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Expanding 'Don't Say Gay' Law Restricts LGBTQ-Related Programs

House Republicans have introduced legislation that some critics describe as a national "Don't Say Gay" bill – inspired by the controversial Florida law that bans instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third-grade classes.

Suppose the federal bill were to become law, which is unlikely in the current Congress. In that case. In that case. In that case, its effects could be far more sweeping, affecting not just instruction in schools but also events and literature at any federally-funded institution. The measure was introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., and co-sponsored by 32 other Republicans. The language in the proposed legislation lumps together topics of sexual orientation and gender identity with sexual content such as pornography and stripping.

It would prohibit federal funds from being used to support any "sexually-oriented" programs, events, and literature for children under 10; ban federal facilities from hosting or promoting such events or literature; and allow parents and guardians to sue government officials, agencies, and private entities if a child under 10 is "exposed" to such materials.

The bill complains that some school districts have implemented sex ed programming for kids under ten and that "[m]any newly implemented sexual education curriculums encourage discussion of sexuality, sexual orientation, transgenderism, and gender ideology as early as kindergarten." It also calls out events such as drag queen story hours in libraries, which it describes as "sexually-oriented."

LGBTQ advocates dubbed the parental rights measure the "Don't Say Gay" bill because it prohibits "classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity" in kindergarten through grade 3 "or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students by state standards." Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill in March.

Proponents of the law say it applies only through grade 3. Still, critics have emphasized the "age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate" clause, which some legal experts said could open up teachers of all grade levels to lawsuits from parents.

Advocates say the law stigmatizes LGBTQ families and queer youths, who already face disproportionate rates of bullying and harassment at school.

"Your bill defines 'sexually oriented material' as anything that involves sexual orientation, gender identity, or related subjects," Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic and a transgender-rights advocate, said on Twitter in response to a post from Johnson. "Equating LGBTQ people to sexually explicit material is dehumanizing and disgusting. Let's call this what it is, and a national 'Don't Say Gay' bill."

The bill would not pass in the current Congress, given that such legislation is solely Republican and Democrats have a functional majority in each chamber.

Depending on the November election results, the makeup of the House and Senate could shift. Still, it's unclear how many Republicans would support the bill, even if it is popular among a specific party strain.

Even if the proposed legislation were to pass in a Republican-controlled House and Senate, it would be vetoed by President Biden. So don't expect this bill to go anywhere for at least a while.

Activist Erin Reed, who tracks anti-transgender legislation, argues that the comparison to a "Don't Say Gay" bill minimizes the potential effects of this proposed legislation.

"Don't Say Gay/Trans was focused on 'classroom instruction,' which was bad enough," she wrote on Twitter. "This goes WAY beyond the classroom and WAY beyond 'instruction.' "

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