A controversial education bill colloquially titled, ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ HB 1608, passed the Indiana House Education Committee on Feb. 20 and is now before the Indiana House of Representatives.The bill, authored by Rep. Michelle Davis, resembles a controversial Florida state law that is known colloquially as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Both Indiana’s bill and Florida’s law prohibit discussion and education in the classroom regarding gender and sexual orientation in certain grade levels and in other specific circumstances.
Many people on campus have expressed their concerns about how the bill will impact the GC community.
Suzanne Ehst, professor of education and the director of secondary education, said, “There are several things in this bill that I think are dangerous and misguided …
“The language in the bill has been amended to forbid teachers from teaching ‘human sexuality’ in grades K-3 (kindergarten through third grade). The subtext of the bill is clear [since] human sexuality is generally not taught in grades K-3, beyond some developmentally appropriate basics about boundaries and bodies.”
Elisa Zwier, assistant professor of education, said, “This bill is the latest chapter in an age-old story, pitting parents and teachers against each other to try to advance a particular political agenda. It denies children and youth their voice and agency.”
Goshen Community Schools, which has many ties to GC students and staff, has been engaged in its own parent-teacher divide, particularly with the school board’s recent discourse with Goshen members of Purple for Parents of Indiana.
In addition to preventing educators from teaching human sexuality subjects in class, the bill would also prohibit LGBTQ+ educators from talking about that part of their lives. This includes any mention of LGBTQ+ romantic or spousal relationships, which many have argued is not equivalent to the current regulations on educators’ discussion of heterosexual relationships.
“Being an LGBT person in Indiana is extremely difficult,” said Aiden Schloneger, junior environmental science and ecology major. “I was very saddened to hear about the recent ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in Indiana.
“Don’t fall for the idea that this bill is about parental rights and protecting minors,” he continued. “It’s not. It’s solely about queerphobia.”
One of the most concerning pieces of the bill to him and Ehst was the amendment that requires teachers to tell parents if a student is going by a different name or pronouns at school, which can indicate to their family that they are questioning their gender identity.
This amendment, proposed by Rep. Jake Teshka, passed the committee and is now officially a part of the bill.
“Especially with teenagers,” Ehst said, “this separation between home and school identities is so normal and using a students’ preferred name, even if it’s against their parents’ will, is a sign that we respect the individuation that’s a natural part of growing up …
“It’s increasingly common for teachers to have students who go by a different name or pronoun at school because that’s the only safe place to express their gender identities.”
“Not only is this a breach of the students privacy,” Schloneger said, “but also extremely dangerous for trans youth in unaccepting homes.”
“When I was first coming out as queer in high school,” he continued, “it was incredibly important to me to see pride flag stickers and safe zone posters in teachers’ classrooms. It made me aware of who was safe to talk to and who wasn’t, especially when I was dealing with something so personal and ‘taboo.’”
Ehst said, “This is a great time for Indiana residents to reach out to their representative … GC students not from Indiana can also reach out to Joanna King, who is the state representative for Goshen and make their perspectives known.”
The bill will be on the Indiana House floor during their next session and is expected to be voted on within the next week.