On Tuesday, the Education Committee of the Pennsylvania State Senate passed two anti-LGBTQ bills that community members and advocates are declaring worse than Florida’s notorious “Don’t Say Gay” laws. The bills, sponsored by State Senators Ryan Aument (R – Lancaster County) and Scott Martin (R – Lancaster County), seek to ban books that discuss LGBTQ topics from Pennsylvania public schools by labeling them as “sexually explicit” and to prevent the discussion of LGBTQ identities in the classroom.
Preston Heldibridle, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, said, “The people pushing these bills are purposefully conflating graphic pornography with children’s books that reference LGBTQ families in hopes that Pennsylvanians won’t notice. They are trying to sneak in this horrific, subversive attack on LGBTQ inclusion under the guise of reasonable limits on sexually explicit content. Those limits already exist. They cherry pick outlandish scenarios to advance categorical bans to appear like defenders of children when in reality, proponents of these bills are the ones exploiting children to further their own goals and causing irreparable harm.”
Senator Lindsey Williams (D – Allegheny County) said during debate that “this is worse” than the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. Senator Williams continued “this bill is not preventing government endorsement of beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools. It’s saying that being gay, having trans parents, having a lesbian friend, is wrong. Is less than. Is something to be ashamed of. That is wrong. This bill is imposing a belief that being straight and cisgender is quote ‘right,’ quote ‘normal.’ When you combine no definition of what can and cannot be said, with the ability of a parent to sue anyone, at any moment, that will result in adults who are supposed to keep our kids safe to stay quiet.”
Senator Martin, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, attempted to redirect the description of the bills targeted against LGBTQ Pennsylvanians stating, “We’re not talking about just statues of David… We are talking about images of young children performing oral sex on each other.” Senator Martin could not sight a single book being taught or available at Pennsylvania public schools that include such depictions.
Senator Doug Mastriano (R – Adams County), Republican nominee for Governor and known January 6th insurrectionist, stated “schools should be educating not indoctrinating, and it should not be used as a place to groom kids.”
Both bills were moved along Party line votes, with seven Republicans voting for and four Democrats voting against. The bills as written would go into effect for the coming 2022 – 2023 school year, but both face swift vetoes by Governor Wolf if they advance through the General Assembly.