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Bill would let parents opt kids out of lessons on sexual orientation

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Lawmakers debated a bill Thursday at the Capitol that would require schools to let parents and guardians know of any upcoming lesson involving sexual orientation and gender identity.

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The bill would allow objecting parents to then opt their child out of those particular lessons.

Rep. Donna Rozar (R-Marshfield), who authored the bill, said her intent was to empower parents to kept their kids from being subjected to lessons that don't align with their values.

"The perceived intent, that this is to erase LGBTQ youth or to alienate those youth in any way is not an intent of this legislation," Rozar said.

Activists for the LGBTQ+ community branded the legislation as another attack on kids who might be struggling to understand their sexual orientation or gender identity, pointing to legislation earlier in the year that would've banned transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams.

Should the GOP-controlled legislature pass the bill, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers would almost certainly veto it; he previously called the transgender sports bills "a problem."

"Can we agree that children should be treated with kindness and respect?" said Brian Juchems, Co-Executive Director of GSAFE. "If so, we can't do that without empowering educators to teach students about our shared differences."

Critics questioned the unusually rushed nature of the bill. Typically, a bill that is up for a hearing will be posted on the legislature's calendar by the start of that week. This bill was first circulated for co-sponsors on Tuesday, was placed on the calendar Wednesday only 24 hours before Thursday's hearing before the Assembly's education committee.

The committee's chair, Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) did not return calls seeking an answer as to why the bill was scheduled for a hearing on such short notice.

Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Mount Horeb) questioned how the state would enforce the bill and questioned whether schools would struggle with deciding when a lesson met the threshold for notifying parents. As an example, she asked Rozar if parents would be able to opt out of a history lesson that included Harvey Milk, one of the country's first openly gay elected officials. Milk was assassinated in 1978 before having a stamp created in his honor in 2014.

"I don't know, I'm not familiar with it," Rozar said. "Is that a real person?"

Once Pope explained Milk was indeed a real person, Rozar apologized and said she was unfamiliar with his story.

Several other youth activists also testified against the bill before the hearing wrapped up after about two hours' worth of discussion.

The bill is very similar to legislation Republicans passed and signed into law in Tennessee earlier this year.