A bill that Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, has sponsored would have the effect of prohibiting discussion of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender dysphoria or related subjects at any federally funded institution. Credit: Photo courtesy Congressman Mike Johnson’s office to Louisiana Illuminator

U.S. Rep Mike Johnson of Louisiana has introduced a bill that critics are calling a federal “don’t say gay” bill that prohibits federal funding for any “sexually-oriented” event or material for children under the age of 10. 

The bill, dubbed the “Stop the Sexualization of Children Act of 2022” was co-sponsored by 32 other Republicans, including Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana. 

“The Democrat Party and their cultural allies are on a misguided crusade to immerse young children in sexual imagery and radical gender ideology,” Johnson said. 

While the bill draws inspiration from state legislation in Florida that prohibits discussion of sexual orientation in the classroom, Johnson’s bill would have the effect of prohibiting discussion of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender dysphoria or related subjects at any federally funded institution. 

In Louisiana that would prohibit many state and local agencies, including the Louisiana Department of Health, from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity with children. 

Chris Kaiser, advocacy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, said the intent of the bill is to target and prohibit any references to LGBTQ people. 

Kaiser argued the bill poses significant First Amendment concerns, as it is wide reaching and restrictions on speech must be narrowly tailored. 

“The effect of overly broad laws like this is that it creates a chilling effect on tons of expression that is constitutionally protected and is perfectly legal, but because people don’t know what they might get in trouble for, they’ll tend to self censor,” Kaiser said. 

The legislation would allow parents to file lawsuits against any public or private entity that receives federal dollars. If the bill became law, any agency that violated the prohibition more than once in a five-year period would lose access to federal funds for three years. 

The bill also specifically targets drag shows, which it describes as “burlesque shows” as well as “radical gender theory,” which the bill does not define. 

The bill specifically calls out family-friendly drag shows put on by the Department of Defense, potentially putting the military budget at risk. 

Kaiser said Republican rhetoric on the topic of drag amounts to an anti-LGBTQ dogwhistle, pointing out that both federal and state governments already criminalize sharing sexually explicit content with minors. 

In response to critics’ concerns, Johnson reiterated in a statement provided to the Illuminator that federal funds should not be used on drag shows for children. 

“​​Those who support the sexualization of our culture are mischaracterizing my bill because they oppose the basic truth that young children should be learning about reading, writing, and math at elementary school, not radical gender theory and sensitive subjects that are the responsibility of parents,” Johnson said.

This story was originally published in the Louisiana Illuminator.

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Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor...