No longer a ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill: Utah lawmaker updates proposal after LGBTQ community raises concerns

Rep. Jeff Stenquist, R-Draper, said Friday: “It was never my intention to do harm or anything like that.”

Update: HB550 didn’t pass in the 2023 legislative session.

A Utah lawmaker says he has listened to concerns from the LGBTQ community and updated a bill that had been a close copy of the law in Florida nationally branded as the “Don’t Say Gay” measure.

HB550 from Rep. Jeff Stenquist, R-Draper, would still prohibit any discussion of sexuality in kindergarten through third grade classrooms. But it has removed the proposed ban on the topics of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

That makes the bill less stringent and means words like “gay” or “lesbian” are not off limits when someone, including an educator, speaks about relationships — though, Stenquist said, discussions should still be age-appropriate.

“There were people who helped me understand that there could be issues with talking about families,” Stenquist told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday. “There could be a student who has two moms. Or a teacher might refer to her partner.”

The changes came after the bill drew wide attention when it was published late Thursday, with roughly a week left in the legislative session. LGBTQ groups in Utah were quick to voice their worries, including that it felt discriminatory and that Stenquist hadn’t consulted with them to find a middle ground.

Troy Williams, executive director for Equality Utah, said the representative sat down with him Friday and talked about ways to change the bill.

“We are grateful to Rep. Stenquist for thoughtfully amending this bill to ensure that all students are treated equally,” Equality Utah said in a statement. “With the proposed amendment, HB550 can no longer be considered a ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.”

Williams said his organization is no longer opposed to the measure.

Stenquist has previously said he was prompted to draft HB550 after a mom came to him with concerns about the talk happening in her child’s classroom. She felt some of the discussions were not appropriate for the grade level, he said.

The lawmaker said he looked for guidelines in state statute about discussing subjects around gender and identity and didn’t find any. Even though it’s now limited to “sexuality,” the bill still leaves the definition of that, and what is or isn’t appropriate, up to each school and school district to determine. He wanted some parameters put in place, he said.

“It was never my intention to do harm or anything like that,” Stenquist told The Tribune on Friday. “I still think it’s a good bill.”

The text of the bill was previously almost a word for word match for Florida’s law, which was signed by the governor there in March 2022.

That reads: “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.”