PA State Senate Passes THREE Anti-LGBTQ Youth Bills in One Day

State LGBTQ Youth Organization Expresses Outrage and Disappointment

HARRISBURG, Pa. — On Wednesday afternoon, the Pennsylvania State Senate voted to adopt HB 972SB 1277 and SB 1278 on final passage — all of which are guaranteed Governor vetoes. These grave attacks against LGBTQ Pennsylvanians have been justified by a majority of state Senators using inaccurate information in a subversive attack to erase LGBTQ youth. Young LGBTQ Pennsylvanians are not going anywhere.

“Thousands of LGBTQ youth and their families across the commonwealth are watching, devastated, as these bills move forward. These votes by our state Senate are ruthless, heartless, and dishonest. The bills will not become law in 2022 and were drilled through this final week of the budget season for nothing more than political theater leading into the general election,” said Preston Heldibridle, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress. Heldibridle continued, “Let me be very clear what this legislation is about: control. These bills, in practice, will allow a small, but vocal group of parents to have undue influence over not only the education of their own children — a right that parents in PA already rightfully possess — but that of all children in a district. This is very much by design, as this is not only an attack on LGBTQ students, families, and staff, but on Pennsylvania’s public schools as a whole. At its very heart, these bills are part of an attempt by a subset of Christian nationalists to override what they see as secular control over public schools in favor a specific brand of Christian ideals and ideology. If we do not label things exactly as they are, we are going to run ourselves right into theocracy.”

HB 972 — the anti-trans youth sports bill — now heads to Governor Tom Wolf for a veto. PYC issued a full statement on this legislation when it passed the PA House in April 2022 here.

During the floor debate on HB 972, Senator Doug Mastriano (R-Adams) claimed that “It’s incredible that here I stand sounding more like a feminist than so-called feminists do. I’m here to defend female rights, female athletes and their right to be able to compete without being disadvantaged by biological, scientifically-proven men, who want to go on a girl’s team so they can be number one. And that’s a big problem for me. I don’t know how anyone thinks that is just or right. It’s not fair. It’s not right. We need to stand up for women. Women deserve the right to have the same opportunities and not to be dominated once again by a patriarchal male-dominated society where stronger men are going to roll over them and take away their opportunities, their scholarships, and all their sacrifice over the years. It’s time that we stand with women, stand with the female athletes, and not snatch away with this awful decision to allow male athletes to compete in women’s sports.”

In response, Senator Amanda Cappelletti (D-Montgomery) said on the floor, “Who advocates for that? Me. I stand for that, thank you. I stand with trans women and trans girls because they are women and they are girls. And do not use this as a guise of protecting women. I stand with Senator Muth and so many other people in acknowledging right now there is an assault on me as a human being. Who I am as a human being is being assaulted. Decisions that I get to make about starting a family are being assaulted.”

Senator Michele Brooks (R-Mercer) doubled down during the debate on false biological arguments by stating, “It’s about genetics. It’s not about feeling one way or the other. It’s about genetics.” She cited Caitlyn Jenner as her authority in making that statement and brought up no scientific evidence to back her claim. “It is unfair for transgenders to compete in women’s sports if they were biologically born or genetically a man. Caitlyn Jenner, who all of us in this chamber I think admired, and I think one of the best athletes of all time, feels that genetically men should not compete in women’s sports.”

Finally, Senator Bob Mensh (R-Montgomery) echoed the scientifically inaccurate idea that biological sex is in totality an exclusive binary. He said, “If a transgender female wants to identify as a female, that’s fine. That’s their choice. One that I wouldn’t make. But I can understand that someone might. But, they are not a woman. Whether I am a man or a woman is decided at conception. It is decided by genes. It is decided by the chromosomes that establish in the egg of the female. And when we are born, we are born only as one sex or the other, in almost every case. There are some recorded abnormalities. But to suggest that a transgender woman possesses the same genetic makeup as a true woman is just not an accurate definition…This is about a true female being able to compete against other true females. It is not about an imagined — or someone who wants to identify mentally as a female competing against other less physically-advantaged, genetically-established females.”

The other two bills now head to the Pennsylvania House. SB 1277 — sponsored by Senator Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) — is essentially a book and education ban on anything referencing sexual intercourse. SB 1278 — sponsored by Senator Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) — is an expansive gag order for school personnel on LGBTQ issues, forces the outing of vulnerable students to parents or guardians, and creates a private right of action if those terms are violated, among other cruel provisions.

In response to these final votes, Preston Heldibridle, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, reiterated his previous comments on these bills, “The people pushing these bills are purposefully conflating graphic pornography with children’s books that reference LGBTQ families in hopes that Pennsylvanians won’t notice. They are trying to sneak in this horrific, subversive attack on LGBTQ inclusion under the guise of reasonable limits on sexually explicit content. Those limits already exist. They cherry pick outlandish scenarios to advance categorical bans to appear like defenders of children when in reality proponents of these bills are the ones exploiting children to further their own goals and causing irreparable harm.

Heldibridle further asked, “For Senator Martin and Senator Aument: How many hurt, abandoned, or dead LGBTQ children are enough for you to end this crusade? How much more shame and isolation will you try to inflict upon these kids? There are other issues you can choose during an election season to flex your political power rather than picking on LGBTQ children. These bills are mean-spirited and will not rest well with history.”

Heldibridle added, “This is an attempt to make sure young Pennsylvanians receive no positive representation of LGBTQ people. The idea behind the curtain is that if young people don’t know about LGBTQ people, then they won’t become out LGBTQ people. Yet, we have always been here and are not going anywhere. Whether they ban references to our existence in the classroom or not, we are still here. Education transparency and curriculum setting are vital access points for parents and guardians, which is why we have local school board elections. We don’t need the state government coming down — somehow in the name of championing parental control — to override parents in the shaping of the content and environment of their own school districts.”

SB 1277 would require parental notification and an opt-out provision to both instructional materials in classrooms and books in libraries that include references to sex. On Tuesday, June 28, Senator Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton) introduced an amendment — which was unanimously adopted — that removed ‘homosexuality’ from the parameters of SB 1277 of effectively banned books and lesson materials. The Pennsylvania Youth Congress supported Senator Boscola in introducing this amendment and thanks her for doing so. However, PYC continues to adamantly oppose the bill as SB 1277 still does not define sexual conduct in terms of what is acceptable (i.e., To Kill a Mockingbird) and what would not be acceptable (Hustler magazine, graphic pornography) for a school library or lesson plans.

Under the bill, parents would have to be notified that “Heather Has Two Mommies” is being read in class or is in the school library. If even one parent objects, it would then have to be placed in a locked area and only accessible to those whose parents have not opted out their children — or remove it from their collection entirely. That’s what makes it an effective ban and not an outright ban.

Senator Nikil Saval (D-Philadelphia), who holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Stanford University, explained how “Foundational books of Western literature that contain references to sexual conduct” were all “in the libraries of the Founding Fathers of this country, but under this bill, they could be blocked from being read in the libraries of this country’s schools.”

On the floor, Senator Aument tried to insist that the bill is not a book ban, even though the only way to implement the prevention of books and materials that a parent opt-out their child from is to remove it from open circulation. He said, “What opponents seem to misunderstand about this bill is that it is not a book ban. It’s never been a book ban. It isn’t intended to be a book ban. The language of the bill doesn’t have the effect of having a book ban. SB 1277 is not a book ban. SB 1277 allows parents to decide what content — sexually-explicit content — their children are exposed to. Their own children are exposed to in school. That’s it. Under this proposal no parent will be able to dictate what content any other children, what any other child, has access to. They will only be able to control what content their own child has [access] to. This is how it should be. Parents should have the final say.”

Senator Boscola offered comments in support of Senator Aument’s false claim that the bill is not an effective book ban. She said that “It doesn’t ban a single book, when you read the legislation…This bill doesn’t even say to remove the material. It gives the parent the option to keep it away from their child.” Senator Mastriano echoed that position by saying, “It’s hyperbolic, and perhaps even an illogical fallacy to say it’s anything to deal with a school banning — book banning what have you. It has nothing to do with that. It’s actually empowering parents. The books will stay in the library but the parents have the last say on what their kids should be exposed to. That’s their decision.” Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington) stated, “No one is saying go into these libraries and pull them off the shelves and have a bonfire in the backyard. That is not what we are talking about.” Additionally, Senator Martin explained that “People can say it till they’re blue in the face, but there is not one thing listed in this bill that requires any book to be removed. Now what I am hearing is that parents should not have the ability to have a say as to what is appropriate content. And I find that to be amazing…It’s very important when we are having a debate on an important topic such as this that we actually refer to what the bill actually does. And banning books is certainly not listed any single place in this legislation.”

While numerous Senators in support of SB 1277 expressed outrage at opponents of the legislation who characterize the bill as an effective book ban, PYC urges the media and general public to understand that this compelling tactic is likely intentionally deployed. Whatever words are said about a bill never changes the plain meaning of the actual text in a bill. When a book is removed from open access it is effectively banned.

Senator Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) summarized this by saying on the Senate floor, “What will happen in reality is schools will just pull the books from the shelves to avoid having to try to police their library. This bill is framed like we are trying to keep pornography and Hustler magazines out of the school library. Neither of which are in our school buildings or will ever be.”

Senator Williams also responded by stating: “So let’s be clear. This is a bill to ban books. No matter how hard some of its supporters claim otherwise. This is a bill that is part of a groundswell effort driven by white nationalist groups — including the Proud Boys. And I want to speak to the ridiculous assertion that this is not an attack on LGBTQ people, even with yesterday’s amendment. The context of this bill is important. This bill is not being run on its own in a vacuum. This is part of a package of bills. We just voted on a bill to ban trans girls from playing sports from kindergarten to college, for the second time on the floor. We are running Pennsylvania’s Don’t Say Gay bill immediately after this. The makers of this bill claim this isn’t an attack on the LGBTQ community. And yet this chamber is sitting on SB 2125, a bill that would remove homosexuality from the crimes code that was passed unanimously from the House. If the bill isn’t to harm the LGBTQ community, why did it choose to reference an outdated crimes code in the first place? Why didn’t it use a definition of pornography that already exists in law?”

The Pennsylvania House recently voted unanimously earlier in June on Rep. Stephens’ HB 2125 which would remove “homosexuality” from the crimes code as an obscenity. Even noted anti-LGBTQ legislator Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) voted in favor of striking homosexuality from this law. On Thursday, June 30, the Senate Judiciary Committee moved HB 2125 in an off the floor meeting.

Senator Williams continued, “Why doesn’t this bill amend the Child Internet Protection Act, which is specifically about preventing students from accessing obscene material and child pornography in schools? Why does the bill still ban books with nudity with no exception for health, science, or art class? Does that mean all books educating young girls on menstruation? What happens when a girl gets her period early and is embarrassed to ask questions? She won’t be able to walk into a library and browse a book on what is happening to her body. Can an art teacher not teach about the statue of David? Or show a photo of the statues in front of this very building? And lastly, why doesn’t this bill apply to private schools? This bill is intended to stoke fear, and give the appearance that there is porn in public schools. There isn’t. And the fact that this bill does not apply to all schools, including private schools, is telling.”

Senator Martin also attempted to redirect the description of the bill as not being about casual references to sex, “We’re not talking about just statues of David. This isn’t like walking your children listening to them giggle as they walk into a Buca di Beppo when all the statues might be in there. We are talking about images of young children performing oral sex on each other.”

No examples of library books available to elementary school students in Pennsylvania were offered that depict children engaging in oral sex on each other, for the record. None.

Senators in support of SB 1277 continued to conflate sexual education and advanced literature that is handled beyond elementary school with inclusion of age-appropriate materials that align with state standards which are currently read in some grade schools, like “And Tango Makes Three” or “King & King.”

Senator Bartolotta stated that “We’re not talking about wonderful coming of age teen novels and things like that. We all know what innuendo is. We know a lot of that. And that’s not what we’re talking about.” She continued, “How about having 50 Shades of Grey in your elementary school library, but with pictures? What’s next, Hustler or Penthouse?

During last week’s Committee proceedings, Senator Brooks produced a file folder with examples of materials in lesson plans or school libraries in Pennsylvania. They included memoirs “Gender Queer” and “Fun Home.” The “Fun Home” excerpt was titled on her handout: “Assigned in PA high school.” High school, not kindergarten. Before the final floor vote on SB 1277, Senator Aument said on his bill, “Last I checked, providing pornography to children isn’t inclusive. It’s disgusting, and it’s wrong. In fact, I challenge any member or staff in this chamber to review these images and affirm that you think that six-year-olds should have unrestricted access to them in schools without their parents even knowing.” Again, no example was provided of sexually explicit material available to children in kindergarten or elementary school.

The Pennsylvania Youth Congress is saddened at the audacity of lawmakers who cherry pick examples from advanced high school English classes to promote an agenda that they are one and the same as a children’s picture book which might feature two dads or two moms, which then are read in only some elementary school classrooms — by decision of a local school board and not the state.

The bill states “sexual intercourse” and so any reference to sexual intercourse is open to be opted out by any parent or guardian. While supporters of SB 1277 like Senator Martin have said that is “not what we are talking about,” that is exactly what the bill does.

Thousands of books in school libraries include topics related to sexual reproduction. In committee, Senator Brooks stated that “When we were in school, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. The books that were in our libraries were Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Diary of Anne Frank. Those were the books that were in our school.” This bill would effectively ban the Diary of Anne Frank. Anne discusses numerous times in her diary menstruation and her thoughts on sex. SB 1277 prohibits access to books that deal with sexual conduct.

The following passage is from the Diary of Anne Frank:

I’ve told you more about myself and my feelings than I’ve ever told a living soul, so why shouldn’t that include sex? Parents, and people in general, are very peculiar when it comes to sex. Instead of telling their sons and daughters everything at the age of twelve, they send the children out of the room the moment the subject arises and leave them to find out everything on their own. Later on, when parents notice that their children have, somehow, come by their information, they assume they know more (or less) than they actually do. So why don’t they try to make amends by asking them what’s what?

The Bible mentions sexual intercourse numerous times (ex: Leviticus 18:19), so this book would also require parental notification and an opt-out. This effectively bans the Bible from public schools.

During last week’s committee meeting, Senator Brooks urged her colleagues to “Have a very comprehensive conversation of what these definitions are instead of just cherry-picking what we want to talk about.”

So, does Senator Brooks actually want to effectively ban the Diary of Anne Frank and the Bible, or really to just provide a catch-all that is broad enough that it doesn’t seem cruel to only target “Heather has Two Mommies”? These bills are either just poorly drafted to target LGBT-inclusion or are intentionally broad in hopes they are only applied to LGBT-inclusive content.

Proponents of this bill can try to keep the conversation on alarming, outrageous examples that are taken out of context to justify their vote, but that is a distraction from the reality of what the bill actually states.

Eventually during last week’s committee meeting, the true colors shined through on the anti-LGBTQ motives behind the bill. Senator John DiSanto (R-Dauphin) expressed how “It’s incumbent upon parents not the educational industrial complex force-feeding ideas that are abhorrent to the vast majority of parents in this state.” Senator Mastriano stated how “In the end the parents must have the last word. The schools should be educating not indoctrinating, and it should not be used as a place to groom kids, potentially. This is a form of child abuse that needs to end.” The Senators supporting this bill began to say the initially silent part clearly out loud: they believe LGBTQ children have zero place here in Pennsylvania.

Senator Maria Collett (D-Montgomery) said on the Senate floor that “It’s disappointing though unsurprising that most of the books used as examples to be removed in Central Bucks and in this statewide bill, feature LGBTQ protagonists and relationships. If SB 1277 was about all sexual content in literature, we would be hearing calls to ban any book with sexual content off the shelves, including classics like Romeo and Juliet, Catcher in the Rye, Dracula, even Anne Frank and the Bible contain discussions and depictions of sex. But that’s not what we are talking about.” She shared a quote from J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” and then commented: “My goodness, with language like that, have we been indoctrinating our children into heterosexuality for years? Decades? Have our teachers and librarians groomed generations of heterosexual individuals by providing access to these beloved literary works? Of course not. Make no mistake. Despite repeated denials, homophobia and transphobia are at the heart of this legislation in a targeted attack on LGBTQ-centered books.” She finished her remarks by calling out how “We are hearing dog whistles and coded language like ‘indoctrination’ and ‘grooming’ both of which have a long and shameful history of being used to imply that gay and trans people are inherently predatory. Using these extreme terms in this context is not only disingenuous, its offensive to actual survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Not incidentally a group this legislature has also failed.”

Before the committee voted on the bill, Senator Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) quoted Jennisen Lucas, President of the American Association of School Librarians, who said “Parents always have that choice to parent their children. But when that parent decides they do not think it’s appropriate for their child, therefore it’s not appropriate for any children, is when it becomes a censorship issue as opposed to just parent discernment.”

On the Senate floor, Senator Cappelletti was able to cite the specific regulation that already provides for the process the bill’s proponents seek to implement, at 22 Pa Code 4.4. She said, “The Pennsylvania Code states that school entities shall have a process in place for parents and guardians to gain access to information about the curriculum. Including academic standards to be achieved, instructional materials, and assessment techniques, allow a process for the review of instructional materials, and reserve the right to have their children excused from specific instruction that conflicts with their religious beliefs, upon receipt by the school entity of a written request from the parent or guardian.” She continued by stating that “We are also giving the voice of one parent in the district the opportunity to speak for what all children should have open access to in the library? I’m certain you wouldn’t want to live in a world where I get to make the decision about what literature your children have access to. Nor do I want to live in a world where you determine that for my family. [This bill would] hold[] our young people back. They will be behind as they move from high school to college. Bright young people interested in literature will be denied the ability to take AP English classes because — I’m sorry — what alternatives exist to understanding and critically thinking about the great classical and historical pieces of literature?”

Finally, Senator Cappelletti was able to illustrate how this bill is truly motivated by anti-LGBTQ positions in asking how the bill would be applied as law. She said “Sexually explicit content — that is entirely subjective. Is the story of two heterosexuals — that is to say a boy and a girl — experiencing their first kiss sexually-explicit? Now, what if that was a same-sex couple. If your answer changed between those two options, then this was always about marginalizing and silencing the LGBTQIA+ community. No matter how much you try, that community cannot and will not be treated as if they do not exist.”

The third bill, SB 1278, has numerous anti-LGBTQ provisions which would:

  • Ban all classroom instruction involving sexual orientation or gender identity from pre-K through fifth grade
  • Require schools to out children and youth to their parents
  • Ban teachers from portraying diversity in sexual orientation or gender identity in a positive or negative way at all grade levels, in support of “neutrality” to prevent government beliefs that “endorse” the existence of LGBTQ people
  • Prohibit classroom instruction involving sexual orientation or gender identity from sixth through twelfth grades that is not in accordance with state standards
  • Provide that schools can provide support services to “A student who has initiated communication with school personnel related to sexual orientation or gender identity if the school personnel has received permission from the parent or legal guardian of the student”
  • Require annual healthcare opt-in forms to be sent to parents and guardians that would include the option to grant or deny their child access to supportive services based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity
  • Require continuous and unfettered access by parents and guardians of a student’s health record and to be notified if they are receiving any new services (which may include talking with a guidance counselor about being LGBT)
  • Require an opt-out form to be sent to parents or guardians before any general survey or questionnaire is given to students (with examples given in the prime sponsor’s website that parents should be able to opt-out their children from taking surveys that ask for pronouns or SOGIE data)
  • Establish a private right of action so that a student through their parent or guardian may sue a teacher, school board member, or school district for any violation of the bill’s provisions for an injunction, damages, and attorney fees and costs within two years

Under the guise of trying to appear reasonable, and to paint this bill as “not” Pennsylvania’s version of the Florida Don’t Say Gay bill, this legislation provides for an exception that would “Permit school personnel to withhold this information from a parent or legal guardian if a reasonably prudent person would believe, based on the documented testimony of the student or a history of documented incidents, that disclosure would result in child abuse or the child being abandoned.” However, the bill fails to explain what “documented testimony” or “documented incidents” are. If a child fears for their life or abandonment because their parent told them they would beat someone who was gay to death, but the student has not seen their parent previously beat up a gay person, would that be enough to protect them?

It has been portrayed that if a student brings up their LGBTQ parents, they themselves are LGBTQ, or present a project that addresses LGBTQ topics, that a teacher can respond in kind — that the bill just puts a stop to teachers affirmatively including LGBTQ issues in their lessons or materials. However, the bill language does not say that. The bill itself allows for services to be offered with parental approval, if a student brings up a request to receive counseling to support them in coming out, for example. But not for education. The bill explicitly bans all classroom instruction and library books involving sexual orientation or gender identity from pre-K through fifth grade, or at any grade from a teacher referencing diversity in sexual orientation or gender identity in a positive way or in accordance with (not defined) state standards. Since everyone has a sexual orientation and gender identity, whether that is straight or gay, transgender or cisgender, any mention of liking someone or being something tied to a gender would be banned. From the Bible to Cinderella, it’s all gone. Those books include material about sexual orientation, which is heterosexuality, and gender identity which is cisgender.

Teachers and school personnel would live in fear as they would have to take precautions with any communication if it included references to sexual orientation or gender identity for fear of violating the bill’s neutrality clause. How would a teacher respond if a student talks about their two moms in a class report? If they responded in kind, would that be seen as an endorsement and thus violate SB 1278? This bill puts a gag order on all school teachers and staff from saying anything supportive about a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

On the Senate floor, Senator Martin said, “SB 1278 is a response to concerns we have heard from parents across the commonwealth who worry their children are being exposed to inappropriate conversations about sexual preferences and gender transitioning at a young age and often times without the parents’ knowledge or consent. So out of the gate let me be clear about what SB 1278 is. SB 1278 is about making sure parents are included and informed about what is going on with their child in school and not intentionally being kept in the dark. SB 1278 is about providing parents the opportunity to view any surveys or questionnaires in advance and opting their child out if they wish. SB 1278 is about saying it is not appropriate to seek out the opportunity to teach young children between pre-K and fifth grade about sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom, especially without the parents’ knowledge.” He continued by asserting that “We have lessons based on gender dysphoria being presented to first grade classrooms. We have other classrooms that are being made to watch gender transitioning videos, both of which, without parental consent.”

Senator Lindsey Williams fired back on numerous points raised by proponents of the bill, and added sharp remarks on how the bill is also unadministrable as written. She said “The maker of the bill said schools will “do what they did during the pandemic and act quickly.” Schools adapted quickly to save kids’ lives. Now they are going to be asked to act quickly to increase the likelihood that kids will kill themselves. Bills like this have been absolutely devastating to LGBTQ youth.”

There are thousands of LGBTQ teachers in Pennsylvania that would be banned under this bill from mentioning they are married or if they have children with a spouse. If their child goes to school, how can they say who their child is without getting in trouble with this law? There are too many scenarios to count as to how concerning these bills are as they are currently drafted. On the Senate floor, Senator Katie Muth (D-Berks) said that “SB 1278 falsely equates discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity with sex education and would effectively forbid any acknowledgement of gay or transgender students, or LGBTQ families, until the sixth grade…To not be able to talk about your own family at school…I can’t comprehend that.”

Senator Collett summarized how “This bill, a controversial, veto-destined piece of legislation impacting LGBTQ children, parents, and teachers, was rushed to the Senate floor in less than three weeks. Why is that? And what does it say about the legislative priorities of this body? Let’s be clear. SB 1278 is a thinly-veiled attempt to remove LGBTQ-inclusive education — both in curriculum and conversation — from Pennsylvania schools. The makers of this bill can spin it however they want. They can say whatever they want about what they think this bill should do.” She continued in saying “SB 1278 tells these children and their families that your very existence is abhorrent, wrong, unspeakable. In fact, it is telling in the remarks offered by the maker of this bill, he stated that kids questioning their gender identity need “help”…this is what we are legislating against? Pennsylvania’s elementary school students are not being exposed to sexually explicit subject matter. They are learning in age-appropriate ways about the many types of families and people that make up our communities. Sesame Street types of lessons: Empathy, respect, tolerance, self-expression, resiliency. This is what our public schools are built to do.” She concluded her remarks by stating that “We should be investing in [our schools], not muzzling them into divisive culture wars…The rights of Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ residents, especially children, should not depend on the stroke of a pen.”

Towards the end of the committee meeting last week, Senator Mastriano expressed outrage at how “the notion that discussions of sexual preference, sexual proclivities, and inclinations are appropriate for those ten an under is just madness. Nor is having a teacher using their powerful and respected platform to advance gender confusion…it’s time we got back to education not indoctrination.”

Senator Williams pointed out during the committee meeting that the bill does not define gender identity, which leaves the extent to which it may be understood open to interpretation. Will teachers have to notify parents if their girl in kindergarten starts playing with Tonka trucks? Or if their boy in first grade plays with a Barbie? Does the requirement to be neutral mean the teachers are supposed to say something about students to their parents not conforming to gender norms? The danger this might put certain students in is deeply concerning.

On the Senate floor, Senator Mastriano continued to ignore how books like the Bible contain references to sexual orientation and gender identity. In talking about the objected-to books and materials he said that they “Could lead to some confusion on gender topics, and what have you. Like I said before in Ecclesiastes 3:1 “There is a time and place for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” And clearly sexually charged discussions with young kids, with little kids, is not appropriate in public schools.”

Senator Cris Dush (R-Jefferson) spoke to the heart of his motivations for supporting SB 1278, which is explicitly an anti-LGBTQ inclusion position. He said that “We have instructional materials that parents have been finding offensive because it is trying to “normalize” something, and call something a social norm which for hundreds of years…the normative aspects of what these schools, teachers are trying to do in normalizing something that parents find objectionable and also does not fall within the cultural norms of over two hundred years of this nation existing, that’s an issue.” He further went on that “In Huxley, and Orwell, [they] give excellent examples of the culture that we are living in right now, where active people within the state are trying to indoctrinate children. These pieces of legislation, including this one we are discussing here right now, are meant to do what the state is supposed to do and put a stop to that and allow the parents to be the parents and tell the state that the state does not own the children.”

Finally, SB 1278 provides for a sweeping cause of action so that parents can sue teachers, school board members, and school districts through their children to enforce these provisions. Senator Williams explained that “This isn’t Florida’s don’t say gay bill. This is worse. This bill is not preventing government endorsement of beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools. It’s saying that being gay, having trans parents, having a lesbian friend, is wrong. Is less than. Is something to be ashamed of. That is wrong. This bill is imposing a belief that being straight and cisgender is quote “right,” quote “normal.” When you combine no definition of what can and cannot be said, with the ability of a parent to sue anyone, at any moment, that will result in adults who are supposed to keep our kids safe to stay quiet.”

Another important point is how these bills take away the power from parents. Parents are the ones who vote in their local school boards to make the appropriate decisions for their children. Numerous districts have removed “Heather Has Two Mommies” from their libraries. It should be observed how local control is used either as a sword or a shield by the state legislature depending on the issue. The House rejected in a 99-99 vote a requirement to mandate Holocaust education in 2013 because they said school districts know better. Just as many Senators made clear they feel their districts should have had the full power to decide how to react to the outbreak of Covid and masking, not the state government. Now the Senate wants to say they don’t? What is it: that school districts do or do not know better, or is just about topics they don’t want to address in the real world?

In committee, both bills were moved along party line votes, with seven Republicans voting for them and four Democrats voting against. The three bills collectively received nearly three hours of debate on the Senate floor. On the floor, SB 1277 was moved along party line votes, with Senator Boscola voting with the majority, and SB 1278 was voted on fully along party lines. The bills as written would go into effect for the coming 2022-2023 school year but face swift vetoes by Governor Wolf if they advance through the General Assembly.