(NEW YORK)— In its latest report documenting the nationwide campaign to restrict instruction about race, sexuality, and gender in public schools, PEN America found an alarming subset of laws and bills that specifically target LGBTQ+ representation and put pressure on educators to “monitor” and report on students’ gender identity or sexual orientation.

Some of these bills go so far as to intimidate teachers to forcibly “out” students through mandatory reporting mechanisms alerting parents to perceived changes in students’ gender identity or sexual orientation, or through requirements for parental consent before teachers could refer to a student using a name or pronoun that differs from their birth certificate. Laws and policies to that effect have been passed or implemented in Florida, Alabama, Virginia, Oklahoma, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Utah. The number of state-level bills introduced with these kinds of provisions has skyrocketed, from at least four in 2021 to at least 61 introduced in 2023.

“This is an alarming trend that threatens to turn teachers into the sexuality and gender police of public education, forcing them by law to monitor the most personal of students’ expression,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education at PEN America.  “These bills harken back to a repressive era by imposing a chill over the lives of LGBTQ+ students, which can threaten their mental and physical health. It’s not that teachers should hide information from parents, but that requiring these notifications by law removes any room for professional discretion and may put students in danger.”

A number of the bills include language that broadly mandates teachers report to parents on any changes in students’ “well-being” – a term that often goes undefined, or, in some cases, has been defined to specifically include gender identity, as is the case in some bills from Kentucky and Ohio. Florida officials made clear in a letter to schools last year that “well-being” includes gender and sexual orientation; guidelines for Florida’s HB 1557 from state administrators prompted Leon County’s superintendent to worry that “the Florida Department of Education is trying to force us to out students who are not ready to come out.”

“This type of bill threatens the free expression of all students,” Friedman said. “Legislators have not specified the level of androgyny at which students ought to be reported, forcing all students to police their own expression. The danger may be greatest for students who are not yet ready to come out to their parents, but the chilling effect will be felt across the whole school.”

This latest example of the broader ongoing educational censorship campaign organized by Republican legislators is included in PEN America’s report released Wednesday, Educational Intimidation: How ‘Parent’s Rights” Legislation Undermines the Freedom to Learn. The report documents the spike in legislation sweeping statehouses that represent a radical move to expand control over curriculum and policies which then undermine and chill public education for all, effectively disempowering the majority of parents.

The PEN America report showed that nearly 400 educational intimidation bills were introduced in state legislatures between January 2021 and June 2023. Educational intimidation bills are defined as laws or bills  that “radically expand the avenues for lone parents, government officials, and citizens to monitor and exert control over school policies.” 

Read more about the PEN America Educational Intimidation report.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057