Louisiana Lawmaker's 'Don't Say Gay' Bill Criminalizes LGBTQ+ Teachers who Acknowledge Their Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday March 21, 2022

Louisiana State Rep. Dodie Horton
Louisiana State Rep. Dodie Horton  (Source:AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

A Louisiana state representative said she was inspired by Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill to come up with her own more restrictive version barring classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity up through eighth grade, and explicitly making it illegal for school staff to even acknowledge their own sexuality or gender identities when speaking with students, local news station WWL reported.

The Louisiana Illuminator said that the bill, introduced by Republican State Rep. Dodie Horton, would criminalize "classroom instruction or discussion relative to sexual orientation or gender identity" and also make it a crime "for teachers and other school employees to discuss 'personal sexual orientation or gender identity' with students in grades K-12th grade."

The bill is a direct result of a similar measure Republican state lawmakers in Florida recently approved and sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis, WWL noted, detailing that Horton "admits she wasn't aware of the need for the bill until she started reading about a similar measure that just passed in Florida."

"It just solidified the need for us to protect our Louisiana children as well," Horton told the media.

But critics in Louisiana have responded just as they have in Florida, labeling the proposal a "Don't Say Gay" bill.

The head of Forum for Equality, SarahJane Guidry, told the media that "Horton's bill is designed to 'stigmatize LGBTQ people, isolate LGBTQ kids, and make teachers fearful of providing safe, inclusive classrooms' across the state," the Illuminator reported.

"The existence of LGBTQ students, parents and teachers is not a taboo topic that should be regulated by the Louisiana Legislature," Guidry went on to say, adding that the state's legislators should not be "trying to force LGBTQ people back into the closet by policing identity or stopping kids from talking about their same-sex parents."

Florida's lawmakers framed their bill as a matter of parental rights; Horton's rationale is that students in elementary school need to be "protected" from "children being influenced in a manner that is not conducive to their lifestyle or to their personal beliefs."

"In an interview with the Illuminator, Horton continually referred to a person's sexual orientation and gender identity as a person[al] choice," the outlet said.

Horton insisted to the Illuminator that her bill "has nothing to do with someone's lifestyle choice."

Guidry noted that being gay is not a "choice," and warned that Horton's bill "would make matters worse for LGBTQ youth, who already experience higher rates of bullying and suicide," the Illuminator relayed.

The bill "is about erasing our existence," Guidry said.

UK newspaper the Independent noted that "Republican state legislators in Louisiana have also introduced bills banning gender-affirming healthcare for minors and transgender women and girls from school sports."

Louisiana's governor, John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, seemed to decry the bill in a statement that "echoed comments from his recent State of the State address, saying that several bills in this year's legislative session 'do nothing to make lives better. Nothing to continue moving us forward,'" the Independent detailed.

"They only serve to divide us," Edwards said. "And frankly, some are reminiscent of a dark past that we should learn from, not relive."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.