Last session, State Rep. Mack Butler, R-Gadsden, brought legislation that would have extended the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law through the eighth grade.
Butler confirmed to APR Monday that he plans to bring that legislation back in the next session, and will very likely expand the bill through senior year.
Butler said he is bringing the bill to combat “an agenda” in the public school system.
“Parents have lost a lot of say in education; Covid brought a lot of that stuff back front and center,” Butler said. “I just want to give breath and life to the parents’ wishes. Just like with books in the library—nobody wants to ban any books. But your 5-year-old can’t go to R-rated or X-rated movies. This puts the adults back in charge.”
The bill as Butler presented it last year simply changed the state’s existing legislation to extend it through eighth grade—it currently covers kindergarten through fifth grade.
The original legislation was tacked on by Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, by amendment to a House bill by Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, requiring students to use the bathroom that aligns with their sex assigned at birth.
Butler said his bill in the 2023 session was filed just to “get the conversation started” and said there are still potential changes to the bill to come.
“I’m supposed to meet with some people pretty soon on that, some different groups,” Butler said.
One of the groups Butler said he has had contact with is Moms for Liberty. A flier obtained by APR shows that Butler is scheduled to speak with the Madison County chapter of Moms for Liberty by Zoom on Nov. 2 about the bill.
The flier advertises that Butler will be speaking about “his ‘age appropriate curriculum’ bill which would ban gender ideology, religion, race and sexual orientation from being taught in K-12 for all educational institutions.”
The current legislation only deals with gender ideology and sexual orientation, and Butler told APR he has no plans to add anything to the statue about race or religion.
“Just like America was founded on freedom of religion, we’re not picking winners and losers on any religion or races,” Butler said. “I see us as all part of one race: the human race. I do not anticipate (adding race or religion to the statute). The main gist of what I think we want to do is to expand current law from K-5 to K-12.”
APR asked Butler whether the law would apply to a school asking students to do a book report on a book that featured gay characters.
“I do not think a book report would fall under this,” Butler said. “Gay people have been around since the beginning of time. The new fad is to push people towards this transgender— which I think is probably a fad. If you want to pretend you’re.a woman, have at it, but that doesn’t mean I have to go along with it. There is definitely a difference between men and women.”
Butler said this bill would protect the innocence of children.
“Most of us feel pretty strongly about protecting our children’s innocence,” Butler said. “Most parents would not like their children exposed to that stuff at early. It keeps the school from making an agenda out of it with assignments.”
If Butler truly does bring the bill as an expansion of the “Don’t Say Gay” law through 12th grade, it would be one of three legislative goals by Clean Up Alabama, a statewide group challenging LGBTQ content in young adult and children’s sections of public libraries.
Minutes from an August meeting of the group identify an expansion of the law as one of the group’s goals, although it vaguely mentions that the law should be applicable to public libraries.
Butler said this bill only deals with public educational although he expects legislation will be filed in regards to libraries.
“If you look at … what was read at the (Alabama Public Library Service recently) … I served 10 years on that state board,, and a couple years as its president,” Butler said. “I watched video of that happen in Montgomery. The president now tried to stop the lady, and said ‘That’s inappropriate.’ Some of this stuff is just inappropriate.”
The “lady” Butler is referring to is Hannah Rees, executive director of Clean Up Alabama, and she was reading an excerpt from the book “Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins detailing a scene in which a teen forced into prostitution by poverty is raped by an adult man.
“I want to be very protective and be an advocate for students and protective of the students and their innocence,” Butler said.
Clean Up Alabama has also found support for one of its other legislative goals, to remove a criminal exemption for providing obscenity or “material harmful to minors” to minors. ALGOP chairman John Wahl said the Legislature should look into that if the libraries are going to “do obscenity.”
Wahl has also come under fire from Read Freely Alabama, a statewide group opposing recent library book challenges, for being scheduled to attend a roundtable hosted by Clean Up Alabama, noting his service on the APLS board and calling it a conflict of interest.
Wahl said he is merely listening to citizens and weighing their concerns.