LGBTQ Affairs Commission, Stakeholders Denounce Legislation to Bring Discriminatory “Don’t Say Gay” Bill to PA

June 22, 2022

Today, the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs and education and youth advocates denounced Senate Bill 1278, a copy-paste version of Florida’s discriminatory “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would harm students and set back human rights in Pennsylvania.

The LGBTQ Affairs Commission firmly opposes Senate Bill 1278, which was introduced on Friday, June 10, ​was approved yesterday along party lines by the Senate Education Committee and now heads to the full Senate for consideration. 

“Pennsylvania was founded on the basis of inclusion, and the Wolf Administration has fought to ensure that Pennsylvania will continue to be a state that welcomes and protects all of its residents,” said Rafael Álvarez Febo, executive director of the LGBTQ Affairs Commission. “This bill, which was introduced in the middle of Pride Month, is a cruel attempt to politicize LGBTQ people and deny their humanity in order 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. 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 mobilize to commit violence against LGBTQ people.

“While Pennsylvanians are struggling with very real issues such as gun violence, soaring prices and underfunded schools, the General Assembly has chosen to pick on LGBTQ children and teachers to score political points. This is deeply wrong and would have long-reaching consequences for our schools and human rights in Pennsylvania.”

Advocates for schools and children in Pennsylvania joined the commission to decry the discriminatory, politically-motivated legislation:

“I have serious concerns about any effort aimed at censoring educators and preventing them from valuing, affirming, and supporting students and their families because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said ​Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA​) President Rich Askey. “Lawmakers should focus on the very real challenges facing our public schools right now, including reducing substitute and teacher shortages, hiring more mental health professionals in our schools, keeping our schools safe, and passing a state budget that properly funds public education. Educators spend their lives teaching and supporting their students. We don’t need politicians telling us how to do our jobs.”

“When we don’t talk about these normal aspects of human diversity, it sends the message that being different is wrong; this puts children who are already aware of their difference at risk and teaches all children to marginalize their classmates,” said Katharine Dalke, MD, a psychiatrist who works with adolescents and young adults. “Psychologists and educators have developed age-appropriate tools for talking about different kinds of families, relationships, and identities without talking about sex. If we want to raise the next generation of Pennsylvanians to be happy and healthy, we must teach acceptance — not discrimination.”

“I was 11 years old when I first came out. I was scared when I realized that I was gay, since my home environment wasn’t the most affirming place,” said Freddy Pernell, commissioner for the LGBTQ Affairs Commission. “I was lucky that my school had a variety of experts and out teachers who I could go to for advice. These LGBTQ teachers became mentors that were crucial to my development into the person I am today. Efforts to keep conversations about identity out of schools will only hurt kids who are trying to come to discover who they really are.”

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