JEFFERSON CITY — Dozens of Missouri residents appeared at the state Capitol on Tuesday in opposition to a bill sponsored by Rep. Chuck Basye that would allow parents to withdraw students from any activity that includes material teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity.
Under Basye’s bill, everything from club posters to class curriculum would be considered course material.
Basye, R-Rocheport, said he introduced the bill after hearing concerns about posters distributed by the student Gay/Straight Alliance Club at Gentry Middle School in Columbia. The students had posted signs defining different sexual orientations and genders.
Basye said the bill was to protect parents’ rights, and one parent testified in support. Jay Atkins, a Gentry Middle School parent who was involved in having the posters removed, said he does not have a problem with allowing students to learn about LGBTQ issues but that those issues should remain in sex education, where parents can pull out students if they so choose.
“What this language is seeking to do is to ensure that parents have the opportunity to participate in their child’s education as it relates to human sexuality,” Atkins said. “This is hardly a novel approach in the state of Missouri.”
Atkins, who was an unsuccessful candidate for Columbia Public School Board last year, was the first to testify and spoke for a little over 45 minutes. Because of a lack of time, those who testified in opposition to the bill were limited to two minutes each. Most witnesses in opposition did not have the time to testify.
Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Kansas City, cited Harvey Milk in her opposition to the bill. Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to a public office in California. Milk served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for 10 months before a former board member assassinated him. Morgan said she is concerned that if Basye’s bill were to pass, it could give parents license to remove their students from a history class talking about Milk and cause more problems within the classroom environment.
“If any LGBT student or an ally is in that class, and they know that these students are being removed because you’re teaching about an openly gay politician, that’s going to stigmatize those kids,” Morgan said. “That’s going to hurt those kids.”
Most witnesses present at the hearing opposed the bill. Danielle Meert’s son, Miles, is transgender. She said schools need to teach about gender identity as early as possible, as it is necessary for a complete education.
“I mean, they have active shooter drills starting in kindergarten, which seems super scary to me as a parent,” Meert said. “But somehow, active shooter drills are deemed less traumatizing and less scary than learning that transgender humans and LGBTQ humans exist.”
After coming out, Miles said he enjoyed school more and saw improvements in his grades because he was supported by friends and family.
Meert said the legislation was extremely displeasing. She held back tears when she explained the process of cutting down her testimony because of limited time in the hearing.
“I only had two minutes to summarize the importance of my child, but they’re trying to erase him from the curriculum,” she said.
According to PROMO, Promoting Equality for All Missourians, there are currently 15 anti-LGBTQ bills in the Missouri legislature, including one requiring student-athletes to participate in sports based on their sex, not gender. PROMO is an advocacy organization for LGBTQ equality.