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Oklahoma House Republicans advance so-called 'Don't Say Gay' education bill

 The Oklahoma House of Representatives
Jamie Glisson
The Oklahoma House of Representatives

The Oklahoma House of Representatives moved to ban classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity Tuesday with the passage of a bill that uses nearly identical language to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” Bill.

House Bill 2546 by Rep. Terry O’Donnell (R-Catoosa) goes further than the Florida bill, which bans any classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for kindergarten through third grade. Oklahoma’s expands that to pre-K through fifth grade, and after fifth grade, any instruction on orientation or gender must be age or developmentally appropriate.

O’Donnell said the measure is intended to protect the rights of parents to make decisions for their children in public schools.

“I guess it's kind of crazy these days we have to run a bill in the state House of Representatives, maybe in the Senate, that says we're not going to teach sexual orientation or gender identity to three-year-old kids,” O’Donnell said. “But that's the world, I guess, that we live in today. Some people have trouble identifying a girl and what is a boy. So here we are.” 

House Democrats brought up several contentions with the measure, saying the wording is too vague as it lacks any enforcement mechanism, it doesn’t define “classroom instruction,” and it’s “cookie cutter legislation” derived from nationalized political rhetoric.

“The author even mentioned, Mr. Speaker, that this legislation isn’t as restrictive as the bills that we have seen across the country, which again, just confirms my point that it’s just cookie cutter legislation. It is rhetoric,” said Rep. Cyndi Munson (D-Oklahoma City), House Minority Leader. “It is just for us to have these conversations, to have the cameras turned on us. We’ve talked a lot about rhetoric and political theater in this building… where we’re saying we’re going to allow teachers to have guns in their classroom. We had members from across the aisle who said, ‘You don’t trust teachers.’ Well, now I say, no, you don’t trust teachers.”

Munson also spoke on the potential harm to queer Oklahomans.

“There is harm that will be done to our teachers and what happens in our classrooms. But most importantly, it harms LGBTQ Oklahomans,” Munson said. “I think you, Mr. Speaker, deep in your heart and your soul, you know that has a negative impact on friends that we know, people we love, people in our lives. I have friends who are teachers who are in same-sex marriages. I have friends who have adopted children. They should be able to talk about their families. They should be able to feel safe being who they are.”

The bill can now be heard in the Senate.

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Beth Wallis