Several bills proposed by Indiana lawmakers aim to regulate how schools treat LGBTQ students, including one that would require schools to report gender-identity-questioning students to their parents.

Another measure contains language similar to Florida’s House Bill 1557, a law that opponents have referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Senate Bill 413, introduced by Sen. Gary Byrne, R-Byrneville, is also titled “Parental Rights in Education” – the same name as the law adopted by Florida last year. It states that teachers and other school personnel “may not provide instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Although Florida’s law bans such instruction from third grade and younger, Byrne’s proposal would ban it from all K-12 classrooms. Byrne did not comment on the bill nor its connection to Florida’s new law.

Other provisions in SB 413 would allow parents to decline social, emotional, behavioral, mental and physical health services for their child. It also would require school corporations to notify parents about whether students are allowed to use locker rooms or restrooms that aren’t designated for their sex assigned at birth.

SB 413 would require schools to establish a grievance process for parents and would allow parents to sue school corporations.

Senate Bill 354 might be the most likely such bill to pass, as it’s authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, chairman of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee.

Along with two unrelated provisions addressing school accreditation, Raatz’s bill includes language that would require schools to inform a parent within five days if their child “has conflicted feelings about or is having difficulty handling or coping with” their gender identity or gender expression.

It also would mandate the same parental notification if a student “changes, expresses … a desire to change, or makes a request to change” their attire, name, pronoun or other identifying words “in a manner that is inconsistent with the student’s biological sex at birth,” the bill says.

When asked about the bill, Raatz said that “parents should know if their child is struggling and shouldn’t be kept from the situation.”

A third measure – House Bill 1346, co-authored by Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne – would ban teachers from using pronouns, names, nicknames or other words to identify students in a way that differs from the student’s sex assigned at birth. The only exception would be if their parent requests otherwise and provides documentation from a health care provider “verifying that the student has a sincere, persistent and consistent belief that the student’s gender differs from the student’s sex,” the bill says.

HB 1346 also would prohibit schools from encouraging, promoting or requiring students or staff to use a pronoun, title or other word to identify a student or employee if those words differ from what matches the person’s sex assigned at birth.

The ranking Democrat on the education committee, Indianapolis Sen. J.D. Ford, questioned why the legislation is necessary.

“We have lots of real educational issues to address including educational attainment, preparing our students for the careers they are interested in and improving access to mental health,” Ford said in a statement.

This session, Ford co-authored a bill along with Sen. Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis, that would repeal Indiana’s unenforceable ban on same-sex marriage. Ford also filed a bill to extend the state’s educational nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ students.

“We should be addressing students’ mental health,” Ford said, “instead of passing laws that will make their lives more stressful and more difficult by requiring already overburdened teachers and administrators to police their attire, pronouns and other personal choices.”

Katie Blair, advocacy director for the ACLU of Indiana, said more than 10 laws targeting LGBTQ people have been filed by Hoosier lawmakers so far this session, and she expects to see more. Although the filing deadline has passed, it often takes time for every bill to be uploaded to the General Assembly’s website.

“These are part of a coordinated, hate-driven campaign by Indiana lawmakers,” Blair said. “This is the most anti-LGBTQ bills I have ever seen in my more than decade-long career.”

Many are packaged as “parental rights” bills, but Blair took issue with the justification. Other bills introduced by lawmakers would ban doctors from providing gender-affirming care to minors, which she said would take away a parent’s ability to work with medical professionals.

“It’s pretty clear that these bills are not about parental rights,” Blair said. “They’re about targeting and discriminating against trans kids.”

Blair said some of the bills would turn teachers into the “gender police” instead of allowing teachers to be someone a child can trust. A study from the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that works to prevent suicide among young LGBTQ people, found that LGBTQ youth with at least one accepting adult in their life are 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt.

While some LGBTQ children have supportive families, Blair said many do not – a factor that can lead to higher rates of abuse and homelessness.

“Passing legislation like this all but guarantees those numbers will increase,” Blair said. “Indiana’s lawmakers should be trying to fix those problems, not contribute to them.”

Statehouse and General Assignment Reporter

Brett Stover is a Reporter covering the Indiana Statehouse and general assignments for The Journal Gazette. A University of Missouri graduate, Stover has covered news in Indiana since 2021.