ATLANTA — A Georgia bill aimed at stopping teachers from talking to students about gender identity died an unexpected death Wednesday after conservative groups joined LGBTQ advocates in opposing the measure.
Senate Bill 222, after multiple rewrites, called for public and private schools and camps to get parental involvement before talking about issues of gender identity. Sen. Carden Summers, a Cordele Republican sponsoring the measure, had said it was needed to keep teachers from indoctrinating their students about changing gender identity and to keep teachers from hiding a student's gender identity change from parents.
But Mike Griffin, the lobbyist for Georgia Southern Baptists testified that although he supports Summers' aims, that Baptists objected to the language in the bill.
"We have heard from many folks, including our legal partners and activists from around the state, on this issue with this bill," Griffin said. "We believe that this bill has dramatic unintended consequences for parental rights and for children in public schools as well. Those concerns have not all been addressed."
All but one senator on the majority-Republican Senate Education and Youth Committee then voted to table the measure, leaving LGBTQ advocates stunned at their good fortune. Minutes later, some cheered as a bottle of sparkling wine was popped in the office of state Sen. Kim Jackson, a Stone Mountain Democrat.
Peter Isbister, the leader of the Georgia chapter of TransParentUSA, a nonprofit group that seeks to affirm transgender children, said he was "relieved and surprised" that the bill had failed. But he said he was still worried about antipathy to his transgender son.
"I don't feel like I can really tell him what I did this morning, because I don't want to tell him that there's a world in which people are trying to make it harder and more hostile for kids like him in school," Isbister said.
Committee Chairman Clint Dixon, a Buford Republican, said the measure is likely dead for the year. Senate bills had to be passed by committee and reach the Senate floor by 1 p.m. Wednesday to have a chance of passing the full Senate by Monday, Georgia's deadline for legislation to pass its original chamber and "cross over" to the second chamber.
After the meeting, Griffin said he and some other conservatives objected to language covering private schools and camps. The bill sought to exempt schools and camps run by religious institutions, but many religious schools are not directly part of a church.
He also said some lawyers who had examined the bill had concerns about setting the precedent of defining the concept of gender identity in state law. The bill defined gender identity in part as "actual or perceived sex and a person's gender expression."
Griffin said some lobbyists had offered language to Summers to address their concerns, but he did not accept it.
The bill would have mandated that local public school districts develop policies by Jan. 1 to make sure parents were notified of and involved with any discussions of gender identity. It also said public and private schools couldn't change records of a child's name, sex or gender without written permission from parents.
Violations could have been punished by cutting off state funds to schools, threatening to yank the state licenses of public school teachers and principals and revoking the tax-exempt status of nonprofit groups.
Some critics likened the measure to so-called "Don't Say Gay" bills in Florida and other states that try to stop teachers from discussing LGBTQ issues with students. There's also a nationwide effort by conservatives to restrict transgender athletes, gender-affirming care and drag shows.
A separate bill that could be considered by the full Georgia Senate would ban most sex reassignment surgeries and hormone replacement therapies for those under 18. However, unlike laws adopted in some other states, it would still allow doctors to prescribe medicines to block puberty.
Jeff Graham, the executive director of LGBTQ Georgia Equality, said advocates are continuing to fight against the bill targeting gender affirming care.
"There is no reason that gender identity should be singled out for special rules, regulations or policies," Graham said. "And frankly, we're still concerned that bringing up these bills, the number of bills, is causing harm to the mental health of LGBTQ students, especially transgender students here in Georgia."
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