This story originally published online at NC Policy Watch.
Parents, teachers, and the ACLU of North Carolina criticized a controversial bill moving through the state Senate that would require schools tell parents if their children want to use different names or pronouns at school.
Called the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” Senate bill 49 mirrors proposed legislation the Senate approved last year, with a few changes. Instruction on gender identity, sexuality, and sexual activity would be prohibited in kindergarten through fourth grade.
Last year’s bill did not get a hearing in the House, but the bill would have an easier time this year overcoming a potential veto.
The bill contains a list of information to which parents would be entitled, and ways they should be able to obtain it. For example, schools would have to provide information online about textbooks and other instructional materials used in classrooms and establish ways for parents to object to them.
“Parents do not surrender their children to government schools for indoctrination opposed to the family’s values,” said Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican and one of the bill’s main sponsors.
The provision that drew the most fire was the requirement for schools to out LGBTQ students to their parents.
Schools telling parents about name or pronoun changes before the students are ready could compromise students’ safety, some of the bill’s opponents told the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee on Wednesday.
“Many students feel comfortable changing their names and pronouns at school, but may not feel as comfortable doing so at home, due to possible lack of support from their parents,” said high school junior Callum Bradford.
“Notifying parents of their child’s name or pronoun change before the child is ready to tell them directly leaves us more vulnerable and unprotected,” Bradford said. “Many LGBTQ students are already terrified to come out to their family or friends. And this bill only adds an extra obstacle for them. We deserve supportive environments where we can be safe and learn to be social.”
The NC Family Policy Council and the NC Values Coalition, two conservative organizations, support the bill.
Schools withholding information about children changing their name or pronouns “is a breech of trust and violation of a parent’s right to know,” said John Rustin, president and executive director of the Family Policy Council.
But most of the public comments were in opposition. Ann Webb, senior policy counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina, said the right to informational privacy extends to students at school.
“Students have a constitutional right to share or withhold information about their sexual orientation or gender identity from their parents, teachers or other parties,” she said.
“This bill undermines certain children’s safety and is ultimately a part of a national campaign to erase the existence of LGBT students and adults.”
A number of states have passed, are considering, or have implemented anti-LGBTQ laws and policies.
Critics of Senate bill 49 call it North Carolina’s version Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.
States have or are considering laws banning gender-affirming medical care for minors.
Eighteen states have passed laws prohibiting transgender student athletes from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity, according to MAP.
Jack Turnwald, a trans nonbinary former public school teacher, told the committee they watched queer youth suffer in schools.
“It is unsafe at present to be a trans educator or student in hostile states like ours,” they said.
“This bill perpetuates the harm of silencing queer youth and keeping communities ignorant instead of providing the information necessary for folks to understand and support one another. Under the guise of parental rights you are trying to criminalize queerness. You want your children to share their pronouns and come out to you rather than legislating educators to traumatically out them? Try creating an inclusive environment at home that supports your child’s safety.”
At a news conference before the committee meeting, Galey raised the possibility that a Durham Public School policy may violate the bill’s provisions.
“There may be some kind of shielding of parents knowing about the child’s name or pronouns at school,” she said.
The Durham County Board of Education approved a policy last year supporting LGBTQ students that acknowledges some students’ concerns about telling parents.
“In some cases, transgender students may not want their parents to know about their transgender status,” the Durham policy says. “These situations must be addressed on a case-by-case basis and will require schools to balance the goal of supporting students with the requirement that parents be kept informed about their children. The paramount consideration in such situations is the health and safety of the student.”
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