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'Don't Say Gay' law would be expanded to all public school grades in Alabama under proposal

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Teacher-led discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity would be banned in public schools and displaying Pride flags in classrooms would be prohibited under legislation lawmakers advanced in Alabama on Wednesday.

The measure is part of a wave of laws across the country that critics have dubbed “Don't Say Gay.” It would expand current Alabama law, which prohibits the teaching in just elementary school, to all grades.

The House Education Policy Committee approved the bill after a discussion in which the bill sponsor claimed it is needed to prevent students from being “indoctrinated,” while an opposed lawmaker said the state is essentially “bullying” some of its citizens. The bill now moves to the full Alabama House of Representatives.

Alabama's law currently prohibits instruction and teacher-led discussions on gender identity or sexual orientation in a manner that is "not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” from kindergarten through the fifth grade. The legislation would expand the prohibition to all K-12 grades and drop the “developmentally appropriate” reference to make the prohibition absolute.

Lawmakers also added an amendment that would prohibit school employees from displaying flags and insignias that represent a sexual or gender identity on public school property.

"Hopefully, this will send the message that it's inappropriate for the instructors, the teachers, to teach sexual orientation and gender identity," said Republican Rep. Mack Butler, the bill’s sponsor.

Rep. Barbara Drummond, a Democrat from Mobile, said the legislation is going “to run people away rather than bring people to Alabama.”

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels said the measure is “almost like bullying to be honest with you.”

"We're bullying a certain class or group of people because they don't have the representation to fight back,” Daniels said.

Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey, the Alabama director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Alabama legislation “does nothing but stigmatize LGBTQ+ existence in an attempt to roll back the clock on the progress we’ve made in equality.”

“Every student deserves a classroom inclusive of all identities where they are valued and safe, while teachers should have the right to do their jobs without apprehension,” Anderson said.

Florida this month reached a settlement with civil rights attorneys who had challenged a similar law in that state. The settlement clarifies that the Florida law doesn’t prohibit discussing LGBTQ+ people or prohibit Gay-Straight Alliance groups, and doesn’t apply to library books that aren't being used for instruction in the classroom.

The Florida law became the template for other states. Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and North Carolina have passed similar measures.