Louisiana’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill Fails in Committee, but So Does Conversion Therapy Ban

Members of the New Orleans Workers Group and Louisiana Trans Alliance hold up a flag that says “I will not censor myself to comfort your ignorance” at a protest in Lafayette Square Park, 2019. Photo by Jennsen Bentley

The Louisiana legislature has declined to send a more extreme version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law for a full vote. The House Committee on Education rejected the bill 7-4. Three Republicans – Reps. Stephanie Hilferty of New Orleans, Barbara Freiburg of Baton Rouge, and Vincent St. Blanc of Franklin – joined the committee’s Democrats to oppose the legislation.

As with the Florida law, HB 837 authored by Rep. Dodie Hortion (R) would have banned “classroom instruction or discussion relative to sexual orientation or gender identity.” However, where Florida’s law stops at grade 3, this bill would have banned discussion until high school. In addition, teachers and school employees would have been banned from discussing their personal gender identity or sexual orientation in any classroom.”

Horton claimed that “certain teachers are using classroom instructional time to share their personal sexual orientation or gender identity preferences” with students.

However, the bill faced heavy opposition because it could prevent teachers from properly teaching their curriculum. Dr. Belinda Davis, who was appointed to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education by Gov. John Bel Edwards, testified that should this bill become law, social studies and history teachers would be unable to teach about the murder of homosexuals during the Holocaust, or about the Supreme Court’s landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

In addition, Rep. Patrick Jefferson (D – Homer) asked Rep. Horton if students would be prevented from referring to their teachers and other school staff by gendered titles such as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” When Horton responded that her bill had nothing to do with that, she was met with widespread laughter from those watching the proceedings.

“That’s all this bill has to do with,” one person responded.

The committee struck down an amendment that removed the line about teachers discussing their personal gender identity before they ultimately killed the bill.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been all good news this week. HB 605, authored by Rep. Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans), would have prohibited the practice of conversion therapy on minors. The practice has been found to be not only ineffective but also harmful to LGBT people.

“We are really disappointed in this outcome, but after the attorney general’s office showed up to oppose for specious/PR reasons, we knew we did not have the votes,” Landry said. Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office argued against the bill, saying that it violated “free speech.”

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