By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Wyoming lawmakers are proposing a bill titled “Parental Rights In Education” that would forbid public-school staffers from teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation to children ages kindergarten through third grade.
Senate File 117 also mandates that teachers use age-appropriate teaching for LGBTQ-themed topics after third grade, as set by Wyoming Board of Education standards. It would require schools to inform parents of changes to their child’s mental, emotional or physical health, and of the school’s treatment of that child based on those factors.
The language mirrors Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act passed last year, which many detractors labelled the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Bill sponsor Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, told Cowboy State Daily the name isn’t a good fit.
“It’s parental rights,” said Dockstader. “It’s just based on that – nothing more.”
Dockstader said he hasn’t seen or heard of specific incidents of teachers teaching LGBTQ-themed lessons to young students in Wyoming, but is sponsoring this bill so that the rights of parents are preserved “in the long run.”
One effect the bill could have is to compel schools to alert parents if students are presenting as transgender and teachers are referring to them by new pronouns. But it contains an exemption: schools would not have to alert parents if there’s a reasonable belief that the student will be neglected or abused as a result.
Dockstader said he expects teachers would be “the first to know” if children are experiencing home abuse.
‘Extreme And Insane’
A top Wyoming LGBTQ advocate told Cowboy State Daily she believes the bill is unnecessary.
“We’ve haven’t seen any call for it,” said Sara Burlingame, executive director of Wyoming Equality. “It whips folks up, puts a target on the backs of educators and for what?”
She said the provision requiring schools to alert parents is unnecessary because schools often have policies in place requiring them to discuss changes with parents except in abuse cases.
Burlingame referenced teachers and other detractors who have said Florida’s matching bill – now a law – marginalizes students and muzzles teachers. She said teachers have complained that when children with gay or lesbian parents want to bring their parents to school parents’ days and other events, the teachers can’t address other students’ questions about those family configurations.
“You can’t acknowledge that those parents exist,” said Burlingame. “It’s extreme and it’s insane.”
She also characterized the bill as “alienating” to children and “cruel,” but she said she has a high opinion of Dockstader and she thinks he merely “hasn’t thought through why he would bring such a cruel bill.”
Burlingame said if the bill passes, it could deter families from coming to Wyoming and could make LGTBQ people feel unsafe.
“If some legislators think you need to be straight to move to Wyoming, I guess they should let us know that,” she said.
‘Value Of A Family’
Nathan Winters, president of Wyoming Family Alliance, has an opposite opinion of Dockstader’s bill.
“Every child is best served when the people who love them the most are involved with them, (when those) who brought them into the world are able to walk with them through life,” said Winters, adding that parents should be informed about what’s occurring in their children’s education. “People who detract from that don’t understand the value of a family.”
Winters said the exemption for schools dealing with abusive families shows “the thoughtfulness and the carefulness of this legislation.”
Unlike Dockstader, Winters said he has heard anecdotally of teachers teaching young students LGBTQ themes, but said it’s not widespread practice in Wyoming.
He also countered Burlingame’s school scenario, saying that teachers can easily advise their curious students who are asking about a classmate’s two mothers to broach the subject with their own parents.
“Again, affirming the role of parents in that conversation (is) the point that is held high” by the bill, he said.