Pierre, S.D. – South Dakota lawmakers will consider banning public school teaching on gender identity in elementary and middle schools, a push that critics say targets transgender students in the same way some states limit the positive portrayal of homosexuality in the classroom.
The state would be the first in the nation to block instruction on gender identity or gender expression, said Nathan Smith, public policy director at GLSEN, a national group focused on safe schools for LGBTQ students. But the organization recently counted seven states with restrictions on positively portraying homosexuality in health classes, sometimes called “no-promo-homo” laws. The states are Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.
“It’s maybe a little different in the way that it’s crafted and maybe a little different in the way, sort of the population that it targets, but the underlying concerns are the same for us as they would be in … a traditional ‘no-promo-homo’ law,” Smith said. “We think that it’s bad broadly for LGBTQ students in South Dakota.”
LGBTQ students in states with such laws are more likely to face assault and harassment at school, and get less support from teachers and administrators, according to a GLSEN research brief.
South Dakota’s bill would cover public school students from kindergarten through seventh grade. Education Department spokeswoman Mary Stadick Smith said in an email that the she’s not aware of gender identity being taught in schools.
Republican Sen. Phil Jensen, the sponsor, said he has constituents concerned it might become an issue in schools. Jensen said he’s worried about teaching children topics that aren’t age-appropriate and that students are failing to master the basics like reading, writing and arithmetic.
GLSEN isn’t aware of any other states considering a bill like South Dakota’s, Smith said. States including California, Massachusetts and Washington have moved in the opposite direction.
Washington included gender identity as an optional topic for districts to teach in recently revised health learning standards. For example, it suggests kindergarten students understand there are many ways to express gender and third graders recognize the importance of treating others with respect regarding gender identity, which is defined as someone’s inner sense of their gender.
Officials had heard from teachers, parents and national health experts interested in students understanding and being aware of gender identity, said Nathan Olson, spokesman for Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Terri Bruce, a transgender man who fought against the past bills, said the new proposal would have unintended consequences and send a message to transgender children that “they are somehow not human.”
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