Good news: Utah kills bill banning LGBTQ+ Pride flags in classrooms

Stock image of an LGBTQ+ Pride flag to illustrate story about Utah bill

The Utah House of Representatives has blocked a bill that would have banned LGBTQ+ Pride flags in classrooms and required teachers to be “politically neutral”. 

HB303, which would have prevented teachers promoting or disparaging certain political beliefs in class, was voted down on Monday (26 February), according to Associated Press.

The news agency reported that teachers could have faced punishment for affirming or refusing to affirm a student’s identity, thus being prohibited from encouraging them to reconsider their sexual orientation or gender, and challenging a pupil’s political views or religious beliefs.

The Republican-led house defeated the bill by a vote of 39 to 32.

Both Democrats and Republicans criticised the bill’s vague language and warned that it could stymie important lessons in critical thinking.

Ahead of the bill being voted down, Ellie Menlove, of the American Civil Liberties Union in Utah, testified that the legislation aimed to “over-regulate classroom discussion” and “undermine the First Amendment rights of teachers, forcing them to police their speech in response to common student questions related to political and social issues”. 

She went on to say: “Likewise, the bill treads on teacher’s First Amendment rights by prohibiting the display of symbols in the classroom, like Pride flags. 

“Regardless of the intent of the bill, the practical effect will be the removal of any acknowledgement and support for LGBTQ students, or students who come from LGBTQ families, in public schools.”

Meanwhile, in a much less positive development, similar legislation has advanced in Tennessee. The bill, which would ban displaying LGBTQ+ flags in public school classrooms, advanced from the state’s house to the senate on Monday (26 February). 

Democrat representative Jason Powell criticised the proposed law, saying: “We should be welcoming and celebrating our students, not hating on them”. 

“I am proud, when I walk into the public schools in my city, to see the LGBTQ flag in the classrooms, proudly put up by teachers who understand the suffering that many of their students go through.” 

Tennessee has come under fire in recent months and years for aiming to push through a ban on public drag performances, for outlawing gender-affirming care for trans youth, and trying to deny trans students and school staff access to the toilets that match their gender identity.

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