Indiana House advances bill that could out trans students

A protester holds up a sign outside of the House chamber as the House education committee...
A protester holds up a sign outside of the House chamber as the House education committee discusses House Bill 1608 at the Statehouse, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, in Indianapolis.(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 3:02 PM EST
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana House Republicans advanced a bill Thursday that would require public school teachers to tell parents about students’ social transitions and pronoun changes — a bill that some worry would erode student-teacher trust and force children to come out to their parents prematurely.

Republicans — who say the bill expands parents’ ability to decide how their children are raised — pushed ahead with the bill while all Democrats voted against it.

Republican bill author Rep. Michelle Davis said Thursday that in voting for the bill, lawmakers could indicate their “support for parents making decisions for their children.”

The 65-29 vote came one day after a state Senate public health committee approved a ban on all gender-affirming transition treatments for those under 18 — an entry in a national movement across conservatives statehouses that have introduced measures against LGBTQ individuals, from bills targeting trans athletes and drag performers to ones limiting gender-affirming care.

The bill, now moving to the Senate, would additionally prohibit schools from disciplining teachers or staff who use “a name, pronoun, title, or other word to identify a student that is consistent with the student’s legal name.”

“My most powerful tool is my relationship with my students,” said Democrat Rep. Tonya Pfaff, a math teacher in the state. “If I refuse to call the student a name that they choose — that their parents agree with, because they told me writing — according to this bill, I can still refuse to use that. What kind of message does that send?”

The first version of the House bill more closely resembled Florida legislation enacted in March 2022. The so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans discussions of LGBTQ topics until after third grade, drew intense national scrutiny from those who argued that it marginalizes LGBTQ people. Proponents say the measure is reasonable because parents, not teachers, should handle such subjects with their children.

The original Indiana bill would have prohibited educators from teaching kindergarteners to third graders about topics related to gender identity and sexuality. Now, just sexual education — something already uncommon in early grades — is banned for children of those ages.

“Schools should not shield a parent from knowledge about their child,” Davis said. “In Indiana, we know that parents have a right to be involved in the upbringing of their children.”