Education , Culture & the Family
Ray Carter | March 21, 2023
House advances ban on sex-ed and transgender lessons
By an overwhelming margin, members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives have voted to prohibit classroom lessons on sexual orientation or gender identity in Oklahoma elementary schools.
“The spirit of the bill is to prevent discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity outside of parents’ knowledge,” said state Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa.
House Bill 2546, by O’Donnell, states, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity shall not occur in kindergarten through grade five or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”
Democrats opposed the bill, claiming that teachers would flee Oklahoma if prohibited from discussing those topics with young children, and that other adults would follow them.
“Today I heard from a teacher in Little Axe. We’re losing an educator to Missouri because she’s concerned that legislation like exactly this bill are discouraging to educators, particularly ones who, like her, are bisexual,” said state Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa. “We’re facing an enormous teacher shortage and every year we seem to put more onuses on our educators.”
Waldron also suggested the legislation would make it illegal for a pre-K teacher to have students lined up in boys’ and girls’ lines for bathroom breaks since “we can’t talk about gender.”
State Rep. Mauree Turner, D-Oklahoma City, said, “Bills like this create a hostile school environment that is also bound in censorship.”
Turner also suggested teachers should be discussing sexual orientation and gender identity with children to counter the influence of their parents, saying that 2SLGBTQ+ children are “kicked out of their homes because of people, parents, who write and support legislation like this.”
(2SLGBTQ+ is an acronym that stands for Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning and additional sexual orientations and gender identities.)
“Oklahomans are leaving,” Turner said. “Educators are leaving. Doctors are leaving. Students and families are leaving. Because they are afraid to live in a state with legislators like this.”
“Oklahomans are leaving Oklahoma because of this kind of legislation,” said state Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa.
But O’Donnell said he had discussed the legislation with teachers in his district and “they didn’t see a problem with it because they weren’t instructing on sexual orientation and gender identity issues in pre-K through five.”
“If we have teachers in this state that are interested in teaching sexual orientation and sexual identity to three- and four-year-old kids, we’ve got another problem on our hands,” O’Donnell said.
Although the bill’s opponents suggested HB 2546 and other measures like it are causing a mass exodus from the state of Oklahoma, recent population trends have shown otherwise and the state is attracting more new residents than it is losing.
A recent report by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), based on United States Postal Service change-of-address data, showed that more people moved to Oklahoma in 2022 than all but nine other states.
The 10 states experiencing the largest domestic net migration were Florida, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Arizona, Idaho, Alabama, and Oklahoma. In contrast, 24 states experienced a net loss in domestic migration.
The report showed that 26,791 people moved to Oklahoma in 2022, the same year that state lawmakers voted to restrict access to school bathrooms based on sex, prohibited males from competing against girls as transgender athletes in women’s sporting events, and made it illegal for officials at the Oklahoma Children’s Hospital at OU Health to provide children with puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones or perform sex-reassignment surgeries on minors.
That continued a trend previously noted in data from the U.S. Census Bureau that showed population growth in Oklahoma outpaced most of the nation from July 2020 to July 2021, driven primarily by an influx of people moving to Oklahoma from other states.
However, state Rep. Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City, said the mere discussion of any limit on what teachers can discuss with young children is detrimental.
“It is harmful,” Munson said. “Whether this bill goes all the way through the Senate and whether the governor signs it or not, the conversations that are had, the spirit behind the legislation, harms Oklahomans, and not just children.”
O’Donnell countered that the bill simply puts “the parents in charge of what their children are exposed to at school.”
“I’ve heard in debate arguments made that this kind of legislation ‘creates a hostile environment.’ ‘Teachers are leaving,’” O’Donnell said. “But nobody has explained to me, or anyone else, how not discussing sexual orientation or gender identity creates any type of a hostile environment. It doesn’t. It doesn’t discriminate against anything.”
HB 2546 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 79-19 vote that broke along party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition. The bill now proceeds to the Oklahoma Senate.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.