Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in front of the Florida State Capitol, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. Credit: Wilfredo Lee

ATLANTA — Days before a key legislative deadline, Georgia Republican state senators introduced a proposal modeled after Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that aims to deter teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.

Senate Bill 613 stands little chance of passing this late in the legislative session, though its provisions could be spliced onto other proposals that have already gained traction.

Senior Republicans indicated that wouldn’t happen. Still, even if it is destined for the dustbin, the measure’s mere existence means it could be used as grist to energize conservatives on the campaign trail — and a trial balloon that sets the stage for more serious discussion next year.

Among its 10 co-sponsors are two candidates for higher office: Bruce Thompson, who is running for labor commissioner, and Burt Jones, who would be president of the state Senate if he’s elected lieutenant governor.

The senators introduced the legislation after Florida lawmakers gave final approval to a proposal that specifically forbids public school districts from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity to students in kindergarten through third grade.

Georgia’s measure differs by singling out private schools that have “inappropriately discussed gender identity with children who have not yet reached the age of discretion.”

It would ban teachers in private schools from discussing “sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner not appropriate for the age and developmental stage of the student.”

The language also claims that private schools that base coursework in “critical theory” have decided to “segregate students, staff and parents by ethnicity, color, race and national origin.”

Jones, who is running for Georgia’s No. 2 job with Donald Trump’s support, issued a statement outlining his endorsement of the bill.

“No teacher should be promoting gender identity discussions with small children in a classroom setting — which is exactly what this bill says and why I support it.”

Opponents of the initiative see it as an attempt to denigrate the LBTQ community. They also raise questions about wording that could include all publicly funded programs, despite the measure’s stated intent to focus solely on “private education.”

“GOP, get it through y’all’s heads that LGBTQ Georgians are not piñatas to bash in your campaign ads,” wrote state Rep. Matthew Wilson, an openly gay Democratic lawmaker who is running for insurance commissioner. “Your performative cruelty won’t erase us.”

It joins a long list of education-related proposals this year that has put Georgia classrooms on the front lines of culture wars.

Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution