Stakeholders react to resurrection of House bill aiming to ban teaching sexual orientation, gender identity up to 8th grade

BATON ROUGE, La. (CALF) – An unusual move by House members to resurrect Rep. Dodie Horton’s (R-District 9) House Bill 837 after it failed to pass out of the House Education Committee, has received a variety of reactions from both sides of the political aisle.

HB 837, which some are calling the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, would ban educators from teaching sexual orientation and gender identity to students up to 8th grade and prevent them from talking about their own identities in all grade levels in public schools.

When Horton brought the bill before the committee last week, she was clear on the intentions of her bill: to codify acceptable teacher conduct in the classroom and enforce existing state law around sex education.

Horton said that her bill does not prohibit private discussions between students and faculty or counseling, which is in line with an amendment to the bill specifying a ban on those discussions when class is in session.

Many committee members suggested the matter should not be acted on by the legislature, but rather should be up to the local school board to develop curriculum and policy. Horton responded that the bill would help school boards set those policies.

She also suggested consequences, which are not outlined or mentioned in the bill, would also be up to the school board.

Some committee members also questioned the scope of the bill, calling it too broad and citing the lack of details on enforcement, specific banned content and so on.

That was something opponents hit on as well. One person tested that the bill would bar thorough lessons on culture and history. Other opponents argued the bill would be harmful to all involved and could heighten a stigma that those in the LGBTQ+ community have fought to overcome.

”I don’t even understand what legislators are thinking by trying to put a bill like this in place when it literally takes us back years and tries to put people back into closets, whenever people have worked so hard to allow people, with their freedoms – that’s what America’s all about, is our freedoms – to live authentically and live in a safe space,” said Samantha Stanley with PFLAG of Alexandria. “And these teachers aren’t going to have that, these students aren’t going to have that anymore.”

Stanley said the bill would leave LGBTQ+ students and teachers isolated and endangered.

“Statistically, LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to commit suicide,” said Stanley, citing a report from youth.gov on behavioral health. “This law is going to increase that statistic, period. You’re making these kids go back into the closest, not be, you know, accepting of who they are. They’re already having low self-esteem issues, self-worth issues. So, now you’re telling them they can’t talk to their teacher, they can’t talk about themselves to their friends. Okay cool. They’re going to be killing some more kids.”

All representatives of the Central Louisiana delegation, except Rep. Ed Larvadain (D-District 26), voted to approve the motion for House consideration. Larvadain was absent for the vote.

News Channel 5 caught up with Rep. Chuck Owen (R-District 30), a member of the House Education Committee, who said sometimes the legislature needs to provide guideposts before something happens.

“There was a lot of concern and consternation among the members of the House as to how it did not make it out of committee,” said Owen. “There was some confusion. And so, just seems like it’s a wise thing to do. This is one of those issues that’s big enough that it might ought to be left up to the 11 people who voted on it. It might ought to be big enough for the whole House to be able to hear it and to chime in.”

We also reached out to Rep. Lance Harris (R-District 25), who chairs the House Education Committee, for a comment on the bill. He did not respond to a request for comment.

A full House debate on the bill has not been scheduled at this time.

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