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Indiana bill would require teachers and schools to report student requests to change names, pronouns

The pillars inside the Indiana Statehouse

The Indiana General Assembly seems unlikely to pursue some of the controversial social issues in education that defined the last legislative session, but lawmakers have zeroed in on gender identity and transitioning.

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Indiana’s 2023 legislative session is under way, and state legislators have introduced more than 100 new education bills and bills impacting schools and students. For the latest Indiana education news, sign up for Chalkbeat Indiana’s free newsletter here.

Gender identity and transitioning are the focus of a number of bills filed by Indiana lawmakers in the 2023 session, including one that would require teachers and schools to disclose if students request to change their names or pronouns.

The focus on transgender youth this year builds on similar themes from the 2022 session, when lawmakers passed a controversial bill to ban transgender girls from girls’ sports. At the same time, lawmakers appear to be steering clear of bills on other controversial social issues in schools that have sparked previous disputes in Indiana and elsewhere.

The proposed legislation is causing alarm in some camps, including the ACLU of Indiana, which has called for action to stop the “record number of anti-LGBTQ bills” in the Indiana legislature, referring to them as a “slate of hate.”

Senate Bill 354, authored by Republican Sen. Jeff Raatz, chair of the Senate Education and Development Committee, primarily deals with school accreditation. But Raatz’s bill would also require teachers and school employees to report to the school if a student indicates that they would like to change their “name, attire, pronoun, title, or word to identify the student in a manner that is inconsistent with the student’s biological sex at birth.”

They would also have to report if a student expresses having “conflicted feelings about … or difficulty handling” their gender identity or gender expression. The school would then be required to disclose this information to the student’s parents within five days. 

GOP Rep. Michelle Davis, who authored the legislation banning transgender girls from girls’ sports last year, has introduced a bill this year that would prohibit medical professionals from providing gender transitioning or puberty blocking procedures to minors. 

Another bill, authored by Republican Rep. Ryan Lauer and co-authored by Davis, specifies that a child could not be removed from their parents’ custody if the parent declines procedures or therapies that “affirm the child’s perception of the child’s gender or sex if the child’s perception is inconsistent with the child’s biological sex.”

At least one prominent lawmaker pushed in the opposite direction.  A bill by Senate Minority Caucus Chair J.D. Ford, a Democrat, would extend anti-discrimination protections at schools to students based on their gender identity and sexuality. 

Ford’s legislation, Senate Bill 39, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to state law prohibiting discrimination in public schools, which currently includes disability, race, color, gender, national origin, religion, and ancestry.

The bill would prohibit segregation based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and ban schools from denying students admission on that basis. It would also prohibit discrimination in hiring teachers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Aside from the early focus on transitioning and gender identity, the General Assembly seems to lack the appetite to tackle other bills about controversial social issues bills that marked the 2022 session, including another attempt to ban certain topics on race and racism from classrooms. 

And despite earlier reports, lawmakers don’t appear interested in debating legislation similar to a Florida bill — commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last year — that restricts discussions of sexual orientation in early grades. 

The House’s deadline for filing bills was Thursday, while the Senate’s deadline was Friday afternoon. 

The bills from Raatz and Ford have been referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development, which meets for the first time on Tuesday. Neither bill is currently on the agenda for that day. 

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Sen. J.D. Ford's title.

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at aappleton@chalkbeat.org.

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