MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives passed amended legislation on Tuesday prohibiting classroom instruction or discussion of gender identity or sexual orientation in public K-8 schools.

House Bill 130 (HB130), sponsored by State Rep. Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City), would expand the state's prohibition of discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in K-5 classrooms to K-8 classrooms.

The initial bill applied restrictions to K-12 schools. However, the bill was amended at the request of the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE), so the limits now only apply to kindergarten through eighth grade. Butler said ALSDE requested the amendment due to the state’s health curriculum.

The bill also prohibits school employees from displaying insignia, flags or banners related to gender identity or sexual orientation in classrooms and school property. That prohibition still applies to K-12 schools.

Butler presented the bill before the House, facing fierce backlash for nearly two hours from House Democrats.

Democratic lawmakers came out swinging against the bill, even claiming Butler’s bill could directly lead to the suicide of LGBTQ+ youth. Democrats argued the bill was too vague and would ostracize LGBTQ+ youth and punish teachers seeking to be a “safe space” for students who don’t feel comfortable discussing specific issues with parents.

Republicans, on the other hand, wholly supported the bill.

“Thank you for bringing this bill,” said State Rep. Mark Gidley (R-Hokes Bluff). “What we understand is, there is an attempt to indoctrinate and to impose things on our children. And many of the arguments talk about freedom for the student; this has nothing to do with that. A student is well able to say what they want to say [and] do what they want to do. This keeps those people who are in authority positions from imposing something on those children that might be against their parents…”

State Rep. Ben Harrison (R-Cartwright) attempted to amend the bill, applying restrictions to any entity that receives funds from the state’s Education Trust Fund. After a brief debate, however, Harrison withdrew the amendment. He later told 1819 News that he was informed that the amendment was too vague.

Some left-leaning media outlets have called Butler’s bill the “don’t say gay” bill, the moniker given to the 2022 legislation passed in Florida. Florida legislation was allowed to go into effect after the state settled with groups that challenged the law in court. The settlement clarified specifics within a law the opposition claimed was vague. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis applauded the settlement as a victory.

State Rep. Napoleon Bracy (D-Prichard) asked Butler if he anticipated his bill being arbitrated or settled similarly to the Florida bill, suggesting that the Florida settlement was unfavorable to its original intent.

“Just like the media dubbed this bill the ‘don’t say gay bill,’ show me where it says ‘don’t say gay;’ it doesn’t say that,” Butler said. “It’s just common sense prevailed, and if you read the settlement, it’s in numerous publications, the media just jumps in with their narrative, but the reality is quite different than that.”

State Rep. Phillip Ensler (D-Montgomery) grilled Butler on the bill, saying his bill could lead to higher rates of suicide amongst LGBTQ+ students because of the legislation.

“I’m just curious how you feel hearing that your bill may lead to children committing suicide from professionals that work with children?” Ensler asked.  

“I don’t believe that would be the case whatsoever,” Butler responded. “You still would be able to go to your teacher and talk to your teacher. You wouldn’t be able to raise your hand in class and have an open discussion about what you’re going through, which I doubt is what would happen anyway.”

“What children are going to see, what’s going to come out of this is that the legislature is anti-gay or anti-LGBTQ; that’s what the headlines will be, that’s what the media will say,” Ensler retorted. “Young people will see it on their phone, and the message that sends to them is that they don’t matter in the same way that other children do. So, an indirect consequence of this bill can be the very real mental health issues that young people will face.”

Butler condemned the suggestion that his legislation was designed to target or exclude any particular student, pointing out that the bill does not prevent a student from talking to their teacher about any issue. Instead, it addresses classroom instruction.

“If a child comes to a teacher, absolutely address that,” Butler said. “This is born of love. This isn’t born of hate, and people keep trying to turn it into hate, and that really bothers me when this bill is born of love. This is a parental rights bill.”

State Rep. Neil Rafferty (D-Birmingham), the only openly gay member of the legislature, aggressively grilled Butler, telling him the ban on flags was pointless because the LGBTQ+ community would just develop new flags. Butler reiterated that students could still wear any flag or insignia desired, and the prohibition only applies to teachers.

“So, at what point would you know that you’re coming upon another insignia or symbol that would be showing a student that might be struggling, hurting, or really just trying to make the best of what they can and talk to a teacher…”

“They’d still be able to,” Butler responded.

Rafferty said, “Why would that not be a problem at that point?”.

Butler replied, "The student would still be able to talk to their teacher. The teacher would not be able to instruct on it.”

Rafferty said, “But [the teacher] wouldn’t be able to display one, to show as a kind of non-verbal signal to the students that they are a safe place to go to?”

Butler replied, “That’s correct.”

Rafferty offered an amendment specific to Butler’s claim that the bill was to prevent indoctrinating children. Rafferty’s amendment would change the bill’s language to state that a teacher could not engage in classroom discussion that was “intended to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender.” Lawmakers voted along party lines to table the amendment.

The bill ultimately passed 74-26, with one abstention. It will now go to the Senate for deliberation.

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