquist told The Salt Lake Tribune last week after amending the bill. “There could be a student who has two moms. Or a teacher might refer to her partner.”

In that sense, the bill is less stringent than the Florida law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year, on which it was originally based.

It also ensures that older LGBTQ-identifying students are not unnecessarily penalized, censored, or retaliated against by teachers and administrators — as they have been in Florida — for mentioning their identity during class discussions, as long as the content of such discussions does not delve into inappropriate material. 

Stenquist told the Tribune that he was prompted to draft the bill after a mother complained to him about some of the discussions occurring in her child’s classroom, which she felt were not appropriate for the grade level.

He said he looked for guidelines about discussing sexuality in state law but were unable to find any. 

The bill provides leeway for individual schools and school districts to develop their own policies, including how they define “sexuality” and “age or developmentally appropriate” while still providing basic guidelines for teachers to follow. 

Stenquist initially introduced the bill with a week left in the legislative session, prompting concerns from LGBTQ groups about its wording. But he agreed to sit down and discuss those concerns with LGBTQ advocates, including representatives from Equality Utah, and later agreed to amend the bill.

“It was never my intention to do harm or anything like that,” Stenquist said about concerns that the bill was discriminatory. “I still think it’s a good bill.”

Because of the decision to amend the legislation, Equality Utah no longer opposes the bill.

“We are grateful to Rep. Stenquist for thoughtfully amending this bill to ensure that all students are treated equally,” Equality Utah said in a statement. “With the proposed amendment, HB550 can no longer be considered a ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.”

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