ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia senator says he wants to stop teachers from talking to students about gender identity, but admits his bill remains full of unintended consequences and must be redrafted.
Sen. Carden Summers, a Cordele Republican, told the Senate Education and Youth Committee on Tuesday that he will again rewrite Senate Bill 88, already on its second draft, to accommodate some critics. But Summers defended the bill’s key premise, saying a law is needed to keep teachers from indoctrinating their students about changing gender identity and to keep teachers from hiding a student’s gender identity change from parents.
“We’re simply trying to limit the exposure that person would have on a child regarding gender. That’s where it’s at,” Summers said. “They’re not supposed to … talk to that child about your gender without permission from the parent.”
The committee took no action Tuesday, promising another hearing after dozens of opponents didn’t get a chance to speak.
The bill currently says teachers and others can’t seek or provide information about sex, a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity without written permission from parents. It also says public and private schools can’t change records of a child’s name, sex or gender without written permission from parents.
Some critics liken the measure to bills in Florida and other states that try to stop teachers from discussing LGBTQ issues with students. The Georgia measure is limited to gender identity, but dovetails with bills in many states that seek to limit gender-affirming care for transgender youth. Such a bill is pending in Georgia, but so far has not advanced.
“The role of our teachers is to provide a safe and inclusive learning environment for our kids, free from bullying and discrimination,” Jeff Graham, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group Georgia Equality, said at a news conference after Tuesday’s hearing. “Bills that force teachers to out LGBTQ+ kids to their parents are extremist political stunts, that pit teachers, parents and students against each other.”
Tom Rawlings, former director of the state Division of Family and Children Services, appeared with Summers on Tuesday and said he helped draft the bill. Rawlings resigned from his state job in 2021 at the request of Gov. Brian Kemp after a confrontation over the filming of a television series.
“We simply want to make sure that in appropriate cases, that parents know what’s going on with their children, and that educators and administrators are not hiding that fact, except when it’s appropriate,” Rawlings said.
But the bill would do other things as well. Parents at both public and private schools would have to opt their children into sex education classes. Now, public school parents are allowed to opt out children. Some conservative parents have been trying to abolish sex education in Georgia schools in recent years.
It would also bar any adult overseeing a child in any public or private institution, including schools, camps, libraries and social service agencies, from dressing “in a sexually provocative manner, applying current community standards.”
Summers and Rawlings said they are considering getting rid of the sex education opt-out and prohibition of sexually provocative dress.
Education groups say the bill could block teachers from fulfilling their mandatory duty to report abuse unless they get parental permission, even if a parent is the the suspected abuser. Robert Costley, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, said the bill could also block teachers from answering questions about sex education classes.
“This teacher is going to wonder ‘Am I allowed to talk to my student about a class that I taught’”? Costley said.
He said teachers aren’t “putting their own beliefs on kids,” saying lawmakers voiced similar claims last year while passing a law that regulates how race can be discussed in schools.
“I don’t think any educators going to get up and say, ‘Yeah, we want to proselytize kids,’” Costley said.
The bill would sanction violators, withholding funds from public schools, threatening to yank the state licenses of teachers, and revoking the tax-exempt status of private entities.
Sarah Hunt-Blackwell, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the bill would violate free speech rights of teachers and students, unconstitutionally discriminating against speech on particular topics.
Opponents also said the bill would keep teachers from counseling students with questions about their gender identity, especially when their parents may not offer support. They suggested the bill targets students who are emotionally vulnerable and even prone to suicide.
“SB 88 would act as a gag order and a very vague, very constraining gag order,” said Francesca Ruhe of the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition. “SB 88 is a coward’s attempt to target a demographic that is already persecuted enough.”
This story was first published on Feb. 15, 2023. It was updated on Feb. 17, 2023, to correct the name of the executive director of Georgia Equality. He is Jeff Graham, not Jeff Brown.