One hundred and ten “educational gag orders” were proposed across the United States in 2023, PEN America revealed in a new report.
The bans include language prohibiting discussions of various topics, including race, gender, American history, and LGBTQ identities in educational settings.
Of the 110 bills, 39 are aimed at LGBTQ topics. But while the number of “Don’t Say Gay” bills are rising, so are the number of their opponents.
It was only in 2022 that the first “Don’t Say Gay” bill was introduced in Florida.
State lawmakers quickly honed in on how to copy its language and methods to pass similar bills in their own legislatures. Unfortunately, their efforts have met with success.
Last year, the number of bills introduced to ban instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity in K-12 schools was 14.
Four were targeted towards grades K-3, zero for K-4, five for K-5, one for K-6, one for K-8, and three bills were aimed at all students through graduation.
The number of similar bills more than doubled in 2023, rising from 14 to 39.
This year, the most restrictive versions of these bills were also the most common, with 16 aimed to ban LGBTQ discussions for all students, kindergarten through high school graduation.
Seven sought to ban the topics in K-8 classrooms, three for K-6, four for K-5, two for K-4, and seven for K-3.
The report included specific examples of how the bills are impacting students from being under the rule of such laws, even if legally the law does not apply in such situations.
One instance in Florida concerned the superintendent from Charlotte County who directed school librarians to remove all books featuring LGBTQ characters or themes from the elementary and middle school libraries.
Douglas Soule with the Tallahassee Democrat reported that teachers in the district were told they “need to be aware of what their students are reading for silent sustained reading in class, or book reports, or anything involving instruction, even if it is student-selected to ensure they are not violating this rule. . . . [LGBTQ] characters and themes cannot exist.”
However, as Republican organizers rally in favor of the bills, a formidable opposition is starting to coalesce. In the case of HB 1557, for instance, organizers used guidance from the office of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody to urge changes within the state’s Department of Education back in September.
Moody’s official position was that the law’s restriction on discussion of sexuality applies only to classroom instruction, not to school libraries.
PEN America, in conjunction with the Florida Freedom to Read Project, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and We Need Diverse Books, called on the Florida Department of Education in late 2023 to issue new guidance explaining that distinction to schools and asked schools to put books back on shelves.
As more counter-censorship bills began to pop up around the country, such as California’s AB 1078 and Illinois’s HB 2789 both becoming law, President Joe Biden took notice.
“Now is the time for all Americans to speak up when history is being erased, books are being banned, and diversity is being attacked,” President Biden posted on X in August.
With the 2024 election year on the horizon, discussions and proposals related to “Don’t Say Gay” bills are expected to increase — but so are court cases challenging these restrictive laws.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the number of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills in the headline as 110. The number is 39.
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