Missouri’s SB134 passed out of the committee last week and will be debated on Senate floor, getting closer to prohibiting public or charter schools from discussing gender and sexuality with their students.
There were 340 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced this year alone, said HRC’s State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley during a press release on Feb. 15. According to the ACLU’s map of anti-LGBTQ legislative attacks, Missouri is the second leading state with most proposed anti-LGBTQ bills, having introduced 31 bills—three bills short of Oklahoma, at 34.
Missouri is amongst several other states recently proposing a bill reminiscent of what critics call “Don’t Say Gay” bill, following the lead of Florida, who signed it into law in March of last year. While Florida’s prohibition of gender and sexuality discussions in school applies to teachers of kindergarten through third grade, Missouri’s bill impacts all grade levels.
Regarding other consequences of the bill, Justice Horn finds the potential banning of Gay-Straight/Genders & Sexualities Alliance (GSA) clubs in schools because of SB134 to be alarming. Horn is the Board Director of the Jackson County Children’s Services Fund and the Chair of Kansas City’s LGBTQ Commission, Missouri’s first and only LGBTQ commission created to advance LGBTQ people across Kansas City.
“[The LGBTQ community in Missouri is] barely surviving at it as it is,” Horn said. “To take what little we have, especially our young people [is worrisome].”
Introduced by Republican senator, Mike Moon, SB134 is part of the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, which outlaws school officials from “encouraging” students under eighteen to “adopt” a gender identity or sexual orientation.
In addition, teachers are required to disclose to parents within 24 hours if their children are questioning their gender or sexuality in class or requesting to use a different name or pronoun than what the parents registered their children with. According to the bill, an exception to such discussions is permitted if they are facilitated by a licensed mental health provider, along with parental permission.
Per the penalties of SB134, if a teacher is revealed to the school for violating the bill, the school district has power to suspend or revoke the teacher’s license to teach based upon charges of “incompetence, immorality, or neglect of duty.” In addition, the bill would set up the school district and the educator to be sued by the state or a private party.
Despite Kansas City scoring a 100 the past two years on the Human Rights Campaign’s Munipical Equality Index—a tool designed to inform municipal officials, policy makers and business leaders on how well cities across the U.S. implement LGBTQ inclusion in their laws, policies, and services—the rest of Missouri lives “20, 30 years in the past,” according to Horn, who tells Reckon that for those in the state outside of Kansas City, especially queer Black people like him, “[bills like SB134] really does put a target on your back.”
Because public or charter school officials are mandated to disclose their students’ discoveries and journeys of gender and sexuality to their parents, SB134 could potentially out students to unsupportive families against the students’ wishes. As a result, the fear of being outed to families could take away any trust students have with their school officials, from nurses to guidance counselors and especially teachers.
The Missouri bill is “extremely detrimental” to the student and teacher relationship that is typically fostered in school, according to Robert Fischer—the Director of Communications for PROMO, Missouri’s LGBTQ public policy and advocacy organization—who told Reckon that teachers are often a confidante for students seeking to share their hopes and dreams throughout their academic career on a regular basis.
“If you talk to any teacher, [they will tell you that] they hear so many stories regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation of how hopeful kids are about their hopes and dreams,” Fischer said. “My mom, for instance, was a teacher for 45 years and those stories stick with her every single day. She wonders where some of [the kids she taught] are,” Fischer said.
Although Fischer believes LGBTQ students have an added layer of complexity when it comes to sharing their lives with parents and school officials, “[LGBTQ] kids want to tell their parents,” Fisher continued. “They want to share this part of their lives with them. They just don’t know how their parents will react.”
On Feb. 7, when Sen. Moon first introduced the bill, he was questioned on whether straight teachers were allowed to discuss their heterosexual relationships, as it was unclear to other Senators what the real intention behind his bill was.
The bigger picture
To residents of Missouri, the reasoning behind the bill might be more than just an attempt to “protect” young people from LGBTQ discussions.
“I think this bill and others like it are attempts by state representatives who are hellbent on restoring white male supremacy and quasi theocratic control to maintain relevance amidst a national movement towards true progress and inclusion of LGBTQ people,” said Imije Ninaz, the founder of Nafasi TransCare Collective, a Black trans-led communal healing and wellness organization based in Western Missouri.
According to Ninaz, who is a native Missourian who has lived in the state for over 30 years, bills like SB134 are a political tactic and a “classic play in a narcissistic system” for conservatives to band together via targeting and isolating a group that is already disempowered as scapegoats.
“It’s really sad that other groups don’t realize that this same ideology eventually comes around to harm everyone,” Ninaz said. “When mutli-marginalized people are in danger, everyone is in danger.”
Bill Stephens, the chair of the Missouri Democratic Party LGBTQ caucus and the 12th Ward Alderman in the city of St. Louis said that because teachers are considered ‘in loco parentis’ or ‘in place of parents’ both in culture and law, “educators are integral to the functioning of our society because they, in part, help to raise our generations and help to raise our kids.”
In 1969′s Tinker v. Des Moines, a case about students’ in-school protests of the Vietnam War, the Supreme Court ruling stated that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” According to Ald. Stephens, SB134 is a direct attack on this ruling as well as the ‘in loco parentis’ law as it disrupts the trust created between educators and students.
“I think it’s high time that the Missouri legislature—both the House and the Senate—take a moment to review these landmark cases [and] review the Constitution, and to review their own humanity in light of what we are so strongly and so ardently telling them is dangerous into pieces of legislation,” Ald. Stephens said.
How to get involved
To learn more about how you can support LGBTQ rights in Missouri and in general, Ald. Stephens recommends calling elected officials, not only because it is personal, but because it puts you on the record of having stated your piece. “It incumbent upon us, as the citizens of the state of Missouri, to determine and decide if we are okay with [these anti-LGBTQ legislations],” he said. “And if we are not, then we need to collectively work to make Missouri better.”
The state of Missouri’s motto is: let the welfare of the people be supreme law. At the end of the day, according to Ald. Stephens, “the LGBTQ community wants to protect children, too.”