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Activists brace for return of bill that targets classroom discussions on sexuality and identity


Alabama lawmakers seem unlikely to pass a bill restricting school discussions on sexual identity during the last day of 2023 legislative session. The state legislature is poised to meet on Tuesday, June 6th for the 30th and last day of this year’s session.

House Bill 354 has not passed the state’s House Education Policy Committee. But advocates are raising awareness during Pride Month for the possible return of the legislation and other laws that they say single out the state’s LGBTQ+ community.

Advocates have called HB 354 the “Don’t Say Gay” Extension. If passed, it would expand the legislature’s previous ban from last year that targets discussions of identity in classrooms.

The original ban prevents classroom instruction on topics of sexual orientation and gender identity that is not deemed age appropriate for public school children in kindergarten through fifth grade. These standards are determined by the state.

HB 354 would clamp down on these guidelines even further. All instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for public school children in kindergarten through eighth grade would be prohibited. And ninth through twelfth graders would have limited instruction on these topics if the state deems them age appropriate.

ACLU of Alabama is one of several state organizations fighting against these policies. ACLU Policy Director Dillon Nettles said the bill is too restrictive.

“It’s not just about the limitations put on LGBTQ+ students in the classroom [and their ability] to be able to discuss gender identity, their own sexual orientation and how they identify themselves,” he said. “It also will prevent any student from being able to talk about or explore these topics. Of course, that is especially concerning for us all.”

Nettles said the bill, if passed, would also give the state too much authority over schools.

“I don’t think that we need the legislature going further and drawing a circle around topics of gender and sexual orientation because they’re uncomfortable for some adults in our legislature,” he said. “They’re the reality of what our educators in our schools are having to discuss. We’ve heard this from educators in our schools who have been meeting the need for students who have real questions [and] who are evolving and growing, to give them the best guidance they can.”

HB 354 was introduced to the state legislature in late April. It was sponsored by Rep. Mack Butler.

It is one of several bills introduced this legislative session that limit expression.

In addition to restrictions in the classroom, HB 354 would require that schools notify parents of changes in services or monitoring of their child’s mental, emotional or physical health. And it would require parental consent for certain healthcare screenings and questionnaires of their children.

While HB 354 was not signed by Governor Kay Ivey this session, Nettles said he anticipates this bill will or could return next session.

“I believe that [it] will come back, unfortunately,” he said. “These LGBTQ+ attacks really are part of a rolling effort. I expect that they will continue, and I expect that, of course, the ACLU will continue to fight them.”

Of the bills targeting Alabama’s LGBTQ+ community, one bill was signed by Governor Ivey this session. House Bill 261 will ban transgender women from playing on female college sports teams. The legislation expands an existing 2021 ban on transgender athletes in K-12 sports teams.

Joshua LeBerte is a news intern for Alabama Public Radio.
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