Saturday, June 25, 2022

Parental rights or ‘Don’t Say Gay’? Sen. Lee behind bill that’s concerning the LGBTQ community

A protestor holds the sign “Protect Trans Youth” at a June 2021 New Hanover County Board of Education meeting. (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — A controversial bill drafted in part by a Cape Fear senator is headed to the North Carolina House. The majority of the proposed legislation focuses on promoting schools’ transparency with parents, but two critical provisions are firing up LGBTQ activists.

House Bill 755, if enacted, would prohibit teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third-grade classes, the 5-to-7 age range. It would also require schools to notify parents prior to changing pronouns used for a student of any age, either in official records or by teachers and staff.

The bill has been bestowed two names: Authors entitled it the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” but opponents often refer to it as North Carolina’s own version of “Don’t Say Gay.”

“I think a question we all need to be asking ourselves too — if you’re thinking who’s going to vote for or against — why would anyone really be opposed to a parent knowing what’s going on in their kid’s classroom?” Sen. Deanna Ballard, of Watauga County, questioned at a May 25 press conference as she introduced the bill.

Many opponents view the bill as an attack on the LGBTQ community, with the potential to “out” youth to not-always-accepting parents. Pressed by reporters about this possibility, North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger recited parents have “the right to know.”

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to veto the bill if passed by the House.

Executive Director Caroline Morin-Gage, of the LGBTQ Center of the Cape Fear Coast, called the bill harmful and said it creates a nonexistent problem since K-3 curriculum does not include gender identity or sexuality topics.

“This is, sort of, creation of a boogeyman,” Morin-Gage said. “Also, LGBTQ people are parents, LGBTQ people are students. So it’s not like there aren’t LGBTQ folks in grades K through three or who are parents, who also have rights, at our schools. This doesn’t protect anybody. And, again, just another framework to ostracize and harass LGBTQ folks.”

As chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Michael Lee worked with co-chair Ballard and Berger, also Republicans, on the draft. The New Hanover County senator said the bill differs from the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida that originally sparked both criticism and a wave of copycat legislation as state representatives filed similar proposals across the nation, from Alabama to Ohio.

He added it does not prevent anyone from speaking about these issues if they naturally come up in classroom discussions. Lee gave the example that teachers could talk about their same-sex spouses or students could talk about having two moms or two dads.

“It simply prevents these topics from being embedded as part of the curriculum,” Lee said. “We need to have age-appropriate instruction that focuses on reading, math and science with these young students . . . especially given the learning loss resulting from the pandemic.”

In addition to the LGBTQ components, the bill outlines pathways for families to retrieve documentation on the curriculum — including textbooks and other materials — and information about their children’s mental health and well-being.

​​Berger indicated this desire for improved transparency stems from the pandemic and at-home learning when parents got a closer look at their children’s education.

“We all took for granted the rights we thought parents had,” Berger said.

To receive curriculum information, parents would file a request first with the principal and then go through the school superintendent if unsatisfied after a certain amount of time, up to 20 days. If the concern persists, the parent would be heard before the school board for a final decision.

Regarding mental health, a parent could contact the principal to receive that information. If concerns are left unaddressed after 30 days, the family could either request a hearing before the State Board of Education or file a lawsuit.

During the May press conference, Lee said the legislation only enumerates the rights parents may feel they already have, but Morin-Gage argues that’s why this bill appears to be a way to score “cheap political points.”

“It’s disappointing that any legislator would draft this type of legislation or promote this type of legislation,” she said. “We have so many issues in North Carolina that our legislators could be addressing. We have homeless children. We have people who are not getting enough food. We have a medical system that needs significant overhaul when it comes to public funding. So, I really wish our legislators would get to work solving our actual problems.”


Reach journalist Alexandria Sands at alexandria@localdailymedia.com or @alexsands_

Want to read more from PCD? Subscribe now and then sign up for our newsletter, Wilmington Wire, and get the headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.

Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at alexandria@localdailymedia.com or on Twitter @alexsands_

Related Articles