In a surprise move, the Alabama legislature on Thursday passed a version of Florida's Parental Rights in Education bill that would restrict school instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-5.
The legislation was added as an amendment to a bill that would require boys and girls to use school bathrooms and locker rooms according to the sex on their birth certificates.
The amendment bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten to fifth grade "in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."
“We don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about homosexuality and gender identity in schools, they should be learning about math,” said Republican state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, who introduced the amendment, according to the Gadsden Times.
The language of Shay's amendment is similar to Florida's Parental Rights in Education law, which critics falsely dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill. That law said "classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
The Alabama version extends the prohibition on inappropriate sex education until fifth grade.
Democrats blasted the amendment, accusing Republicans of advancing a vague law that would chill speech in the classroom.
In the limited debate period before the amendment passed, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D) asked Shay how he would respond if "little Johnny" asked if he was a boy or a girl.
"Little Johnny, you're a boy," Shelnutt said.
"You just answered the question based on gender," Singleton said. "According to your amendment, they won’t be able to answer the question that way," he claimed.
Republicans overcame Democratic objections and passed the amended bill in both houses of the state legislature. It now awaits Republican Gov. Kay Ivey's signature to become law.
The ACLU of Alabama condemned the legislation in a statement.
“By singling out transgender students for discrimination and excluding them from restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity, HB 322 discriminates based on transgender status and sex in violation of the United States Constitution and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act,” said Tish Gotell Faulks, legal director for the ACLU of Alabama.
The Alabama Association of School Boards also expressed concerns over the legislation, calling it "unnecessary."
“The amendment, while unnecessary, is unlikely to have any impact since sexual orientation and gender identity is not taught in Alabama public schools and the topic would generally not be age appropriate for classroom discussion at these grade levels. However, we are concerned that this amendment could make it even more difficult for school faculty to create safe environments for some students and families,” said Sally Smith, executive director of Alabama Association of School Boards, according to AL.com.