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Alabama lawmakers vote to ban LGBTQ+ pride flags in schools

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Alabama lawmakers advanced a bill Wednesday that would ban teachers from displaying LGBTQ+ pride flags on public school property and extend the state's ban on teacher-led discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Senate Education Policy Committee voted 5-2 for the House-passed bill, putting the proposal in line for a possible final passage in the last four days of the legislative session. The bill, which now moves to the full Alabama Senate, is part of a wave of legislation across the country that critics have dubbed "Don't Say Gay" laws.

The legislation would expand current Alabama law, which prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary school, to take the ban through the eighth grade. It would also ban teachers and school employees from displaying pride flags or similar symbols of sexual or gender identity "in a classroom or on the property of a public K-12 school." Students could display the symbols, but teachers could not.

"We're trying to keep the teacher from doing it because that's indoctrination," bill sponsor House member Mack Butler, a Republican, told the committee. "We just want to let children be children."

Opponents questioned the constitutionality of the proposed ban on pride flags and said the bill sends a message to LGBTQ+ families, students and teachers that they do not belong in the state.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman, a member of the committee, said he thought the ban would be found unconstitutional.

"You cannot take a bumper sticker off of somebody's car because it says that, and not take a bumper sticker that has got Auburn or Alabama on it. You can't do that. The law won't let you do it," said Smitherman, a Democrat from Birmingham.

Butler said the intent is to prevent pride flags from being displayed in classrooms and wouldn't impact bumper stickers. But at least one committee member noted the bill said the prohibition extended to the "property" of a public school.

"LGBTQ children and families cannot be legislated out of existence, but they can be harmed. Trying to deny they exist all the way through eighth grade harms not only them, but all students," Susan Stewart of Huntsville told the committee during a public hearing.

Florida reached a settlement last month with civil rights attorneys who had challenged a similar law in that state. The settlement clarifies that the Florida law does not prohibit mention of LGBTQ+ people or the existence of Gay-Straight Alliance groups and doesn't apply to library books that aren't being used for instruction in the classroom.

The Florida law became the template for other states. Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and North Carolina followed with similar measures.

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