More than 30 House Republicans have signed onto a bill that mimics “gay propaganda” laws being pushed in Eastern Europe and bills in various states seeking to censor information about LGBTQ issues.
The measure, introduced on Oct. 18 by U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), prohibits the use of federal funds to develop and host programs or events for children younger than 10 that contain “sexually-oriented material,” such as Drag Queen Story Hour events, which have been threatened with violence or disrupted by right-wing groups in recent months.
The bill, titled the “Stop Sexualization of Children Act,” claims that state and federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, have used federal funds to promote LGBTQ-tinged events — an occurrence that would be prohibited under the bill.
The bill says federal dollars will no longer fund programs, events, or literature that expose children younger than 10 to “nude adults,” stripping, or “lascivious dancing.”
Under the bill, “sexually-oriented material” includes depictions, descriptions or simulations of sexual acts or human genitals. But the bill also goes further, classifying any reference to, or mention of gender identity, transgender self-identification, or sexual orientation, as “sexually-oriented material,” and allows parents to sue public or private entities using federal funds to promote LGBTQ-inclusive books, materials, or programs for children.
Under this redefinition of terms, mere acknowledgment of LGBTQ identity, or even something as simple as including an LGBTQ minor character in a work of fiction, would be treated as the equivalent of pornography or crimes such as indecent exposure and sexual assault.
This is the same mentality that undergirds restrictive anti-gay laws in countries like Russia and Hungary, where violators can be punished for disseminating any information that either “promotes” homosexuality and gender-nonconformity, or presents LGBTQ-related issues in a neutral light. Critics of the legislation have also compared it to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which seeks to censor or limit discussion of LGBTQ-related content in schools in the name of “parental rights.”
Johnson said in a statement that the bill is needed to stop a “misguided crusade” led by Democrats to expose children to “sexual imagery and radical gender ideology.”
“This commonsense bill is straightforward,” he said. “No federal tax dollars should go to any federal, state, or local government agencies, or private organizations that intentionally expose children under 10 years of age to sexually explicit material.”
Currently, the bill has 32 co-sponsors, all Republicans, including many of the Congress’s better-known anti-LGBTQ voices, such as Bob Good (Va.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Debbie Lesko (Ariz.), Dan Bishop (N.C.), and Lauren Boebert (Colo.).
Under the bill, any organization found to be in violation of the law more than one time in a five-year period would lose access to federal funds for three years. Critics say this will lead libraries, bookstores, and schools, as well as other entities, to pro-actively purge or censor LGBTQ-related material for fear of running afoul of the law.
Still other opponents of the bill say it’s not a serious piece of legislation, but rather a “messaging bill” designed to stir up and entice the GOP’s socially conservative base to head to the polls and elect Republicans in November’s upcoming midterm elections.
“Extremist House Republicans like Mike Johnson are continuing their assault on LGBTQ+ Americans’ ability to live their lives openly and honestly,” David Stacy, the government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, said in a statement. “A federal ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bill — modeled after the controversial discriminatory law in Florida and aiming to drive LGBTQ+ families and teachers out of the education system — is their latest cruel attempt to stigmatize and marginalize the community, not in an attempt to solve actual problems but only to rile up their extremist base.
“All students deserve to feel safe and welcomed in schools, but politicians like Mike Johnson are using the levers of government to dictate to children, their parents, and their educators what they can read, what they can learn, what they can say and who they can be,” Stacy added. “The stakes in this election couldn’t be clearer. Will the House of Representatives continue to advance legislation like the Equality Act and the Respect for Marriage Act, or will it turn back the clock to the era of Jesse Helms and Jerry Falwell — banning books and silencing educators and sowing fear and division?”
Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, also blasted the bill as an attempt to “censor students, teachers and families in schools, public libraries, and any institution receiving federal funding.”
“Instead of joining the rising tide of acceptance and bipartisan support for LGBTQ people, members of Congress trying to score political points propose a bill filled with misinformation with the futile attempt of smearing and erasing who we are,” Ellis said in a statement. “The American people see this for what it is: a desperate and losing effort targeting the most vulnerable students, with the goal of spreading lies. Voters should take note of those wasting their tax dollars with this absurd and harmful nonsense. We need leaders who want to solve real problems, not bully innocent kids.”