Louisiana 'Don't Say Gay' Bill too Extreme for State Lawmakers

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday May 4, 2022

Louisiana state Rep. Dodie Horton
Louisiana state Rep. Dodie Horton  (Source:AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

In the wake of Florida's highly-criticized "Don't Say Gay" law, which makes it a crime for school staff to allow classroom discussion of LGBTQ+ issues — and which puts bounties on schools by encouraging lawsuits — legislatures in other conservative states are rushing to pass similar bills of their own.

But some of those efforts may be rushing ahead too fast to consider the ramifications of those bills. That's what cooler heads among Louisiana's state lawmakers might have reasoned when they quashed a proposed bill modeled on the Florida law but took it a bit too far, "prohibiting school employees from discussing their own sexual orientation or gender identity," Forbes reported.

That prohibition, as written, could have been interpreted as making it a crime for a teacher to refer to himself as "Mr." or herself as "Mrs." or "Ms.," or to require students to use those forms of address, Forbes noted.

"Bill author Rep. Dodie Horton (R) claimed at Tuesday's Education Committee meeting that was not the bill's intention, but lawmakers struck down an amendment that would have removed the line about teachers discussing gender identity before ultimately killing the bill," Forbes detailed.

The bill would have criminalized "discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through eighth grades or teachers discussing their own sexual identity through the 12th grade," noted Lafayette newspaper the Daily Advertiser.

The Florida law expressly forbids such classroom discussions up through third grade, but also outlaws them in any setting where students might not be "developmentally" ready to hear or talk about such topics — a broad and subjective criterion that advocates say will inevitably cause nervous teachers to silence LGBTQ+ students, or those with LGBTQ+ family members, for fear of running afoul or the law or triggering a costly lawsuit from parents.

Advocates raised similar concerns around the proposed Louisiana legislation.

"If they learn that this is taboo, they will learn to hate themselves," the Daily Advertiser quoted Tulane university sophomore Mary Lee Montgomery as saying.

"Another opponent who identified as gay said she was a victim of constant bullying in school with children hurling slurs at her, eventually prompting her to 'take a handful of pills' after she became 'reckless with my life,'" the article added.

Horton claimed that, "Unfortunately, some teachers are interjecting their own lifestyle choices into the classroom," and argued that the defeated bill would have specified "the line that has recently been blurred by some teachers to share their personal sexual identity and gender preferences with our children."

If Horton presented any evidence to back that claim, the news report did not say what it was.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.