Missouri Senators debate bill barring discussion of sexual orientation, gender identity in school

Unlike the so-called ‘don’t say gay’ law passed last year in Florida, the legislation being considered in Missouri impacts all grade levels

By: - February 7, 2023 12:04 pm

State Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, introduces his bill opponents are labeling a "Don't Say Gay" bill before the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee Tuesday. A thick stack of witness forms sits on the desk. (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent)

Republican state Sen. Mike Moon was adamant Tuesday that his bill  to prohibit teachers from talking about sexual orientation or gender identity is not a “don’t say gay” bill. 

But to Sen. Greg Razer, a Kansas City Democrat and the chamber’s only openly gay member, the label Moon chose for his bill didn’t matter. The policy he is trying to advance, Razer said, is “the most disrespectful bill I’ve ever seen in my seven years in this building.”

“It’s hard not to take it personally,” Razer said during Tuesday’s Senate Education and Workforce Development hearing. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt more disrespected by a single piece of legislation than this one.”

Moon’s bill is similar to one passed last year in Florida that received national attention. Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” law restricts classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 that goes beyond what the law defines as “developmentally appropriate.” 

The Missouri version is broader, impacting public and charter schools from grades K-12 and only allowing discussion of gender or sexual orientation by a licensed mental health provider with parental permission.

Moon titled his legislation the “Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act” after his belief that “exposure creates confusion.” During Tuesday’s hearing, he told a story of an unnamed student who allegedly was counseled regarding gender identity or sexual orientation and had suicidal thoughts.

It is not clear from Moon’s story whether suicidal ideation was an effect of counseling, another environmental factor or mental illness.

A full Senate Lounge waits to testify during a Senate Education and Workforce Development Hearing Tuesday (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

Andy Schuerman, a 15-year school counselor and director of school counseling at the Park Hill School District, said LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk of suicide.

“As a school counselor, I sat with many who were so afraid that their parents would reject them as they struggled with their sexual orientation or gender identity,” he told the committee Tuesday. “Censoring what students can share with school professionals will only endanger their lives and increase the risk that they will harm themselves.”

Razer argued that LGBTQ students are the vulnerable children legislators should be compassionate for, and he harkened back to his upbringing as a gay child in a small Missouri town.

“I don’t know what vulnerable child you’re trying to be compassionate to, but it sure wasn’t me in Cooter, Missouri. I needed to hear something positive,” he said.

Timothy Faber, a lobbyist for the Missouri Baptist Convention, parental permission is required for field trips, so it should be required to discuss sensitive matters.

“The same aversion to liability should be applied when it comes to matters of the child’s gender or sexual orientation,” he said.

Razer said not all parents make good choices for their children, giving an example of a childhood friend who was not allowed to watch a show depicting a Black family.

“What’s the difference between teaching about or talking about African Americans and talking about me?” Razer said.

Faber answered: “A person’s skin color, they were born this way.”

“I guarantee you,” Razer said, “I was born this way and whether or not you like that, I’m here.”

Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, listens to Sen. Mike Moon explain his intentions behind his bill Tuesday (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, questioned Moon about whether, as a teacher and straight woman, she could talk about her husband.

“Your bill is so badly written,” she said, indicating it reads like sexuality and relationships as a whole were unmentionable. “Your intent is different than what the bill says.”

Moon said he only meant to ban talking about LGBTQ relationships.

The committee did not take any action on the bill Tuesday. Though the hearing room and hallway outside was crowded with people waiting to testify, the hearing on the bill was limited to 45 minutes.


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Annelise Hanshaw
Annelise Hanshaw

Annelise Hanshaw writes about education — a beat she has covered on both the West and East Coast while working for daily newspapers in Santa Barbara, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.