Pro LGBTQ+ rights protest

LGBTQ+ people and allies protest Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill on March 22, 2022 in Burbank, California. (Photo: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Progressives Warn of Federal 'Don't Say Gay' Law If GOP Wins Midterms

"The stakes in this election couldn't be clearer," said one rights advocate.

In addition to a nationwide abortion ban, the extension of tax cuts benefiting the wealthy, and the shredding of the social safety net through cuts to Medicare and Social Security, progressives this week are warning of another consequence of a potential takeover of Congress by the Republican Party: the passage of a federal bill censoring discussions of LGBTQ+ issues in schools, libraries, and other facilities.

Led by U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), 33 Republicans on Tuesday introduced the "Stop the Sexualization of Children Act"--taking the party's attacks on LGBTQ+ communities national after similar legislation was pioneered earlier this year in Florida before being passed by more than a dozen state legislatures.

"Politicians like Mike Johnson are using the levers of government to dictate to children, their parents, and their educators what they can read, what they can learn, what they can say and who they can be."

The bill would "prohibit the use of federal funds to develop, implement, facilitate, or fund any sexually-oriented program, event, or literature for children under the age of 10," including lessons or discussions in public schools that address the experiences of LGBTQ+ people.

The legislation also specifically points out that organizations have used federal grants to hold story hours for children hosted by drag queens and says that "no federal funds may be made available" to facilitate "any program, event, or literature involving sexually-oriented material, or any program, event, or literature that exposes children under the age of 10" to what the bill's author's would describe as "lascivious dancing."

David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation, if passed and eventually signed into law by a Republican president, will "drive LGBTQ+ families and teachers out of the education system," as Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" law already has.

The bill is the GOP's "latest cruel attempt to stigmatize and marginalize the community, not in an attempt to solve actual problems but only to rile up their extremist base," said Stacy. "All students deserve to feel safe and welcomed in schools, but politicians like Mike Johnson are using the levers of government to dictate to children, their parents, and their educators what they can read, what they can learn, what they can say and who they can be."

The proposal would give parents the right to file a lawsuit in federal court if their child is exposed to what is deemed "sexually-oriented material funded in part or in whole by federal funds."

Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School, noted that the legislation defines "sexually-oriented material" as "anything that involves sexual orientation, gender identity, or related subjects."

"Equating LGBTQ people to sexually explicit material is dehumanizing and disgusting," said Caraballo.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) denounced the proposal as "a hateful and discriminatory attack" on LGBTQ+ communities and families.

Mental health experts have warned that Florida's law barring schools from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with children until third grade may already be causing harm to children whose parents or family members are LGBTQ+ or who experience gender dysphoria.

"Last year, nearly half of LGBTQ+ youth contemplated suicide, but that didn't stop 33 of my GOP colleagues from introducing a federal 'Don't Say Gay' bill today," said Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday.

The legislation shows that "the stakes in this election couldn't be clearer," said Stacy.

"Will the House of Representatives continue to advance legislation like the Equality Act and the Respect for Marriage Act," he asked, "or will it turn back the clock to the era of Jesse Helms and Jerry Falwell--banning books and silencing educators and sowing fear and division?"

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