Indiana lawmakers to consider ‘don’t say gay’ legislation in 2023

Of course they are.

From the Indianapolis Star:

Indiana lawmakers to consider ‘don’t say gay’ legislation in 2023
Arika Herron
Indianapolis Star

A controversial proposal to restrict discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools may be heading to Indiana.

During a legislative conference Friday, an Indiana lawmaker said that a version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill was being drafted for the upcoming legislative session.

Rep. Bob Behning, an Indianapolis Republican and chair of the House education committee, was speaking during a panel discussion with other legislative leaders previewing some of the educational issues that will be addressed by the legislature when the Indiana General Assembly convenes in January.

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He said one of his colleagues would file legislation “similar to what Florida did in regards to sexual orientation.”

Behning would not share the name of the lawmaker carrying the bill. He said he did not yet know if the bill would come to his committee or if he would support such a measure.

It’s unclear how much support “Don’t Say Gay” style legislation would have among legislative leaders, who struggled to coalesce their members around a position on similar issues last session and have seemed interested in turning attention toward workforce and economy issues after the past summer’s special session to pass a near-total ban on abortion in the state.

He did say he supports the general principle of parental rights in education, a concept used to drive other controversial measures last legislative session such as bills to restrict what teachers could say in the classroom about race, politics and history.

“Let’s teach kids the basics and not try to get beyond that in terms of what are parental responsibilities versus what are responsibilities of the school,” he said.

The Florida bill, formally titled Parental Rights in Education, was signed into law last spring. The measure bans classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

It also prohibits such teaching in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students, which potentially broadens the ban on discussions to all grade levels.

Parents can sue school districts over alleged violations.

The bill sparked national outrage and concerns about the impact it would have on LGBTQ students for whom schools may be the only place they can speak openly on LGBTQ issues.

A spate of other states has already followed in Florida’s footsteps. In 18 other states, lawmakers attempted similar legislation last year.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said on Friday afternoon that the bill was not on his agenda.

Bill is a ‘gut punch,’ LGBTQ advocates say

LGBTQ advocates in Indiana said they were bracing for the bill to be introduced in the Hoosier state but it was still a “gut punch,” said Chris Paulsen, chief executive officer of the Indiana Youth Group. IYG serves LGBTQ+ youth, providing a safe space, supporting self-empowerment and advocating for affirming communities.

“The damage even having the bill introduced will cause to young people is immeasurable,” Paulsen said. “We will see youth die by suicide because of this. I think it’s that dire and I’m sad that lawmakers don’t realize their actions have really bad consequences, even if the bill doesn’t pass.”

Paulsen said that LGBTQ+ youth often struggle with their mental health, particularly when they don’t have a safe and affirming space. One in four young people are kicked out of their homes when they come out to their families, she said and two of three still in their homes after coming out feel unsafe. Last year, the group served 440 LGBTQ+ youth that were in need of food, housing or clothing assistance. School may be the only safe and affirming place for some LGBTQ+ young people.

Culture wars here to stay at Statehouse

The mention of a “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Indiana is raising concerns that the legislative session will be dominated by culture war issues for the second year in a row. Bills targeting discussions of race and history in classrooms, sexually-explicit content in school library books and transgender students participating in school sports drew protests and prompted hours-long hearings dominated largely by those opposed to the measures.

Sen. J.D. Ford, an Indianapolis Democrat and the Statehouse’s first openly gay member, said the Florida bill was divisive and urged lawmakers to keep culture war issues at bay.

“We have so many more priorities in our state to deal with,” he said, “I don’t think that rises to the level of importance.”

Behning said he did not know legislation similar to the “anti-CRT” or “divisive concept” bills that failed last year would come back but does expect a bill banning books with sexually-explicit content from school libraries to come back.