Jun 12, 2023 - Politics

Indianapolis Public Schools teacher, ACLU sue over "Don't Say Gay"

Illustration of a word balloon in the colors of the Pride flag with a no symbol drawing over it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Indiana's so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill — which prohibits instruction on human sexuality in grades K-3 — is being challenged in court.

Driving the news: The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit Friday on behalf of Kayla Smiley, an Indianapolis Public Schools teacher, claiming that House Enrolled Act 1608 infringes her constitutional rights.

  • The law, which takes effect July 1, was passed by the Indiana General Assembly in April and signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb in May.

The big picture: HEA 1608 was one of several bills filed at the Indiana Statehouse this year that targeted the LGBTQ+ community.

  • Similar laws were passed in other states, too, as part of a nationwide wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

Details: The lawsuit claims that HEA 1608 is too broad and vague for Smiley to follow, which could put her teaching license in jeopardy.

  • For example, the law does not define "instruction" or "human sexuality."
  • Smiley teaches students in first through third grades and maintains a classroom library that "contains age-appropriate books across a diverse spectrum of subjects and concerns," including some that address LGBTQ+ issues such as "And Tango Makes Three," a children's book based on the true story of two male penguins who raise a chick together.

What they're saying: "This session, legislators were determined to target LGBTQ community members and to censor conversation about the LGBTQ community in schools," said Katie Blair, ACLU of Indiana advocacy director. "LGBTQ students exist at all ages and in all grade levels and their stories belong in Indiana schools."

The other side: Rep. Michelle Davis, a Whiteland Republican who authored the bill, declined to comment on the pending litigation.

  • During the legislative session, she said the bill would hold teachers accountable to "stay in their lane" and educate children, rather than "indoctrinating them."

Catch up fast: The bill — which was modeled after a Florida law dubbed "Don't Say Gay" by opponents — was changed during the legislative process from originally banning conversation on certain topics, such as gender identity and sexual orientation, to instruction on all aspects of human sexuality.

  • A provision was also added that requires schools to alert parents if their child requests a change to their name or pronoun, raising fears that teachers would be forced to out transgender students.
  • The LGBTQ+ community, allies and educators strongly opposed the bill.

Of note: If the lawsuit is successful, it would only impact the portion of the law that deals with instruction on human sexuality, according to the ACLU.

What's next: The challenge, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, asks the court to block the law from taking effect next month and, ultimately, strike it down as unconstitutional.


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