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South Dakota considers ban on teaching about gender identity in schools

Lawmakers in South Dakota are considering banning public school teachers from talking about gender identity in elementary and middle schools.

‘No Promo Homo’

Critics say this could target transgender people in the same way some states limit discussion of homosexuality in schools.

According to GLSEN’s public policy director Nathan Smith, South Dakota would become the first state in the nation to ban instructors from teaching about gender identity/expression, should this law pass.

GLSEN, a national organization focused on safe schools for LGBTI children, has reported that seven states have laws that forbid the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in classrooms. These laws are referred to as ‘no promo homo laws.’ The seven states that enforce them are Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas.

‘It’s maybe a little different in the way that it’s crafted and maybe a little different in the way, sort of the population that it targets, but the underlying concerns are the same for us as they would be in a traditional “no-promo-homo” law,’ Smith told The Star Tribune. ‘We think that it’s bad broadly for LGBTQ students in South Dakota.’

Students in states that have ‘no promo homo’ laws reported higher rates of bullying and less peer acceptance among LGBTI students. Students in these states also have fewer resources (such as Gay-Straight Alliances) and are less able to access relevant school health services.

South Dakota Education Department spokeswoman Mary Stadick Smith told The Star Tribune in an email that the she’s not aware of gender identity being taught in schools.

The bill

The proposed bill, S.B.160, says:

‘No instruction in gender identity or gender expression may be provided to any student in kindergarten through grade seven in any public school in the state.’

The sponsor of the bill, Republican Senator Phil Jensen, believes the issues of gender identity and expression aren’t age appropriate. He argues that these topics could ‘get in the way’ of learning other subjects.

‘I think we need to be focusing on reading, writing and arithmetic,’ he said.

Jensen has been called South Dakota’s ‘most conservative lawmaker.’ In the past, he’s compared LGBTI people to pedophiles. He was also vocal in passing a law that ensured adoption agencies could discriminate against same-sex couples looking to adopt on moral or religious grounds.

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