INDIANAPOLIS — The ACLU is expressing concerns over a bill signed into law Thursday by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb it says would “out transgender students” and “ban conversation about LGBTQ families in schools”.

The bill

House Bill 1608, dubbed the “Education Matters” bill, requires that no educator or third party may teach human sexuality to any Hoosiers in pre-kindergarten through third grade.

The more contentious part of the bill involves student pronouns and whether schools are required to inform parents of a student’s change in pronouns.

“Requires a school to notify in writing at least one parent of a student, if the student is an unemancipated minor, of a request made by the student to change the student’s name or pronoun, title, or word to identify the student,” HB 1608’s summary reads.

Supporters of the bill said it’s intended to make sure parents are in charge of discussions on sensitive topics with their children.

“Parents should not be cut out of the decision-making, and schools should not shield a parent from knowledge about their child,” State Rep. Michelle Davis (R-Whiteland) said in March.

HB 1608 was passed by state representatives on April 24 and was signed into law on Thursday by Gov. Holcomb, despite concerns from the American Civil Liberties Union and protests by Hoosiers at the Statehouse while the bill was being discussed.

Concerns over bill

Hearings regarding the bill in February came against the backdrop of a protest, with opponents of the bill rallying against it. They criticized the measure as anti-LGBTQ in nature, saying it sent the wrong message to vulnerable youth.

The ACLU of Indiana, which has opposed the bill since its conception, released a statement Thursday further condemning Gov. Holcomb for signing the bill.

In its statement, the ACLU said that the bill fails to define “human sexuality,” which is a banned discussion topic in schools under the new law.

“HB 1608 bans conversation about ‘human sexuality,’ an undefined term, and would broadly censor discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in pre-K through third grade,” the release reads.

The ACLU also argued that the bill would “force” Indiana teachers to out transgender students.

“HB 1608 would also force teachers to out students who request to be referred to by a different name or pronoun, by sending a note home to parents,” the statement said. “Studies show that youth who are transgender face a real risk of rejection by the adults who are supposed to care for them when they disclose their gender identity.”

In addition to the ACLU of Indiana itself commenting on the bill, the group’s advocacy and public policy director, Katie Blair, issued the following statement: 

“The Indiana legislators behind HB 1608, and the Slate of Hate, have had one goal all along, to use our laws to control what youth can and cannot read, what they can and cannot learn, and—most troublingly— who they can and cannot be.  

Not every child can be their true selves at home without risking their physical or emotional well-being. For trans youth, especially those who cannot be safe at home, school may be one of the few places to be themselves. Trans youth thrive when they are affirmed in their gender identity, which includes being called by a name and pronouns that reflect who they are. 

LGBTQ students exist at all ages and in all grade levels and their stories belong in Indiana schools. Our schools should protect all students—including LGBTQ students—so they can learn and thrive in a safe environment. ACLU of Indiana attorneys are assessing this law and will do everything in our power to protect the rights of LGBTQ students.”

Katie Blair, advocacy and public policy director at the ACLU of Indiana