State legislature proposes a Utah version of Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law

Rep. Jeff Stenquist said he had no intention of copying the Florida law, but added that “some of the language was borrowed”.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Pride flag flies in front of a home in Utah on February 12, 2022. A state legislature on Thursday, February 23, 2023, released a bill that would ban some discussions in elementary school classes about gender identity and sexual orientation.

A Utah lawmaker is rolling out legislation that would ban any discussion of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms — legislation that directly copies language from a Florida law that has been widely circulated and considered “Don’t say it” was called Gay” measure by opponents.

LGBTQ groups in Utah have united over concerns and fears over what has been dubbed the “copy-and-paste culture war bill.”

Rep. Jeff Stenquist’s controversial R-Draper proposal was released late Thursday, about a week before this year’s legislative session. While acknowledging his appearance in eleventh hour, Stenquist said he felt it was important to design HB550 after a mother came to him with concerns about her child’s classroom conversation.

“She felt that some of the discussions were inappropriate for this grade level,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune.

Stenquist said he searched state statutes for guidelines on how to discuss issues related to gender and sexuality and found none. His bill would block all classes on the subject for students in third grade and below.

In other classes, any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity would be prohibited if, according to HB550’s language, it is “not age or developmentally appropriate for students according to state standards.” This includes any speaking engagements by teachers or adults who come to speak at a district or charter school.

Stenquist’s bill states that definitions of what these subjects entail and what is appropriate or not must be established by each school and school district.

“I think it’s really common sense and straight forward,” he said.

The text of the law corresponds almost word for word to Florida law, which was signed into law by the local governor in March 2022.

It states: “Teaching by school staff or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not take place in kindergarten up to the 3rd grade or in a way that is not age- or development-appropriate for the students according to state standards.”

This measure was championed by conservatives and challenged by Democrats and other prominent opponents. The disapproval included employees at Disney, one of Florida’s largest employers, who staged walkouts to protest the measure. The company later — after concerns about its tepid response — released a statement standing by its employees in urging state lawmakers to repeal the law or the courts to rule it unconstitutional.

President Joe Biden also called it “hateful.”

Stenquist said Thursday that “it was not my intention to do what Florida did,” although he acknowledged that “some of the language was borrowed from Florida.”

Though early, the measure is sparking a similar backlash in Utah. Equality Utah chief executive Troy Williams said it was “deeply disappointing” to see the proposal here.

The bill comes after the legislature already passed that session and the governor signed into law — a measure that bans gender-affirming health care for most transgender minors here. That came just nine days after the start of the 45-day annual gathering of lawmakers.

Williams said the mirrored Utah version of the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation was “used only to fuel political divisions.” He said Stenquist never approached Equality Utah to try to find a middle ground like lawmakers did in that conversion therapy session. And he believes that the bill isn’t necessary.

Kids in kindergarten through third grade aren’t taught about these subjects, Williams said — and they’re no older either.

For example, Utah’s health standards for sex education do not include LGBTQ terms. The state teaches an abstinence-based curriculum in these classes.

Williams also pointed to Utah state legislatures who previously passed a similar law in 1997 and then repealed it in 2017.

Dubbed the “No Promo Homo” law, this measure banned the advocacy of same-sex relationships in public school health classes. Equality Utah had sued the state over the discriminatory policies and then agreed to work with lawmakers to overturn them instead.

“Stenquist is recycling this without knowing that we’ve been looking into this for a number of years,” added Williams. “He’s just fomenting the tired old culture war for his own political gain.”

The bill was not immediately assigned to a committee for hearing. Monday is probably the last day of the session that these meetings take place. State legislature proposes a Utah version of Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law

Justin Scaccy

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