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Missouri Residents Protest Law That Would Ban LGBTQ+ Education Subjects

LGBTQ advocates signs

At the hearing, dozens of people showed up, including students, teachers, parents, and advocates. There was not one public comment in favor of the bill.

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JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri (KOMU) — Dozens of LGBTQ advocates and supporters gathered at the Capitol Wednesday to oppose House bill 634, also known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee met to hear public comment on different bills involving the development of public education.

HB 634, which establishes protections of parental rights to direct the mental, emotional, physical health and well-being of children, garnered a lot of testimony.

The bill is a direct copy from Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill, according to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ann Kelley (R-Lamar).

At the hearing, dozens of people showed up, including students, teachers, parents, and advocates. There was not one public comment in favor of the bill.

The number of testimonies was so large, the committee had to shorten comments from three minutes to two and a half minutes to accommodate.

Those against the bill were most concerned with the specific section that bans schools from providing classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Advocates argued that the bill would not only censor and limit the language of a marginalized group, but also harm the relationship between educators and students.

Many students skipped school to attend the hearing so their voices could be heard.

Neon Liebson, an eleventh grader at Crossroads College Prep, says this is their third time testifying. Liebson said he drives two and a half hours from St. Louis to fight for the LGBTQ community.

He says it's hard to focus on anything else when he feels he has to fight for their rights.

"It's created this sense of urgency and fear and also like a depression throughout my community because we're in a place that we constantly have to fight for our rights, and we never get a break," Liebson said.

Another student, Andrew Rodriguez Damsgard, says although he got lucky with having a supportive school, the passing of the bill could destroy that opportunity for other transgender students.

He says the restriction of teaching sexual orientation in public schools could impact LGBTQ representation in education, leaving LGBTQ kids feeling ostracized from society.

"It's life or death, sometimes literally," he said, "It's a buildup of different things, but not seeing yourself in the media or at school, that can be the last straw for some people."

Liebson says it's a big sacrifice showing up.

"It's a really hard and lonely thing to do. Even if you're surrounded by a community, you still feel kind of alone because you're constantly having to justify your existence to a group of white, old men who don't want to believe you can exist," Liebson said.

Liebson and other advocates say they will continue to show up in support of the LGBTQ community.

For transgender student Cela Masaki, she has one thing to say to supporters of the bill.

"Legislation like this threatens to destroy the future of more precious memories, and to representatives that think it's okay to control speech, I'm sorry, and I hope you can find love in your heart," Masaki said.

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