House Bill 1608: Indiana Legislative Update

LGBTQIA+ issues are front and center in this legislative session in Indiana. This past Monday, February 20th, 2023, the House Education Committee heard House Bill 1608. The bill, known by many as a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, is attracting the attention of many Hoosiers for being similar to anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in Florida.

Bill author Representative Michelle Davis’s (R) intention of the bill is to give parents control over the discussion of gender and sexual orientation in the classroom. The original bill, entitled sexual orientation and gender identity instruction, prohibited teachers and other school staff members from providing instruction to kindergarten through third-grade students on various topics, including gender identity and sexual orientation. However, the bill underwent notable changes following the passage of multiple amendments on Monday.

New Provisions of House Bill 1608

 House Bill 1608 now utilizes the phrase, “human sexuality instruction,” taking out the specific prohibited topics in the original bill. These topics included gender identification, gender fluidity, and sexual orientation. Another new provision of the bill is section 3. Under section 3, only certain students are allowed to be addressed by pronouns or a name inconsistent with their birth certificate. These students are adults, emancipated minors, and children whose parents make a written request granting the school permission. Teachers will be required to report any request for a name or pronoun change from a child outside of these groups. This requirement is under section 4 of the Bill. However, section 5 of the bill creates a loophole in the parental permission provision. Schools would not have the authority to discipline staff members for failing to address students by their preferred names. 

Concerns of Hoosiers

These new provisions have raised several concerns for young Hoosiers and their parents. Trans youth whose parents refuse to consent to a name or pronoun change will be the most impacted. As a result, teachers will be unable to address students by their preferred names. If students request a name change, school employees will report the request to their parents under section 4. Those against the bill said this would force teachers and school staff to “out” their students.

Additionally, section 5 of House Bill 1608 has come under scrutiny. Section 5 runs in direct contrast to the parental permission provision. It states that schools do not have the authority to discipline staff members for choosing to address students by their legal names rather than their preferred names. The bill authors asserted that this provision was necessary to protect teachers’ First Amendment religious rights. However, critics argue this provision is contradictory. Although the author’s goal is to protect parental rights in education, House Bill 1608 would make it permissible to ignore a parent’s wishes. A school staff member with religious objections would have no obligation to call a student by names or pronouns approved by their parents.

What’s Next for HB 1608?

House Bill 1608 passed through its second and third readings on Wednesday and Thursday. So what happens next? Now the bill advances to the Senate. There are possibilities for it to undergo additional amendments through committee hearings. If House Bill 1608 passes through the Senate, Governor Holcomb will have to sign or veto it for it to become law.

Taking a Stand

If you feel strongly about supporting LGBTQIA+ youth in Indiana, it is essential for you to get involved. A great place to start is the Indiana General Assembly’s website. You can read the bill text in its entirety, find out how to contact your legislators, and view the schedule for future bill hearings if you wish to testify.

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