Parents of young children from across the Commonwealth have reached out to their legislators with concerns that age-inappropriate conversations about gender identity or sexual orientation are occurring prematurely in their local elementary school classrooms. Some of these discussions are intentional and led by the teacher, others are organic and occurred as a result of student engagement – but many are occurring without the knowledge or consent of the parents. We believe this is wrong.
While we recognize that safe, structured discussions about these topics are foundational to students of a mature age in the LGBTQ community, we also recognize that it is unlikely that all parents in a single school district will be able to reach a consensus on how and when to have these pivotal discussions with their young children. We must work to find solutions that empower parents to educate their own children on these sensitive topics at their own pace without having their hand forced by the public school system.
To address these concerns, we have introduced a bill that we believe will appropriately balance the needs of parents, children, and members of the LGBTQ community. The bill seeks to fulfill the following goals:
- Empower parents by protecting their right to decide when, where, and how to discuss issues of gender identity and sexual orientation with their children – this is not the role of government.
- De-sexualize young children’s curriculum by prohibiting classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation for pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students, consistent with the timeline for when the existing academic standards on general sex education begins in sixth grade.
- Increase transparency and trust between families and schools by strengthening communication on sensitive topics.
These conversations are important, and they are delicate. They should occur when a child is mature enough to fully understand the concepts of gender identity and sexual orientation, and they certainly should not occur behind the backs of parents. Our bill will improve transparency and ensure parents have the opportunity to participate in making decisions about their own child’s education.
We all have a vested interest in making sure our children are safe and grow to be happy and healthy. Therefore, we must all work together to find fair solutions that accommodate the needs of parents and children from different backgrounds.
Our proposal would:
- Prohibit classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation for pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students, consistent with the timeline for when the existing academic standards on general sex education begins in sixth grade.
- Require adherence to existing state standards of age-appropriate content for any discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation that occur in grades 6-12.
- Increase transparency by requiring public schools to develop a policy for notifying parents when there is a change to a student’s services or monitoring.
- Prohibit a school from withholding information from parents in accordance with existing state and federal laws.
- Protect students in the LGBTQ community by providing critical exemptions to parental notification requirements if it can be reasonably demonstrated that doing so would result in abuse or abandonment of a minor.
- Allow parents to take legal action against a school district that fails to comply with the new requirements under this law.
- Require schools to notify parents of all health care related services being provided at the school as well as prior disclosure of any questionnaires or surveys being distributed to students and provide opportunities for parents to opt their child out from participating.
Our proposal would NOT:
- Ban all discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in school settings.
- Prohibit teachers or school personnel from having conversations or offering support services to students who are personally facing issues related to sexual orientation or gender identity and wish to address those issues with a school employee.
- Endanger transgender teens. The bill provides critical exemptions to parental notification if it can be reasonably demonstrated that doing so would result in abuse or abandonment of a minor.
- Remove critical anti-bullying lessons from pre-K and grades K-5 curricula that help educate all children about how to treat people who are different than they are, including members of the LGBTQ community.
Read Senate Bill 1278 here.
Parents of young children from across the Commonwealth have reached out to their legislators with concerns that age-inappropriate conversations about gender identity or sexual orientation are occurring prematurely in their local elementary school classrooms. Here are some examples from Pennsylvania elementary schools that prompted us to introduce this bill:
Allegheny County, PA – A first-grade teacher read her students books and taught them lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity without first notifying parents or giving them an opportunity to opt their child out of those lessons.
Chester County, PA – A school district instructed elementary school teachers to withhold information from parents about children questioning their gender.
Chester County, PA – An elementary school labeled their gender-neutral bathrooms as “they / them.”
Lancaster County, PA – An elementary school gave students a magazine article entitled “Meet an Activist” which depicts a male who identifies as female wearing female clothing, holding a stack of gender identity books.
Lancaster County, PA – An elementary school librarian prominently displayed gender identity books. A kindergarten student then brought home a book called “It Feels Good To Be Yourself” because the cover looked “pretty.”
Montgomery County, PA – A parent of a kindergartner reported that a classmate of their child identifies as transgender at five years old, so the class has read books together about what it means to be gender fluid.
Philadelphia, PA – A teacher reported that a school was permitting volunteers, including local college students, to talk to elementary school students about LGBTQ issues without parental knowledge.
Middle & High School Examples
Our bill would require adherence to existing state standards of age-appropriate content for any discussions of gender identity or sexual orientation that occur in grades 6-12 and empower local school districts to decide if they want to institute even stricter standards for their students. Additionally, schools would be required to notify parents of all healthcare related services being provided at the school, as well as prior disclosure of any questionnaires or surveys being distributed to students and provide opportunities for parents to opt their child out from participating.
Here are some examples from Pennsylvania middle and high schools that prompted us to introduce this bill:
Chester County, PA – A middle school guidance counselor created a private group for students to talk about gender identity without their parents knowing. If a student in the group decided to select a new name / pronouns that reflect their new gender identity, teachers were instructed to begin referring to this student accordingly and to hide this information from parents.
Chester County, PA – A high school librarian distributed “pronouns pins” to students that provided three choices for pronouns: (1) they / them / theirs; (2) he / him / his; (3) she / her / hers. This was intentionally done without the knowledge of parents.
Chester County, PA – A survey was circulated to all high school students asking them what their pronouns are, if they consider themselves political, if they consider their parents / guardians political, if they live with both of their parents, etc.
Lancaster County, PA – An erotic drag show featuring professional dancers was held at the high school after hours. The event was announced to all the students attending school during second period that day encouraging them to come to the event.
Lehigh County, PA – A school showed LGBTQ videos to students during homeroom and then refused to show parents the videos for months, even after numerous requests for transparency:
- 9 Questions Gay People Have for Straight People
- Bill Nye on Sexuality and Gender Spectrum
- Non-Binary: The Gender Beyond He or She
- Show your pride. Share your love. #ProudToLove
Lehigh County, PA – A middle school art teacher asked students to use LGBTQ imagery in artwork. Just as a student would be allowed to use religious imagery if they wish to do so, students should be allowed to use LGBTQ imagery in the same way; however, a government employee should not be requiring them to do so.
Montgomery County, PA – A video promoting the idea that there are more than two genders was played during the morning announcements at a middle school. Parents were not informed ahead of time or given the choice to opt their child out viewing.
York County, PA – A middle school health teacher showed this video to students, which normalizes taking drugs to alter the endocrine system to appear more like the opposite sex. The video mentions no side effects of taking these drugs.
Claim: This bill bans critical discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity – it is Pennsylvania’s version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Fact: This bill does nothing to prohibit organic, student-initiated discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity for any age group; it only bans formal discussions / instruction led by the teacher in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, thereby aligning such lessons with our state’s existing academic standards. If pre-K / K-5 students are too young to be exposed to general sexual education curriculum, then they are also too young to be exposed to issues surrounding gender identity and sexual orientation. These are complex and sensitive issues that should be taught in a way that is age appropriate.
Claim: This bill will remove critical anti-bullying lessons from pre-K / grades K-5 curricula that help educate all children about how to treat people who are different than they are, including members of the LGBTQ community.
Fact: Teaching kids to be kind, understanding, and appreciate differences in others is not the same as having explicit conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation. Children in pre-K / grades K-5 can be taught to treat others the way they want to be treated without the need for these explicit conversations about sexual attraction, gender identity, transgenderism, etc. This bill would not impact the foundation and core function of anti-bullying curriculum in Pennsylvania elementary school classrooms.
Claim: This bill prohibits transgender children from transitioning in a safe, supportive environment.
Fact: This bill prohibits school employees from withholding information from parents about transgender teens transitioning, and it provides critical exemptions if it can be reasonably demonstrated that parental notification would result in abuse or abandonment of a minor.
To outright assume that parents won’t provide a safe environment for their child, regardless of the child’s personal choices, is absurd. If a child isn’t being provided a safe environment at home, for any reason, that is an issue for Child Protective Services.
Furthermore, this bill does nothing to prohibit school personnel from having a conversation with or offering support services to a student who is personally facing issues related to sexual orientation or gender identity and wishes to address it with a teacher or school official, so long as this does not occur without the knowledge of the parent.
Claim: This is a solution in search of a problem – PA elementary schools aren’t teaching this curriculum to prepubescent children.
Fact: There are dozens of examples detailed above of these explicit conversations occurring in Pennsylvania elementary, middle, and high schools. The question is not “is this happening?” – it is. Rather, the question is “do you think it’s right?”
We believe parents have a fundamental right to decide the educational, moral, ideological, and religious upbringing of their children without unreasonable government interference in the classroom undermining that right. This cloth cuts both ways, because policies restoring parental rights in the classroom protect the freedoms of both conservative and liberal families. Just as a public-school teacher rightfully wouldn’t be allowed to teach their students Christian religious ideology in a non-neutral way, they should also be prohibited from pushing sexual orientation and gender identity ideology. While we may not agree on what moral, ideological, and religious values to teach or not to teach our children, we can certainly agree that it should be up to the parent to decide – not the government.
Claim: Children are capable of comprehending basic explanations of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Fact: Whether they can or can’t isn’t the main concern – the main concern is that it should be up to the parents to decide when, where, and how to have these discussions with their own children instead of having their hands forced by the public school system.
When schools push hyper-sexualized images and content on children while simultaneously asking them about concepts they can’t comprehend, it robs them of the innocence of their childhood. Not only should that not happen, but it certainly shouldn’t be happening behind the parents’ backs.
Claim: This bill unnecessarily exposes teachers, school officials, and school districts to lawsuits that could bankrupt them and negatively impact the resources available to students to receive a high-quality education.
Fact: As with any other changes to state law, it is the responsibility of the school administrator – in conjunction with the school board – to disseminate policy changes to teachers and staff to ensure compliance, mitigate confusion, and reduce exposure to legal action.
To effectively address this sensitive issue, the continued engagement of our constituents is necessary, as an ongoing dialogue between lawmakers and those they represent is absolutely critical to succeed.
As such, please fill out my Web Contact Form with any further questions, thoughts, or concerns you may have. We firmly believe that an open and productive conversation is necessary as we seek to build a stronger Pennsylvania, together.