Heritage Foundation’s New Model Legislation Combines Attacks on Trans Youth and Public Education

Jay Richards, director of the DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at the Heritage Foundation (Photo: Heritage Foundation)

The right-wing’s strategic political attack on transgender people and anyone who supports them includes a new piece of model legislation that the Heritage Foundation is promoting to state legislators.

The model bill, dubbed “The Given Name Act,” was promoted on social media this week by Jay Richards, director of the DeVos Center at Heritage, and Ryan Anderson, formerly Heritage’s most visible anti-LGBTQ spokesperson and now president of another right-wing think tank, the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

The Given Name Act starts with language celebrating parents’ rights—the banner under which right-wing candidates most often wage their attacks on public schools—but the provisions of the bill make it clear that this deep concern for parental rights does not apply equally to parents who choose who support and affirm their trans kids’ identity.

The law requires all public education employees and contractors to use the name listed on a student’s birth certificate, “or derivatives thereof,” unless a student’s parent or guardian approves the use of another name in writing. The same goes for pronouns.

But even when a parent has approved the use of a student’s chosen name and pronouns, parental rights and students’ well-being are tossed aside by the law in favor of the ability of teachers and other school employees to refuse to use a student’s chosen pronouns if doing so would violate the employee’s “religious or moral convictions.” (This one-way treatment of parental rights as sacred only when parents agree with the religious right is not a new phenomenon.)

The underlying hostility to public education of the bill’s authors is made clear by an extremely draconian provision which states that any school district whose employees or contractors violate the law will not be eligible for state funding or local contracts.

So, in states that adopt the Heritage Foundation’s model legislation, an entire school district’s state funding would apparently be put at risk by any cafeteria worker, janitor, teacher, guidance counselor, or volunteer tutor who uses a name, nickname, or pronoun preferred by a student unless it has been approved in writing by a parent or guardian.

So much for free speech—which the law explicitly says does not apply to administrators, faculty, or other employees and contractors when it comes to students’ names and pronouns.