They’ll Come For Us Here, Too (If We Let Them)
A member of the Oregon House of Representatives has introduced two new bills in this year’s legislative session: one modeled on Florida’s notorious “Don’t Say Gay” law and another that seeks to limit the teaching of so-called “critical race theory.”
Representative Kim Wallan, of Medford, has introduced House Bills 2477 and 2475, which mark the latest attempt by conservative Republicans to bring America’s raging culture wars into the halls of the Oregon Capitol.
HB 2477 is remarkably similar to the law signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that went into effect last year–in fact, the heart of Rep. Wallan’s bill copied almost entire paragraphs from the Florida law in her own bill. For example, the text of the Florida law reads:
“Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate for developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Compare that to the first draft of Rep. Wallan’s bill:
“Classroom instruction by school employees, contractors, agents and volunteers on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur without parental notification and consent in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Rep. Wallan doesn’t stop plagiarizing Florida’s anti-gay law there, either. In the next section of her proposed bill, Wallan writes:
“At the beginning of the school year, each school district shall notify a student’s parents of health care services offered at the student’s school and the option to withhold consent or decline any specific service. Parental consent to a healthcare service does not waive the parent’s right to access the student’s educational or health records or to be notified about a change in the student’s services or monitoring as provided by this section.”
Compare this to the bill signed by DeSantis in 2022:
“At the beginning of the school year, each school district shall notify parents of each health care service offered at their student’s school and the option to withhold consent or decline any specific service. Parental consent to a health care service does not waive the parent’s right to access his or her student’s educational or health records or to be notified about a change in his or her student’s services or monitoring as provided by this paragraph.”
Clearly, this is the latest attempt by state-level Republicans to use divisive culture war issues to score political points at the expense of LGBTQ students, families, and educators. Wallan’s bill–she’s the only sponsor as of this writing–would make it harder for LGBTQ students to receive any gender-affirming care in school without parental consent. The bill pushes back against attempts by the state and federal government to expand civil rights protections for LGBTQ students, much like similar laws popping up across the country.
In the months since DeSantis signed the law, over a dozen states–most of them dominated by right-wing Republicans–have tried to pass copycat laws. Some states have taken it even further, like the proposed North Dakota law that would’ve fined people $1,500 for each time they used someone’s correct pronouns–that is, if one’s pronouns didn’t match the ones assigned them on their birth certificate. Lawmakers in North Dakota are also trying to ban the use of the term “nonbinary” on birth certificates. And eight states have introduced bills trying to limit or ban healthcare for transgender teens and adults altogether. Taken altogether, there are a whopping 210 anti-trans laws being proposed across the United States.
But people in supposedly “progressive” states like Oregon–that is, states typically dominated by liberal Democrats–have been lulled into a false sense of security. While Oregon has some of the strongest pro-LGBTQ laws and protections in the nation, bills like Rep. Wallan’s demonstrate that the fight is far from over. While it still feels safe to live openly as a queer person in places like Portland and Eugene, it’s important to remember that all the hard fought victories and rights can be taken away from us, bit by bit–a rollback of civil rights via a million tiny cuts.
But Kim Wallan isn’t content with just embracing the latest right-wing culture war panic over queer people’s right to exist and live private lives. She’s also embracing the right-wing culture panic over so-called “critical race theory” by introducing HB 2475. That proposed law states:
“Prohibits public institution of education or educational employee from requiring, compelling, coercing or otherwise directing student to acknowledge, affirm, declare, confess, state or in any way act in accordance with belief that any race, ethnicity, color, sex, gender, religion or national origin is inherently superior or inferior to another, that individual may be discriminated against or treated in different manner on basis of individual’s membership in particular group or classification, or that any individual, by virtue of individual’s membership in particular group or classification, endorses, benefits uniquely from or is inherently responsible for actions that other individuals with membership in same group or classification have taken.
That dense thicket of legalese is confusing on purpose: it’s trying to obscure the fact that it’s an attempt to ban even so much as a discussion of systemic racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and the settler-colonial roots of the State of Oregon itself in classrooms. This bill, if signed into law, would effectively outlaw so much as entertaining the idea of white, cisgender, heterosexual privilege and power in the classroom.
But that’s still not all! Kim Wallan is also sponsoring a bill that would tweak the language of Oregon’s equal law–one of the broadest in the country–that only mandates equal pay for equal work “between the sexes”, removing the original language that read “on the basis of a protected class”–which would effectively legalize pay discrimination for everyone except… white cis het women, I guess?
I reached out to Rep. Wallan via email with a few questions about her bills and her end game, which I’ve included below, for transparency:
- I noticed that House Bill 2477 uses language that is remarkably similar to Florida’s House Bill 1557, the “Parental Rights in Education Act” (otherwise known by its detractors as “Don’t Say Gay”). There are entire paragraphs that are almost word-for-word copies of the Florida law.
Was that an intentional choice? And if so, why use such a controversial law as a model for your proposed bill?”
- HB 2475 seems to tackle the idea that “critical race theory” is being taught and shared in schools across Oregon and aims to prohibit that in education. I know that you were previously on the school board in Medford, and presumably spent many years in the education system, including college and law school.
In your memory, can you recall any specific instances of a teacher using “critical race theory” during your time on the school board or in education yourself? Or have you ever heard specific testimony from parents complaining of their children being taught “critical race theory” or any of the proposed prohibited subjects in the bill?”
- What’s your favorite book?
Rep. Wallan did not respond to these questions.
In short, Kim Wallan is using the same playbook as state legislators across America. They all follow the lead of right-wing politicians in Texas and Florida, seeing what works (and what gets lots of right-wing media attention) before crafting their own laws along the same lines.
But the difference between people like Ron Desantis and state politicians like Kim Wallan is the luxury of anonymity. It is unlikely that Kim Wallan is a household name anywhere outside of Medford (and for that matter, neither are Rep. Dodie Horton of Louisiana, or Sen. David Clemens of North Dakota, or the thousands of other state representatives that fly under the radar while passing vicious anti-LGBTQ legislation.)
Before today, you probably wouldn’t have known that Kim Wallan has a much bigger purview than just right-wing culture war. She sits on several committees in the legislature, including the House Committee on Climate, Energy, and the Environment, which earned her some large campaign donations from groups like the Natural Gas Political Action Committee and the Associated Oregon Loggers PAC. Likewise, you might not know that Wallan is endorsed by the Oregon Chiefs of Police Association; Sheriffs of Oregon; Builders Association of Southern Oregon; Oregon Farm Bureau Federation; and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, among many others.
It’s easy to miss that Wallan has also recently introduced bills seeking to end public workers’ right to strike–just in time for the coming wave of mass labor action. And, you likely didn’t know that prominent contributors to her campaigns include:
- Oregon Health Care Association PAC, which represents 90 percent of senior and long-term living facilities in the state and happens to be going through a bit of a labor movement themselves.
- The Union Pacific Railroad Company, which is also feeling the pinch of the resurgent American labor movement.
- Chevron, whose crimes are too numerous for a single bullet point.
- Weyerhaeuser, whose workers went on strike last year.
- Amazon, whose workers’ labor struggles are well known.
- And (perhaps most damning) Koch Industries, the granddaddy of all Republican cash cows.
Beyond that, you might not know that she took money from the Oregon Firearms Federation, a hardline right-wing group of gun enthusiasts. And, you also might not know that she also accepted donations from Oregon Right to Life, one of the biggest anti-abortion groups in the state. She’s also opposed to rent control and tenant protections, citing her own experience as a landlord–both in Oregon and in Florida.
You might not have known any of that about Representative Kim Wallan of Medford. I know I didn’t. But now we do–and now that we know, what are we going to do about it?
Because it’s clear that something needs to be done–before it’s too late.
It would be tempting to believe wholeheartedly that Wallan’s bills will die in their respective committees, never to see the light of a floor vote. And even if it did make it to the floor for a vote, Democrats hold 35 of 60 seats in the House of Representatives and 17 of the 30 seats in the Senate–a slim majority, but a majority nonetheless. And, even if it were to make it to the governor’s desk, I would like to believe that Tina Kotek, one of the two first openly lesbian women to be elected governor of a U.S. state–alongside Massachusetts’ Maura Healey–would veto the bill without a second thought.
Wallan’s bills are dangerous, but it’s easy to believe that we’re still safe here, that there are protections for us, and that these laws will never come to pass in our state, in our lifetimes.
But so long as people like Kim Wallan keep getting elected into office, we’ll never be truly safe.