Pennsylvania state representatives have introduced a bill regulating classroom instruction that is more restrictive than Florida’s infamous “don’t say gay” law.
“It is patterned after the Florida bill, but mine goes further,” Republican Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, the legislation’s lead sponsor, said at a rally at the state capitol Tuesday, Harrisburg’s Patriot-News reports.
Her bill, House Bill 2813, would stipulate that public and charter schools “may not offer instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity to a student in kindergarten through fifth grade.” The Florida law, which went into effect this year, bans instruction on these topics in grades K-3 and says any lessons in higher grades must be age-appropriate.
Borowicz said she ideally would like the prohibition to go through 12th grade. “It really needs to be protected up through 12th grade; we need to go all the way,” she told reporters at the rally. She endorsed a similar measure in the state Senate, SB 1278, “which would allow schools to be sued for material that is ‘not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate”’ at any grade level,” the Patriot-News notes.
SB 1278 has passed the Senate, but Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has promised to veto it or any bill like it, including HB 2813, which he said “denies humanity by reinforcing homophobic ideologies,” according to news site Local Today. Wolf is not up for reelection this year due to term limits, but the Democratic nominee for governor, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, opposes this type of legislation as well. Lawmakers should stop “wasting time and tax dollars on these attempts to bully LGBTQ Pennsylvanians,” a spokesperson for Shapiro’s campaign told Local Today.
However, the Republican nominee for governor, Doug Mastriano, attended the rally to voice support for HB 2813, SB 1278, and restrictions on LGBTQ+ content in general, the Patriot-News reports. Mastriano is a close ally of Donald Trump.
HB 2813 would also require schools to notify parents of any health services, including mental health services, a student receives, and let parents sue if information is withheld. While the bill does not go into detail, Borowicz said at the rally that she specifically has “gender ideology” in mind. She denounced any efforts to mandate the use of transgender students’ chosen pronouns.
Another Republican legislator at the event, Rep. Milou MacKenzie, said HB 2813 was necessary because students are being exposed to obscene materials. She said schools carry these materials because “these ideologies have crept into the curriculum and into the mindset of the faculty,” according to the Patriot-News. Parents who’ve tried to have certain books removed from school libraries were also in attendance.
Casey Pick, senior fellow for advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, condemned HB 2813 and other efforts to limit LGBTQ+ content in schools. “Laws like this put [schools] in a terrible position where they have to act very cautiously and create broad buffer zones where they may restrict more speech than they’re required to just to avoid being sued,” Pick told the Patriot-News.
While the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” apply to heterosexual and cisgender identities as well as LGBTQ+ ones, the bill is clearly directed at LGBTQ+ students and materials, Pick added. “That is being interpreted as you can’t discuss the minority sexual or gender identity,” she said. “What you ultimately wind up with is a climate where schools and teachers feel unable to address the needs of students.”