Gender identity schools bill stalls in Georgia Senate

State Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele, speaks in the Senate at the Capitol in Atlanta on Wednesday, February 15, 2023. On Wednesday, March 1, 2023, the Senate Education and Youth Committee tabled his legislation, Senate Bill 88, that would have prohibited discussions about gender identity in schools without parent approval. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

State Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele, speaks in the Senate at the Capitol in Atlanta on Wednesday, February 15, 2023. On Wednesday, March 1, 2023, the Senate Education and Youth Committee tabled his legislation, Senate Bill 88, that would have prohibited discussions about gender identity in schools without parent approval. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Georgia legislation aimed at regulating classroom discussions about gender identity stalled in a committee hearing this week, undermining its odds of becoming law.

Senate Bill 88 applied to public and private schools, including private camps.

The Senate Education and Youth Committee voted to table the measure Wednesday. Under normal procedures, there is not enough time to get the bill approved for a vote by the full Senate before the “crossover day” deadline Monday.

The bill by Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele, is conceptually similar to a Florida law that critics have called “Don’t Say Gay” because of the way it censors teacher speech about sex and gender in schools.

The GOP-backed proposal originally sought to ban teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity “other than the child’s biological sex” unless they first obtained parental consent.

The amended version of the bill, which many critics hadn’t seen, mandated that school boards write policies for informing and involving parents when gender identity comes up in school — and that private schools inform them when they put it in curriculum. It would have mandated that schools use a child’s legal name on records, forcing them to ignore student requests to use a name that connotes a different gender than the one on their birth certificate.

Schools operated by religious institutions were exempted in an amended version presented Wednesday, but a religious advocate still criticized the measure. Mike Griffin, spokesman for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, testified at the Senate hearing that his group originally supported the legislation but had qualms after lawyers and activists raised concerns that it could have “dramatic unintended consequences.”

SB 88 would have made schools a less accepting place for transgender students, Christine Knox, the principal for Westchester Elementary School in Decatur, told the senators. Teachers are supposed to be an “ally and a friend” for students, and their classrooms should be “an oasis of safety,” she said. The bill would have created an “additional layer of surveillance” in schools, she added.

Summers said his bill applied only to those in charge of children younger than the age of consent. Its intent was to ensure parents were included in gender identity conversations, he said.

The bill follows a trend by GOP lawmakers in recent years who have targeted books in school libraries and classroom discussions about race. They have been pushed by activists who assert that schools are behind a “social contagion” of gender questioning that is ideologically driven.

High school and college students who have banded together in a group called the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition say it isn’t so.

“I was definitely always the way I am,” Kalei James, 17, a senior at Seckinger High in Gwinnett County, said in an interview.

University of Georgia junior Isabelle Philip said no teacher encouraged her to be queer.

“This isn’t something that you get indoctrinated into,” she said. “People are just born like this.”

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