Veto "Don't Say Gay" Bill in Louisiana

Veto "Don't Say Gay" Bill in Louisiana

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Kathryn Buckner started this petition to Louisiana House Representative, Dist. 9 Dodie Horton

“Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start.” – Jason Collins, first openly gay athlete in the NBA 

This is where I begin – open, honest, and authentic.

I’m a highly-effective educator. I have taught for 10 years in Caddo Parish. I also happen to be queer.

There has recently been a meme making its rounds on the Internet: “To be visibly queer is to choose your happiness over your safety.” This is where I am. I write this today filled with fear of backlash, but with optimistic hope that love and understanding will prevail over bigotry.
 
As a queer educator, I often feel like I have to live a double life, hiding my queerness at work so as not to “rock the boat” with parents. Slowly over the years, I have gained more confidence and found the power of my voice. I have fought against discrimination at my school, from including diverse (age-appropriate) books in my classroom to heading a cultural committee that celebrates Black History Month, as well as other cultural holidays, but my biggest and most challenging “fight” is that of LGBTQ+ rights of students and teachers.

In the wake of Caddo’s most recent school board meeting, in which a small group of local parents launched a witch-hunt on a non-binary educator, and the recent House Bill 837, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, filed by Louisiana State Representative Dodie Horton (District 9), I am left with major concerns as a teacher in Caddo Parish.

After speaking at said meeting, I see a great need for Louisiana to protect its queer students and educators. It is far too easy for parents to use a school board meeting as a public forum to publicly harass a queer teacher. It’s not just adults who are watching, our students are watching, too. If parents can publicly cyberbully a queer teacher, what are we teaching our students?

Are we really protecting our queer students from discrimination? Do queer educators really have job security?
 
The current pending legislation will be harmful to students who are already at higher risk for abuse and mental health conditions. According to the CDC, “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people, with LGBTQ youth being four times more likely to seriously consider suicide, to make a plan for suicide, and to attempt suicide versus their peers.”

I find it ludicrous that we’re being used as scapegoats because, first of all, teachers don't teach children to be queer. That’s absurd. I know that the curriculum for every school in Louisiana is set forth by the Louisiana Department of Education. This is an attack on teachers, an attack on students, and an attack on our freedom.

The reality is, if there is a child who has something they want to share, they should feel safe in our school district, and we as educators should be able to embrace them, listen, and provide them with resources so that they can get the support they need. According to The Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, “LGBTQ youth who report having at least one accepting adult were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year. Nearly 80% of youth who completed the survey, reported disclosing their sexual orientation to at least one adult. Among those who disclosed to at least one adult, 79% had at least one adult who was accepting of them. Over one-quarter of LGBTQ youth who did not have at least one accepting adult in their life, reported attempting suicide in the past year compared to 17% of those with at least one accepting adult.”
 
I fear that this bill will open the door for more discrimination. We as teachers have been through so much already, just like all of our essential workers, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. A bill like this continues to invalidate us as educators, as if we don’t know what’s best for our students. Do our representatives really think so little of us that we don’t know what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate to talk about with our students in our classroom? Once again, I feel I am not respected as an educator.
 
Not only will this legislation open the door for more discrimination, just the debate of the legislation has lasting negative effects on LGBTQ+ students. A recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project found that 85 percent of trans/non-binary/gender queer youth said that in recent light of state laws restricting the rights of trans folks, it has negatively impacted their mental health.
 
That same poll asked these youth about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school:

56% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry
47% felt nervous and/or scared
45% felt stressed
More than 1 in 3 felt sad

The Movement Advancement Project also found that more than 80 percent of children (nearly 60 million youth) in the U.S., live in the 42 states that considered curriculum censorship or bills affecting LGBTQ+ youth in 2020 and 2021.

We need to listen to our LGBTQ+ students!

Aside from the negative consequences on students, queer educators, like myself, feel our First Amendment rights are being infringed upon. According to the text of the bill, school district personnel are required to encourage students to discuss matters like sexual orientation or gender identity with parents, should those topics come up in the classroom. In that case, the speech rights of teachers, while they are speaking informally, may be infringed upon.

Students, even primary school students, are protected under the First Amendment, and have a right to ask questions in and out of the classroom.

According to the American Bar Association, "LGBT people engage in protected First Amendment speech and expression by speaking or acting in ways that affirm their identities. The First Amendment not only protects that speech but also prevents the government from passing laws or regulations that might “chill” that speech, meaning policies that cause LGBT people to self-censor their speech and expression about their sexual orientation or gender identity in order to avoid adverse treatment.” 

With all this being said, what can we do as a community to prevent discrimination in our schools? How can we protect our LGBTQ+ students and teachers? These are questions I ask myself daily. I urge anyone reading this who feels moved to act, please, write a letter to our state Education Committee and State Representatives asking them to veto HB837! It is imperative.

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