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A national 'Don't Say Gay' law? Republicans introduce bill to restrict LGBTQ-related programs

The bill’s definition of “sexually-oriented material” includes anything that relates to sexual orientation or gender identity.
Demonstrators gather to speak on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in front of the Florida State Capitol, in Tallahassee, Fla., on March 7, 2022.
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in front of the State Capitol in Tallahassee on March 7.Wilfredo Lee / AP file

Congressional Republicans introduced what some are calling a national version of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill — or what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana and 32 other Republican members of Congress on Tuesday introduced the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act of 2022, which would prohibit the use of federal funds “to develop, implement, facilitate, or fund any sexually-oriented program, event, or literature for children under the age of 10, and for other purposes.”

The bill defines “sexually-oriented material” as “any depiction, description, or simulation of sexual activity, any lewd or lascivious depiction or description of human genitals, or any topic involving gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgenderism, sexual orientation, or related subjects.” 

The sweeping legislation would affect all federally funded facilities and programs, which would include public libraries, federally funded schools, military bases and hospitals. It would prohibit schools, for example, from providing sex education or library books that include LGBTQ topics to children under 10. It would also bar public libraries from using funds to host Drag Story Hour events — a national program started in 2015 in which drag performers read children’s books to kids.

Johnson described the bill as “commonsense.” 

“The Democrat Party and their cultural allies are on a misguided crusade to immerse young children in sexual imagery and radical gender ideology,” he said in a statement. “No federal tax dollars should go to any federal, state, or local government agencies, or private organizations that intentionally expose children under 10 years of age to sexually explicit material.”

Some critics on social media have called the bill a version of Florida’s recently enacted Parental Rights in Education lawon steroids.” 

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 in accordance with state standards.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill in March.

Proponents of the law say it applies only through grade 3, but 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, a national ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.”

But some advocates say the federal bill would actually go further than Florida’s measure, because its impacts would extend outside just classrooms to any institution, program or event that receives federal funding or takes place on federal property.

The bill is part of a national wave of legislation over the last few years that characterizes LGBTQ people and concepts as inherently sexual, although it is among the first introduced at the federal level. 

In addition to measures like Florida’s parental rights bill, some Republicans have gone so far as to say exposing children to drag performers or LGBTQ-inclusive curricula is a form of sexual “grooming” — resurfacing a decades-old false moral panic about LGBTQ people

Just a day before Johnson introduced the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act, Blaine Conzatti, the president of the conservative Idaho Family Policy Center, told the Idaho Capital Sun that state representatives would introduce a bill in January to ban drag performances in all public venues in the state.

“No child should ever be exposed to sexual exhibitions like drag shows in public places, whether that’s at a public library or a public park,” he said.

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