Republican State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz during a press conference at the State Capitol in Harisburg announcing her Parental Rights in Education bill, Sept. 20, 2022. (Screengrab: Pennsylvania State Legislature) Stephanie Borowicz press conference
Republican State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz during a press conference at the State Capitol in Harisburg announcing her Parental Rights in Education bill, Sept. 20, 2022. (Screengrab: Pennsylvania State Legislature)

Republican State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz says her bill is intended to “protect” children from gender ideology and sexual orientation and is “more expansive” than Florida’s similar “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Faced with a student mental health crisis and a teacher shortage in Pennsylvania schools, Republican lawmakers are choosing to again move forward with legislation that opponents say targets already-struggling LGBTQ youth. 

State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R-Clinton) formally introduced House Bill 2813, also known as the Parental Rights in Education bill, during a rally at the State Capitol in Harrisburg Tuesday, proudly declaring that her bill was “more expansive” than similar legislation passed in Florida this year, which critics quickly dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. 

“This is a bill to protect our children from gender ideology and sexual orientation—the same indoctrination that is still plastered on the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s taxpayer-funded website,” said Borowicz.

While Borowicz and fellow Republican lawmakers who turned out in support of the bill—like gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano—framed it as a way to guarantee parental oversight and control over the availability of school materials that they portrayed (without evidence) as increasingly obscene, advocates for the LGBTQ+ community say the bill would create a climate where schools stifle any discussion of LGBTQ people at the expense of legitimate issues facing public education in Pennsylvania.

“Working together to support students means supporting all students and recognizing that young people need to understand how to interact with different cultures, different genders, and ultimately different societal viewpoints,” said Chris Lilienthal, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Education Association. “Lawmakers should focus on the very real challenges facing our public schools right now, including reducing substitute and teacher shortages, meeting student learning needs, and improving student mental and emotional health.”

Specifically, Borowicz’s Parental Bill of Rights legislation would:

  • Require all classroom instruction to be age appropriate.
  • Prohibit classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through fifth grade.
  • Require public schools to adopt procedures for notifying parents if there is a change in services regarding a child’s mental, emotional or physical health or well-being.

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity only through third grade. In Harrisburg Tuesday, Borowicz made it clear that her desire would be to extend the prohibition all the way through high school.

“Passage of my Parental Bill of Rights legislation will fundamentally guarantee that our children can remain children by allowing parents to vigilantly protect their innocence for as long as possible,” she said.

Borowicz’s bill is the third such piece of legislation proposed by Pennsylvania Republicans this year.

Back in June, the state Senate advanced two bills from Republican lawmakers Ryan Aument and Scott Martin, both of Lancaster, modeled after the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. 

Aument’s bill, SB 1277, would require schools to notify parents of any material containing sexually explicit content that is made available to students in schools as part of the curriculum or in school libraries. Parents would have the ability to request alternative materials that are not explicit and could also prevent their children from viewing certain books at the school library. 

Martin’s bill, SB 1278, would ban classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity through grade 5. The bill would also require schools and teachers to follow existing state standards of age-appropriate and develolopmentally appropriate content for any instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation that occur in grades 6-12. Notably, the bill also empowers parents or legal guardians to sue teachers, schools, school board members, and school districts for damages over alleged violations of the bans.

Borowicz, who is up for reelection this year, voiced her support for both bills during Tuesday’s rally.

Borowicz represents state House District 76, which covers Clinton County and part of Centre County. She faces Democrat Denise Maris in the November election.