Indiana House advances bill that could change how schools and students talk about gender issues
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 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.”
Arleigh Rodgers is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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“HB 1608 is a disgraceful piece of legislation that targets LGBTQ kids by censoring conversations about LGBTQ families in schools and forcing teachers to out transgender students. Every parent hopes our laws will ensure children’s safety, protection, and freedom. But the Indiana legislators supporting this bill are rejecting those values and targeting LGBTQ kids for bullying and mistreatment, just because of who they are. Our schools should protect all students—including LGBTQ students—so they can learn and thrive in a safe environment. The legislators behind HB 1608 are trying to force schools to violate that most basic trust. LGBTQ families in Indiana will not be erased and we will be out in force if and when this bill is heard in the Senate.”
Katie Blair, advocacy and public policy director, American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana