“It just sends the message that they don’t want us here. They don’t want us to be open about our identities,” said Callum Bradford, a 16-year-old transgender high school student in Chapel Hill. “I think that that’s a very hurtful message. “
Less than a week after it was first introduced in the North Carolina Senate, Republicans on Tuesday passed their “Don’t Say Gay” bill that opponents worry will put LGBTQ students in harm’s way.
The bill—which Republicans have deceptively labeled the “Parents’ Bill of Rights”—would:
- require teachers to inform parents if their children request using certain pronouns at school, with rare exceptions
- ban teaching about gender identity and sexuality in kindergarten through fourth grade classrooms in public schools, with an exception for “student-initiated questions.”
- and require schools to make certain reading materials available for parents to review.
These measures may sound reasonable and innocuous, but the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” has drawn criticism for being a misleading trojan horse.
“What we see hiding underneath the veneer of parents’ rights is a desire to hide LGBT people from public life, to erase trans people from public life, particularly for children,” said Ann Webb, senior policy counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina. “We are concerned that there is, somewhere along the way, political motivation to use the concept of a ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’ as a dog whistle for anti-trans and anti LGBT beliefs.”
Callum Bradford, a 16-year-old transgender high school student in Chapel Hill, believes the focus on parents’ rights leaves kids like him out of the equation.
“A lot of people that support this bill are disregarding the fact that students have rights too,” Bradford said.
Renee Sekel, a Cary mother, argued that the bill gave parents the wrong kind of control at the expense of their children.
“This bill is about the parents’ rights against their own children,” she said. “The only people who are helped by this bill are the ones who believe that they can control their children’s sexuality, and failing controlling their sexuality, they can control how the entire world reacts to their children and make sure that that parent’s voice is the only one their child ever hears. It’s about control over children.”
Erasing LGBTQ Students and Forcibly Outing Them to Their Parents
If you dig deeper, what the bill—which is one of more than 260 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced nationwide this year— is really about, according to the students, teachers, parents, and LGBTQ advocates who oppose it, is an effort to target, censor, and erase anyone who identifies as LGBTQ.
In particular, critics are concerned about the possibility of teachers being forced to out students to their parents against the students’ will.
“Students are intelligent people. They are people too. They can think for themselves. They know whether they are able to trust their parent with the information about themselves and they know if that’s going to put their own safety in jeopardy,” said Nathaniel Dibble, a 19-year-old LGBTQ teen living in Raleigh. “Taking that decision out of the students’ hands is really just going to put those students at risk if they decide not to tell their parents because then they may face abuse, they may face discrimination from their parents and other family members.”
Webb expressed concern that such forced outings could lead to some tragic outcomes, citing the possible impact on LGBTQ students’ mental health.
Seventy-one percent of LGBTQ youth—and 86% of trans and nonbinary youth—said state laws restricting the rights of LGBTQ young people have negatively impacted their mental health, according to a recent poll from Morning Consult and the Trevor Project.
Furthermore, LGBTQ students, and especially trans students, are significantly more likely to attempt suicide, with 45% of LGBTQ youth considering suicide in the previous year, according to a 2022 survey from the Trevor Project. The same report also found that LGBTQ students whose schools are supportive and affirming of their identity reported lower rates of attempting suicide.
“It’s playing politics with children’s lives and their welfare,” Webb said, warning of the dangers of the bill.
In an impassioned plea to her Senate colleagues on Tuesday, Democratic state Sen. Lisa Grafstein—the only LGBTQ member of the chamber—begged them not to pass the legislation.
“I want you to be sure to ask yourself this now: Will you be sure that you did no harm by passing this bill, and not one young person will feel like they’re trapped and have no one to trust?” Grafstein, a Raleigh Democrat, said. “That not one young person will be outed to an abusive parent?”
Fellow Democrat state Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Orange County) also spoke out against the bill, warning it could put children in danger.
Rather than listen to Grafstein and Meyer’s pleas and encourage a welcoming environment that makes all students feel welcome, Republicans in the state Senate passed the bill.
“It just sends the message that they don’t want us here. They don’t want us to be open about our identities,” Bradford said. “I think that that’s a very hurtful message. I know of a lot of other people that are feeling the same way—that it’s almost like they’re trying to erase history and erase the LGBTQ community.”
Right-Wing Activists Spread Lies About Indoctrination and “Grooming”
State Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican and one of the bill’s main sponsors, has claimed that the legislation is meant to get parents more involved in education and prevent children from being exposed to topics and values that parents don’t approve of.
But as critics have pointed out, parents already have rights.
“There are already significant restrictions around discussing sexual activity and sex education in primary grade classrooms,” Webb said. “The thing that this bill does that’s different is extend that to the very broad concepts of gender and sexual orientation.”
Sekel, the Cary mom, criticized the vagueness of the bill and argued it will communicate to “gay children and gay families the sense that they are literally unspeakable.”
“If it’s determined that Heather has two mommies introduces sexual activity to kids, you’re telling young children that any family that has two mommies or two daddies or whatever is so bad and so abnormal and so wrong that it can’t even be addressed in school, not in any way, shape or form,” Sekel said. “What do you think that does to a kid who has two mommies? Or an older kid who thinks that maybe one day they’d like to marry somebody and be two mommies to another kid?”
As part of their justification for supporting the bill, Sen. Galey and several of the bill’s supporters—which include members of the national right-wing activist group “Moms for Liberty”—have accused public schools and teachers of indoctrinating students. Dibble and Bradford both say that’s false.
“I did not witness any indoctrination from teachers,” Dibble said. “I have had teachers that were more accepting of queer identities, and the only thing that really did was allow those students to express themselves more.”
Parental Involvement Is Not the Issue
Over the course of the week and several public hearings, virtually every single opponent of the bill made clear they supported parental involvement—just not this bill. Despite pleas from students like Dibble and Bradford, parents like Sekel, and several educators, Republicans passed the bill on Tuesday.
The bill will now go to the state House. If it passes the House, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper would have the power to veto the bill, as he did with a similar version last year. While Cooper did not specifically say he would do so, he made clear on Tuesday that he opposes the bill.
“Not only are these kinds of bills wrong in and of themselves because they hurt people, but they also have the great potential to hurt our economy and to upset this balance that we created,” Cooper told reporters.
Unlike last year, Republicans now hold a supermajority in the Senate and would only need one Democratic vote in the House to override a veto from Cooper.
If they succeed in passing their legislation, the impact could be devastating for LGBTQ youth.
“We’re kids. We’re trying to live our lives and we’re trying to just have fun, go to school,” Bradford said. “Kids should not have to deal with politicians across the nation targeting us.”
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