Equity & Diversity

Pronouns for Trans, Nonbinary Students: The States With Laws That Restrict Them in Schools

By Eesha Pendharkar — June 14, 2023 7 min read
Protesters cheer outside Senate chambers at the Indiana Statehouse on March 22, 2023, in Indianapolis. Indiana schools may soon be required to notify parents if their child requests a name or pronoun change at school, after state Senators on April 10, 2023, advanced a bill that some worry could out transgender kids to their parents.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Teachers, staff, and classmates aren’t required to use students’ pronouns or names if they don’t align with the student’s sex assigned at birth, according to legislation passed in at least 10 states.

In at least six of the 10 laws, teachers or administrators are also required to tell parents if their child requests to use a different name or pronouns.

These laws are part of larger efforts to restrict transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students at school.

See Also

Supporters of a bill to create a "parents' bill of rights" attend a rally outside the New Hampshire Statehouse on Tuesday, April 18, 2023, in Concord, N.H. The rally was held ahead of a public hearing on the bill in the House Education Committee.
Supporters of a bill to create a "parents' bill of rights" attend a rally outside the New Hampshire Statehouse on Tuesday, April 18, 2023, in Concord, N.H. New Hampshire is one of six states where parents have sued districts over keeping their children's pronouns secret and allegedly violating their rights.
Holly Ramer/AP

These laws often restrict transgender students’ right to use school bathrooms that align with their gender identity, or limit their participation in school sports. Some pronoun laws also include another type of restriction, such as a restriction on lessons about gender identity and sexual orientation lessons, or restrictions on gender affirming care in schools.

Pronoun laws are a relatively new type of legislation. All 10 states that passed these laws—and the two bills in Louisiana sent to the governor for signatures—introduced them starting May 2022.

Proponents of the laws say they defend the free speech rights of teachers, or the rights of parents to direct their children’s education.

In at least six states, parents have sued schools over policies school districts say are designed to support students’ social transitions to a gender different from what was assigned to them at birth. These lawsuits allege that parents’ 14th Amendment rights to direct the upbringing of their children are violated when schools do not inform them of their children’s pronouns or names, or provide other types of aid in their social transition at school.

None of these states where parents are suing have laws restricting teachers from using students’ requested pronouns.

Which states have passed laws restricting pronouns?

The states where pronoun laws were passed are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Montana, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah. In Louisiana, two separate bills were sent to the governor for signatures after being approved by state legislators. A bill in Arizona was vetoed by the governor in May after being passed by the state legislature.

What is the pronoun law in Alabama?

Alabama’s law was one of the first laws that laid out how teachers and other school staff should handle students’ gender identity.

The law mainly deals with gender-affirming care, but also includes a section that prohibits teachers or other school staff from encouraging a student to “withhold from the minor’s parent or legal guardian the fact that the minor’s perception of his or her gender or sex is inconsistent with the minor’s sex.”

The law also makes it illegal to withhold information about a student’s gender identity from parents, if it is inconsistent with their sex assigned at birth.

What is the pronoun law in Arkansas?

Under Arkansas’ law, teachers and school staff need parental approval to use a student’s pronouns or name that is “inconsistent” with the sex and name on the student’s birth certificate.

The law also prohibits schools from requiring teachers to use the pronouns or name a transgender or nonbinary student uses, and does not allow disciplinary consequences for students who intentionally refer to a student in ways that do not align with their gender identity.

What is the pronoun law in Florida?

In addition to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which has been interpreted by districts across the state to limit education on gender and sexual identity, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a separate law that requires public schools to pass policies declaring that a “person’s sex is an immutable biological trait and that it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person’s sex.”

Under the law, teachers can’t ask students their pronouns, can’t be required to use students’ or other teachers’ pronouns if they don’t align with their sex assigned at birth, and also may not share the pronouns they use for themselves with students if they do not correspond to the teacher’s sex.

What is the pronoun law in Indiana?

Indiana’s law will require schools to “notify a parent when their student asks to be called a different name or uses pronouns that correspond with their gender, not their sex.”

It does not include details on whether teachers are required to use students’ requested pronouns.

The law, which goes into effect July 1, also includes a restriction on lessons about “human sexuality” for elementary schools.

What is the pronoun law in Iowa?

Iowa’s law says that if a student asks to go by pronouns or a name different from the one in a district’s records, teachers have to report the student’s request to an administrator, who then has to report it to the student’s parent or guardian.

The law also holds districts accountable for violations of this requirement. Districts or individual employees can receive a written warning from the state’s department of education for the first violation. For subsequent violations, a superintendent or another school employee can be subject to a hearing conducted by the state licensing entity, which may result in disciplinary action.

Iowa’s law also bans education on gender identity and sexual orientation for K-6 grades.

What is the pronoun law in Kentucky?

Kentucky’s law includes several types of restrictions.

It bans school districts from requiring teachers to use a student’s pronouns if they don’t align with their sex assigned at birth. The law also bans lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation for all grades, and prevents transgender students from using school bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity and not the sex assigned at birth.

Even if a parent provides written consent for a transgender or nonbinary student to request accommodations, the only bathroom access for those students can be single stall or faculty bathrooms, according to the law.

Is there a pronoun law in Louisiana?

Louisiana legislators passed two bills last week and sent them to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office for signatures. Both bills would allow teachers to reject students’ pronoun requests.

Edwards, a Democrat, said he opposes the legislation, and plans to veto the bills, according to Axios. Republican lawmakers who passed the bills can try to override Edwards’ vetos. (Last year, Edwards didn’t block a law banning transgender athletes from participating in women and girls sports competitions because he said the Republican majority would override his veto.)

If one of the bills, HB466, does become law, it would allow school employees to refuse to use a student’s name or pronouns if they differ from the ones given to them at birth, even if the requested name and pronouns are supported by parents.

Either bill would also allow teachers or other employees to not use a transgender or nonbinary student’s name or pronouns because of their “religious or moral convictions.

What is the pronoun law in Montana?

Montana’s law stops schools from punishing students who intentionally misgender peers or refer to them by names and pronouns they may have used before transitioning—as long as it did not constitute bullying.

A May 2023 update to the law requires school districts to create policies for parents to provide written consent before their child can use different pronouns at school. The updated law also says that no one at school can be compelled to use those pronouns if they don’t align with that student’s sex assigned at birth.

What is the pronoun law in North Dakota?

North Dakota’s law allows teachers to ignore the pronouns their transgender students and colleagues use.

It also requires teachers to disclose students’ identities to parents or legal guardians if students identify as transgender.

The law also prohibits students from using the bathroom of their choice without parental consent.

What is the pronoun law in Tennessee?

Tennessee’s law says that a district can’t require teachers or other school employees to use students’ pronouns if they don’t align with their sex assigned at birth. The law was passed to protect teachers’ free speech, according to the bill text.

It also says teachers and school districts can’t be held liable if teachers choose not to use a student’s requested pronouns, if they don’t align with the student’s sex assigned at birth.

What is the pronoun law in Utah?

Utah’s law is one of the only laws that does not directly mention pronouns. (The only other example of this is Alabama’s law.)

Instead, it prohibits any district from making changes to a student’s educational records regarding the student’s gender identity, unless the district has written consent from the student’s parent.

This only applies if the student’s gender identity “does not conform with the student’s sex,” according to the law.

Maya Riser-Kositsky, Librarian and Data Specialist contributed to this article.

Events

School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Opinion 70 Years After 'Brown,' Schools Are Still Separate and Unequal
The legal strategy to prioritize school integration has had some unforeseen consequences in the decades since.
4 min read
A hand holds a scale weighing integration against resource allocation in observation of the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case.
Noelle Rx for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How a DEI Rebrand Is Playing Out in K-12 Schools
School districts continue to advance DEI initiatives, though the focus is more on general inclusion and belonging for all.
9 min read
Ahenewa El-Amin speaks with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Ahenewa El-Amin speaks with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024. State leaders in Kentucky are pushing the message of making sure all students feel they belong in school including by offering ethnic studies courses.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion 70 Years of Abandonment: The Failed Promise of 'Brown v. Board'
If the nation is going to refuse integration, Black people must demand we revisit the separate but equal doctrine, writes Bettina L. Love.
4 min read
A Black student is isolated from their classmates by an aisle in the classroom.
Xia Gordon for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion 'Brown v. Board of Education' at 70: A Dream Dissolved
This anniversary should remind us that progress is not inevitable. We stand now at a critical juncture.
R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy
4 min read
A young Black woman's image dissolves in the smoke.
iStock/Getty Images