Package of anti-trans bills introduced into Pa. House

The Pennsylvania state flag
The Pennsylvania state flag. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Trans advocates and allies are blasting a package of four bills introduced in the Pennsylvania state legislature last week that would forbid civil penalties for adults who misgender children or hinder gender-affirmation care for them. 

According to a press release issued by the bills’ sponsors, the package of bills addresses concerns surrounding compelled speech and ensures that individuals retain the right to express their First Amendment right to free speech without facing civil penalties.

The state representatives who authored the legislation are Reps. Robert Leadbeter (R-Columbia), Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin) and Joe D’Orsie (R-Manchester).

A bill introduced by D’Orsie [HB 2155] would prohibit school districts across the commonwealth from disciplining any teacher who refuses to use a child’s preferred pronouns, if the teacher acts with an “absence of malice.” It’s been referred to the Education Committee.

A bill introduced by Leadbeter [HB 2156] would grant civil immunity (no damages in civil court) to any parent who refuses to use pronouns that match their child’s gender identity or refuses to consent to gender-affirmation care for their child. It’s been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Another bill introduced by Leadbeter [HB 2157] would prevent a judge hearing a child-custody dispute from considering a parent’s refusal to use pronouns that match their child’s gender identity or the parent’s refusal to consent to gender-affirmation care for their child. It’s been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

A bill introduced by Kauffman [HB-2158] would grant civil immunity (no damages in civil court) to any individual who refuses to use another person’s preferred pronouns. It’s been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

None of the legislators who authored the bills was available for an interview, as of presstime.

Andy Hoover, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, blasted the proposed legislation.

“Last year a majority of the state House voted to end discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people,” Hoover said in an email. “Their vote reflected the views of a majority of Americans, as shown in poll after poll. Unfortunately, a vocal minority is completely comfortable with discrimination against trans kids. We are hopeful that House leadership will see this package for what it is, another attempt to harm trans kids, and reject it on its face.”

Trans advocate Deja Lynn Alvarez questioned the motives of legislators who support anti-trans legislation.

“I want to know why our legislators are spending taxpayer time and money on this type of legislation,” Alvarez said in an email. “Their goal is to protect their right to hate and discriminate and distract from real issues like a living wage and healthcare. Government is supposed to be for the betterment of its people — not to push their fake Christian values.”

Thomas W. Ude Jr., legal and public policy director for Mazzoni Center, said it’s important to respect a student’s gender identity.

“People who work in education should support and respect students,” Ude said in an email. “When a parent sends their child to school, they entrust that child to the school’s teachers and staff. A parent should be able to expect that teachers and school workers will treat that child with respect and dignity. That includes respecting the child’s gender and pronouns. 

“Study after study has shown that affirming a child’s gender is good for the child’s mental health and wellbeing, while intentionally misgendering someone – adult or child – inflicts harm. A child’s identity and gender can and must be treated with respect – especially at school. [HB 2155] appears to give license for people to disregard anyone’s gender and pronouns. Although the bill purports to limit that license to actions ‘in the absence of malice,’ that doesn’t fit. Under the law, acting with ‘malice’ includes acting with disregard of someone else’s rights, and does not require intent to inflict harm. But intentionally misgendering someone disregards their rights. It causes harm. Whatever someone’s general views about gender may be, that should not give license to harm a child entrusted to them.”

Philadelphia City Council member Rue Landau echoed Ude’s sentiments. “So many youth — especially those in already marginalized communities — experience discrimination and violence in their everyday lives, and schools should be a safe haven,” Landau said in an email. “[HB 2155] would allow misgendering of transgender and nonbinary students in our public schools, a further step in the continued dismantling of the basic rights of LGBTQ+ youth. Our education system should foster respect and value for LBGTQ students. Prioritize policies that encourage safety, not harm.”

Naiymah Sanchez, senior organizer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, emphasized the rights of trans students.

“All Pennsylvanians should be able to agree that every student deserves to go to school in a welcoming, healthy environment where they can be their authentic self,” Sanchez said in an email. “That’s how students succeed. Unfortunately, the supporters of [HB 2155 ] don’t see it that way. They think adults should be able to defiantly refuse to recognize students’ gender identity. That approach harms kids. Inclusive education policies, on the other hand, ensure that students have a chance to thrive.”

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