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Jarvis: Utah’s Sneaky “Don’t Say Gay” Bills

In a world where advocating for equality and justice for all is often considered radical, staying neutral and restricting important discussions reinforces oppression.
Xiangyao Tang
Participants holding the pride flag and marching down the State Street from the Utah State Capitol at the 2023 Utah Pride March and Rally in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 2, 2023. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


The Utah Legislature has a fondness for aggression toward marginalized citizens. These attacks extend past the anti-trans and anti-DEI bills Gov. Cox signed at the end of last month.

H.B. 303, sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Stenquist, would require school officials and employees to stay neutral on certain viewpoints. It would restrict certain vital discussions in school, including those about gender identity and sexuality.

In a world where advocating for equality and justice for all is often considered radical, staying neutral and restricting important discussions reinforces oppression. These bills, if passed, would function as “don’t say gay” laws, censoring students and teachers.

Stenquist’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Agenda

In Utah’s 2023 legislative session, Stenquist introduced his own version of Florida’s “Don’t say gay” bill, which prohibited discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms.

After listening to the LGBTQ+ community’s concerns, Stenquist updated the bill to only apply to kindergarten through third-grade classrooms. The bill didn’t pass.

But his new bill, School Curriculum Requirements, if passed, would require instructors and school staff to remain neutral about topics such as politics and social beliefs — including sexual orientation and gender identity. Inviting, suggesting or encouraging students to reflect on these matters would violate the bill. This vague language could be used against teachers who mention LGBTQ+ topics in the classroom. It would even restrict teachers from displaying pride flags.

These restrictions only reinforce the fear of the queer child, which is embedded in Stenquist’s bills. It spreads the moral panic that queer adults will groom children or make them queer. Students deserve to be taught queer history, queer stories and about the fluidity of sexual and gender identities.

Political or not, it can be a matter of life and death.

Despite listening to LGBTQ+ Utahns last year, Stenquist has created yet another “don’t say gay” bill. This one would also require teachers to tiptoe around other topics.

There’s No Neutrality

Ultimately, neutrality is a political choice to maintain the status quo, and it marginalizes students more.

A teacher’s transparency about personal viewpoints can encourage discussion, providing an opportunity for students to practice thinking critically and articulating their own opinions. This kind of classroom environment also demonstrates respect for students’ autonomy.

The bill that H.B. 303 amends already calls for neutrality of religious beliefs. But students in American schools recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, which asserts that the country is a nation “under God.” Some argue that this promotes a particular religion. Amending the bill to include neutrality of political and social beliefs would be laughable if it wasn’t downright harmful.

Everything is politicized, from bathrooms to inclusivity to climate change. Teachers cannot touch on every point of view on every topic, but they can make important choices about what to teach and how.

Current American school curricula are full of blatant lies. Staying neutral in history class, for example, would entail teaching known falsities.

Utah Needs More Education

Placed in the context of other bills proposed in this legislative session, H.B. 303 is made even more serious.

Another lawmaker, Rep. Tim Jimenez, wants to remove human sexuality from the definition of sex education instruction and require parental consent for that portion. Utah’s current curricula are already lacking, to say the least. It stresses abstinence, and sex and sexuality are hardly mentioned. This leads to shame, guilt and stigma.

Jimenez’s bill would close the door to future inclusion of queer experiences in sex education. Combined with Stenquist’s bill, schools would only become more unsafe for teachers and students. Less inclusive education also worsens the mental and physical health of queer students.

Lawmakers’ efforts to reduce vital curricula and the autonomy of teachers cannot go unnoticed. Utah needs more education, not less. Even if these bills don’t pass, citizens must pay attention to related legislation in the future. Utah lawmakers don’t give up, as evidenced by Stenquist’s LGBTQ+ bills.

Teachers should emphasize teaching critical thinking skills. But they must be trusted to make decisions about topics in which neutrality is impossible. Forcing them to stay silent would shut down important discussions that Utahns need to facilitate now more than ever.


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About the Contributors
Caroline Jarvis, Opinion Writer
(she/they) Caroline Jarvis is an opinion writer studying French and communications at the U. She loves reading, doing random art projects, playing guitar and taking care of her plants.
Xiangyao Tang, Photo Director
Axe is a photographer and the photo director of the Daily Utah Chronicle. He is from China and is a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in digital photography. Axe joined the Chronicle in August of 2021. In addition to his position at the Chrony, he is also a photo intern for University of Utah Athletics. When he's not writing code, you will find him rock climbing, camping, skiing or hiking with his camera.

Comments (3)

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  • E

    E. BrownFeb 26, 2024 at 3:55 pm

    Opinion. Perhaps the Utah Legislature is protecting the children of those of us who understand the devastating, long term effects( sp?) of sexualizing or exposing a child to sexuality too early. I can be, will be, and have always been completely respectful towards all people; and I do mean all people – even those evil “aggressive” white men. In my long life I have never had a problem with or thought twice about gay. Gay simply is. Most civilized people agree with that. But gender identity is not the same as “sexuality” or “sexual orientation”. That does not belong in the classroom with minors. All school staff should refrain from speaking about sexuality in school with minors. For all people who are not minors, it is always OK to speak respectfully and act respectfully as long as we are allowed to agree (respectfully) to disagree. I was young once too. Everything is not black and white. But I cannot be renamed or rebranded as a
    “cis”(sp?) against my will. I am a very old Mrs. with an open heart and good intentions. But if I continue to be bombarded with aggressive attitude telling me I am now a “cis”, that will turn a friend into an enemy and my vote will change to reflect that.

  • L

    Libertarian70Feb 26, 2024 at 12:44 pm

    Trans and DEI are both examples of cultural communism being foisted on us.

  • J

    John HedbergFeb 25, 2024 at 3:58 pm

    Did the Florida “Don’t Say Gay’ bill ever actually say “Don’t Say Gay’, or did opponents just lie about that? Who would lie about something so important? Hmm. I wonder…? 🤪😋 “Sneaky~!”
    I’ll say this again:
    I may be wrong here, but I haven’t heard of any books being banned, since this would refer to books no longer accessible to anyone at any age. I have heard of limiting sexually explicit books when it comes to minors, and there’s a reason for this which has nothing specific to do with religion or with anyone’s particular preferred sexuality.

    Coming from a drug- and sex-excursion background (Mom was a drug addict, Dad had addiction-related emotional issues, and both parents were sexualized at a very early age, which is most likely why it began), and growing up in ultra-Liberal Eastern Massachusetts, it’s easy for me to see the massive number of lives damaged and ruined by emotional scars and addictive behaviors that come along with early sexual awakening. The brain is evolutionarily wired for reproduction even in the worst circumstances, and so sexual gratification has an opioid-like effect (literally) on human behavior. Even mature adults will crash and burn pursuing serial sexual encounters, which overwhelms their lives, causing situational damage and emotional scarring, and one kind of addictive behavior usually brings along other forms of addiction, as my own family clearly shows.

    I grew up in a group who were sexually active in our early teens, among a culture of parents who sowed their sexual oats with remarkably little thought to any consequences from that addictive behavior, consequences to their partners, consequences to their futures, even consequences to their innocent children who were entirely powerless to take care of themselves while their parents’ pleasure-addictive emotional firestorm burned itself out as their young lives burned up around them.

    Handling emotional intensity takes maturity, which is why we can’t drive before 16 or 17, vote before 18, or drink alcohol before we turn 21. Massachusetts had a famously deadly experiment lowering the drinking age to 18, and my high school had memorials to the dead juniors and seniors who died on the roads and at parties before the 21-year law was restored. This is why Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) originated.

    Sex is literally as addictive as opioids. Family and friends who started too early became addicts of many different types, with lives littered with ruin and needless suffering. Too many family and friends attempted suicide, many successfully.

    Religion is not the reason sexual awakening is restricted for minors. It’s all the dead and damaged lives from ‘friendly fire’ in the war for “sexual freedom”, deliberately ignoring the consequences of our biology, our psychology, and the effect on all the people around us who love us and go on the ride with us as we vector straight towards that last stationary object at high speed.

    Adults already have sexual freedom, including reading material, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. For obvious reasons, I think it might be better to leave kids alone, so they can each figure out their own best path, in their own way, without all the addictive emotional baggage, without excess trauma and damage, and without being taken advantage of.

    Just something to think about, with Love.
    Why don’t you just say out loud that you’re Marxists who don’t give an actual hoot about the feelings or well-being of anyone who doesn’t agree with your own feelings, typically your worst and most baseless feelings, at that? (This is called bigotry, BTW). You don’t give a cr*p about trans people of any age, or you wouldn’t openly try to suppress the already marginalized voices of trans folk who find out the hard way that ‘Gender Affirming Care’ doesn’t always help after the first few weeks, nor would you deliberately ignore the findings out of Europe’s trans institutes and the recent American College of Pediatricians statement, which call into question whether hormone blockers and/or surgery have any measured long-term net positive effect on dysphoria.

    From “Mental Health in Adolescents with Incongruence of Gender Identity and Biological Sex”, February 2024:
    “There is no long-term evidence that mental health concerns are decreased or alleviated after ‘gender affirming therapy.’ Many individuals who have been treated with ‘GAT’ later regret those interventions and seek to align their gender identity with their sex. Because of the risks of social, medical, and surgical interventions, many European countries are now cautioning against these interventions while encouraging mental health therapy.”

    If The Chronic cared more about trans people than soap boxing and virtue signaling, they would show some compassion by examining both sides of surgery and hormone blockers, which are now no longer being recommended in many places, for reasons the medical community evidently finds are in the better interest of human well-being than your very tired, baseless, and worn-out hate tropes and threats of suicide, when Europe is signaling similar suicide rates even with and despite GAT, and GAT sequelae cannot usually be reversed, worsening the dissonance~!

    Who needs more education? Could it be “U”?
    Tom MacDonald released a new YouTube video on Friday that’s gotten overwhelming reactions cross-culturally:
    “Tom MacDonald – “The Machine””