NC bill banning LGBTQ issues from curricula for youngest students gets first hearing

Just hours after state Senate Republicans first released it to the public, the state's proposed Parents' Bill of Rights had its first public hearing Wednesday.

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Laura Leslie
, WRAL capitol bureau chief
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Senate lawmakers held their first hearing Wednesday on what some are calling the state's version of a Florida law that critics referred to as "Don't Say Gay" legislation.

North Carolina House Bill 755 would ban any mention of sexual orientation or gender identity from the curriculum in kindergarten through third grade.

Sponsor Sen. Deanna Ballard said those issues have no place in K-3 curriculum. But she stressed that it's more narrowly tailored than Florida's law, which says classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity “may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3.”

"Like, if a teacher has a partner, we're not stifling organic conversation that can happen in the classroom," Ballard, R-Watauga, told the Senate Education committee. "What we're revisiting is actual curriculum and instruction on this topic for K-3 children. That's really an appropriate discussion for 5-, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds to be having at home with their family and their parents."

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri criticized the bill, saying it "can certainly be interpreted as sending a signal from North Carolina that our state is not welcoming."

Chaudhuri, D-Wake, also questioned the timing of the bill's first hearing, just one day after the massacre of 19 students at a Texas elementary school.

"As a parent, I would hope that each and every one of us in this room would set aside this legislation and do something that addresses every parent's worst fear today, that our kids can be shot dead in school," he said.

Chairman Michael Lee, R- New Hanover, another primary sponsor, accused Chaudhuri of using the tragedy for political gain. He said the bill has nothing to do with school violence.

"This is about not teaching 5-, 6-, 7-, 8-year-olds things that are not age-appropriate. This is about parents having the opportunity to participate in their children's lives," he told Chaudhuri.

While Senate Republicans repeatedly highlighted the parts of the bill focused on the early grades, much less was said about the major consequences it could have for older students. And teachers and schools could face lawsuits for violating it.

Under the bill, schools would have to notify parents if a student asks to use a different name or different pronouns to describe themselves. They would also have to let parents know if a student is seeing an in-school counselor, or if there's any change in a student's mental, physical or emotional well being.

It would also ban health care providers from providing any health care, even mental health services, to minors without parental consent, except in an emergency. Violators could be fined $5,000.

Pat Blackburn, a coordinator with conservative group Moms for Liberty, was one of several public speakers in favor of the bill. She said parents have a right to be more involved in students' lives than schools seem willing to permit.

"They're being given instruction that often violates are our deeply held beliefs," Blackburn told the committee. "They are being counseled in secret and encouraged to hide important parts of their lives from us."

Sebastian King, a representative of the NC Values Coalition, said the bill empowers parents "to set guidelines on age appropriateness."

Speaking against the bill, Renee Sekel, a founder of Save Our Schools NC, told lawmakers that she went to a teacher about being abused as a child. When her teacher called her parents about it, the abuse increased.

"If you force schools to tell parents what children disclose to them, you will harm children," Sekel said in tears. "I was trapped. I had nowhere to turn."

That also worries Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

"We know that not every child that goes to school has a caring adult," Kelly told WRAL News. "And so sometimes, that classroom teacher, that school employee is that caring adult. What this bill would require teachers to do could potentially harm these students."

"We continue to know that parents and educators are united around our public schools," Kelly said. "What we really need to see in this short session is bills about funding, bills about school safety, not bills that try to pit teachers and parents against each other."

National LGBTQ youth advocacy group the Trevor Project also weighed in. “Every young LGBTQ person deserves to attend a school that provides an inclusive, affirmative environment, without fear that they may be forced out of the closet or have their identities erased altogether," said Sam Ames, the group's director of advocacy.

Ames said LGBTQ students in affirming schools have a lower rate of attempted suicide than those in other schools.

Late in the day, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signaled his opposition to the bill. “The last thing our state needs is another Republican political ploy like the bathroom bill which hurt our people and cost us jobs," he said in a statement, referring to a controversial measure signed by former Gov. Pat McCrory that required people to use the restroom of the gender assigned at their birth at public schools and government buildings, prompting several organizations to cancel big events or major expansions in the state. "So let’s keep the 'Don’t Say Gay' culture wars out of North Carolina classrooms.”

After passing the Senate education committee Wednesday, the bill is scheduled to be heard again Thursday in the Senate health care committee.

Asked by WRAL whether House Republicans will support the bill, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said he had not read the bill. He said he supports some of the general ideas and said parents have a right to know what’s happening with their children. He also said any discussion of sexuality needs to be age-appropriate, and it doesn’t seem appropriate for children in kindergarten through third grade.

“Teach them to spell, teach them to do math,” he said. “Why get into those issues?”

WRAL State Government Reporter Travis Fain contributed to this article.


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