Sophomore Erin Coleman relied on the support of her high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) as a teenager to help her realize her sexual orientation. The group made the process of questioning her identity easier when she felt she couldn’t turn to her parents.
“Not that my family isn’t amazing, but sometimes it’s weird talking to your mom about being gay,” Coleman, human rights major, said.
Future Missouri students could face questions about sexual and gender identity without the support of their schools if House Bill 2051, known as the Don’t Say Gay bill, is passed. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Cookson with nearly a dozen co-sponsors including House Speaker Steven Tilley, was introduced in legislature Thursday, April 19. The bill has been passed on to the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.
The text of the bill, written in one sentence, reads, “Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, no instruction, material, or extracurricular activity sponsored by a public school that discusses sexual orientation other than in scientific instruction concerning human reproduction shall be provided in any public school.”
The bill would effectively ban any mention of homosexuality, including Supreme Court cases or instances of bullying. It would also prohibit GSAs or LGBTQ groups from meeting on school grounds.
Junior human rights major Chris Robinson, who is on the executive board of Webster University’s LGBTQ Alliance, said he feels the Don’t Say Gay bill is only on the table due to upcoming elections.
“My first reaction was that it is frivolous and it’s never going to pass,” Robinson said. “It’s an election year. The man who presented it is just trying to score more voters. Even if it does pass, it will be challenged quickly. It’s backwards, especially with all the ‘It Gets Better’ and ‘Day of Silence’ (programs). This is sending it all backwards.”
Coleman said unlike Robinson she isn’t sure the bill is harmless. She said she is scared to think of what could happen if sexual orientation is a banned topic in public schools.
“I think it’s really easy to forget how conservative a state Missouri is when you’re in St. Louis,” Coleman said. “And there will always be LGBT students. That’s not going to change.”
Robinson said the LGBTQ Alliance currently has no plans to be involved with protesting or petitioning against the Don’t Say Gay bill. The legislature has drawn national attention, including coverage in the Huffington Post. PROMO, Missouri’s LGBTQ advocacy group, has spoken out against the bill. The group created a website called OKtoSayGay.org that has a petition against the bill.
The petition states,“Filing this bill is a desperate tactic by frightened, bigoted, cynical individuals who are terrified at the advancement the LGBT community has made in breaking down the barriers to full and equal treatment under the law.”
Tennessee and Pennsylvania have legislation similar to the Don’t Say Gay bill currently going through their state legislature. In Tennessee, an original bill failed to pass during the last session but has been reintroduced in the current session.
Coleman said she is trying to remain positive, but she worries about the path of homophobia and intolerance she sees America heading down.
“It’s really depressing that it seems to be we are the only developed Western nation with the set ideal ‘gay is not okay,’” Coleman said. “It seems to me that the U.S. likes to have complete and total control of people’s lives. Think about same sex marriages, birth control and contraceptives, and separation of church and state. It’s really unsettling.”
This session of Missouri Congress includes two other bills addressing sexual orientation issues. House Bill 1500, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Webber, would make discrimination of a person based on his or her sexual orientation unlawful under the Missouri Commission on Human Rights.
House Bill 1597, sponsored by Rep. Sara Lampe, would include sexual orientation in the list of motivations for bullying that are prohibited by law.