Republicans push anti-LGBTQ+ bill in Pennsylvania that ‘goes further’ than ‘Don’t Say Gay’

Several people hold up LGBTQ+ Pride and trans Pride flags

Republican state lawmakers are rallying behind newly introduced anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that would ‘go further’ than Florida’s reviled ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law. 

GOP politicians held a rally at the Pennsylvania state capitol Tuesday (20 September) to introduce House Bill 2813. The bill shares similarities with Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, which bans discussions of LGBTQ+ topics in classrooms between kindergarten and third grade. 

Pennsylvania state representative Stephanie Borowicz, the bill’s primary sponsor, said HB 2813 is “patterned” on the Florida legislation but actually “goes further” than the other measure, according to PennLive

The bill states that any public or charter school “may not offer instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity to a student in kindergarten through fifth grade”. 

It would also require schools to notify parents of “health care services offered by the school entity” to students. The legislation would also allow parents to bring civil action against schools that they believe are violating the measure. 

Borowicz added she believed the bill could be extended further in the future and wanted to ban classroom discussions on LGBTQ+ topics through high school. 

“It really needs to be protected up through 12th grade, we need to go all the way,” she said. 

However, the bill is unlikely to pass into law as Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf has already promised to veto HB 2813 and other ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills if they land on his desk. 

Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf speaks at a podium

Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf has promised to veto HB 2813 as he says it “denies humanity by reinforcing homophobic ideologies”. (Getty)

Wolf wanted lawmakers in the state to focus on the real issues facing Pennsylvanians rather than “engaging in discrimination and bullying”, WHTM reported. 

“HB 2813 is an effort to scorch individuality and normalise unacceptance,” Wolf said. “This legislation denies humanity by reinforcing homophobic ideologies.”

Sharon Ward, senior policy advisor for the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, warned this bill – like other ‘Don’t Say Gay’ measures – could “really add to the existing targeting and bullying of LGBTQ kids in schools”. 

“The intent of these bills seems to be to wipe out any discussion and pretend that [LGBTQ people] don’t exist,” Ward said.

Pennsylvania lawmakers in the state Senate passed a similar bill, Senate Bill 1278, in June and currently awaits consideration in the House. 

SB 1278 would also ban classroom discussions of LGBTQ+ topics for pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students. Instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity would also be prohibited between sixth and twelfth grade unless it is done in an “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate” manner. 

Several people hold up LGBTQ+ Pride flags during a protest

Campaigners have denounced the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills as they attempt to “wipe out any discussion and pretend that [LGBTQ people] don’t exist”. (Getty)

The Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs described SB 1278 as a “copy-paste version of Florida’s discriminatory ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill that would harm students and set back human rights” in the state.

Rafael Álvarez Febo, executive director of the LGBTQ Affairs Commission, said the bill is a “cruel attempt to politicise” queer people and “deny their humanity” to “score cheap political points”. 

“We at the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs know that the guise of calling LGBTQ people and topics ‘age inappropriate’ is really just fearmongering,” Febo said. 

Febo continued: “Bills like these will cause LGBTQ teachers to have to conceal their identities and strip any resources available for LGBTQ youth out of schools. 

“Even more alarming, these bills have emboldened far-right hate groups to mobilise to commit violence against LGBTQ people.”

Wolf has promised to veto both HB 2318 and SB 1278, but the bills await an uncertain future as Pennsylvania will have a new governor next year. 

The Republican running for office, state senator Doug Mastriano, voted in favour of SB 1278. He described the anti-LGBTQ+ measure as a way to “empower parents” to ensure children aren’t exposed to so-called “sexually explicit materials and bizarre discussions about gender identity”.

Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general, has openly opposed the measure. Shapiro’s campaign spokesperson said the state legislature needed to stop “wasting time and taxpayer dollars on these attempts to bully LGBTQ Pennsylvanians”