What’s the cost of ‘Don’t Say Gay’?

Published 6:32 pm Friday, May 6, 2022

By D.J. McGuire

Guest columnist


To date, Virginia has managed to avoid the culture war’s latest kerfuffle. Call it the Battle of Don’t Say Gay, if you will.

Florida and Alabama are going all in, making it unlikely that the commonwealth will permanently steer clear, especially once our own legislature comes up for election in new, unfamiliar districts next year. Some of the opponents are likely to use the arguments Kate Cohen provided in the Washington Post.

Alabama’s H.B. 322 declares that teachers “shall not engage in classroom discussion … regarding sexual orientation or gender identity in a manner that is not age appropriate.”

I don’t know what’s appropriate for what age — it’s not like I’m a trained educator or anything — so to avoid offending similarly inexpert parents, Alabama teachers should probably refrain from any allusion to heterosexuality, including references to their husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, upcoming weddings or — heaven forbid — expected babies.

As for classroom books, well, you may wonder what exactly is the heterosexual equivalent of “Heather Has Two Mommies” or the cisgender counterpart of “Call Me Max”?

The answer is, everything. These books are just tiny specks in the sea of cultural messaging that surrounds us, including every children’s book that features girls and boys, princes and princesses, moms and dads. I’m looking at you, Ma and Pa Ingalls; Marmee and Mr. March; Mr. and Mrs. Quimby, Darling and Banks.

Whatever one thinks of these arguments (and I’ll admit I’m sympathetic), it’s clear that the first item up for discussion when any law like this is enacted becomes, “What is and what isn’t OK?” From there, questions of enforcement mechanisms and procedures for accused educators are sure to follow. Combine that with what I am sure will be loud insistence among proponents of this stuff that enforcement be vigorous and it’s pretty clear that local school districts will have only one way to respond to this – increase administrative staff.

In other words, “Don’t Say Gay” is another unfunded mandate pushed on localities, while the cost of this bigotry-driven idea will likely go into the millions. To get an idea of how much, I’m using the example of my hometown of Suffolk.

From the perspectives of population and student enrollment, Suffolk is somewhat above the median. We’re not compact, though; Suffolk consists of all of what was Nansemond County before the Great Hampton Roads Consolidation. In effect, Suffolk is an outer suburban – or exurban – jurisdiction.

Suffolk has 11 elementary, five middle and three high schools. I’m assuming all of them will need at least one staffer fully dedicated to overseeing this. I’m calling them compliance officers, for lack of a better term. I’m also assuming a manager for each of the three levels and an overall supervisor. I’m also assuming these 23 staff members will be compensated on a level equal to a school counselor (which averages just under $73K in salary and over $40K in fringe benefits in Suffolk, based on school budget data).


Add it all up and “Don’t Say Gay” would cost Suffolk taxpayers more than $2.3 million annually, and given the very rough estimate here, it could go as high as $4.7 million (or as low as $1.2 million). This would require an increase of 1%-3% in local property taxes here. If your county is more rural than Suffolk, you can probably expect a lower cost figure but a higher relative tax hike; the reverse is probably true for more urban jurisdictions.

If one uses a per student cost measurement (Suffolk has just over 14,000 enrollees), the overall cost to the commonwealth would be anywhere from $105 million to $422 million.

So if (when?) this issue finally crashes into the Virginia political discourse, remember to ask yourselves: How much would you pay for “Don’t Say Gay”?


D.J. McGuire is a Suffolk resident, adjunct faculty instructor in economics at Tidewater Community College, a cost estimator and a musician. Follow him on Twitter at @deejaymcguire.