Alaska attorney general says teachers need parental consent to discuss gender identity

Students in Halloween costumes hold signs during a walkout protest of recent school board decisions.
Wasilla High School students walked out of class with students at six other Mat-Su high schools to protest recent school board decisions on Oct. 31, 2023. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor issued new guidance about discussions of gender identity in public schools in a letter last week to educators and parents across the state.

Taylor has reinterpreted a statute requiring public schools to notify parents in advance of any content involving “human reproduction” or “sexual matters,” saying that statute also extends to discussions of gender identity.

The interpretation also comes as Taylor issued letters to Alaska’s librarians, warning that allowing access to certain books to children, about things like gender identity or abuse, could result in criminal charges. 

Anchorage Daily News reporter Iris Samuels wrote about Taylor’s letter, and she says Taylor’s guidance, issued unilaterally, updates a parental consent law the Legislature passed in 2016.


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This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Iris Samuels: That 2016 law is a law that was meant to limit the ways sexual education can be taught in Alaska public schools. That law was actually championed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy when he was a member of the state Senate. And one of the things it does is require teachers to inform parents two weeks before they teach anything that’s related to sex ed, and then give those parents the option to opt their kid out of that class.

Wesley Early: Taylor’s interpretation of this statute seems similar to a bill that Gov. Dunleavy proposed last year that had to do with parental consent with schooling. Is there any overlap between the two?

IS: Yeah, there is. So last year, Gov. Dunleavy proposed a bill that was really building on that 2016 law, and it would have done several things. It would have banned any sexual education before fourth grade, so kids before fourth grade wouldn’t be able to be taught anything related to sex ed. And then it also would have required parental consent for anything that falls under the category of sex ed after fourth grade, and that would have explicitly mentioned gender. So basically, that law would have made what Treg Taylor reinterpreted, just codified in state law.

WE: So what are you hearing from lawmakers about this move from the Attorney General?

IS: I spoke with Sen. Löki Tobin, who is the chair of the Senate Education Committee. And she really sees this as trying to take an element from that bill that the Governor proposed last year and putting it into state law in a way that it didn’t exist, at least not explicitly, just with basically saying sex ed also includes anything related to gender and gender identity. And she is not happy about this. Sen. Tobin was vehemently opposed to that bill last year. So she basically sees this as kind of a step in that direction. 

WE: Taylor also recently issued a letter to school and public libraries across the state having to do with access of books. Can you describe his concerns in the letter?

IS: So the letter doesn’t really state any concerns explicitly. It basically goes through a list of laws that could theoretically apply to librarians pertaining to what materials can be made available to minors, specifically materials that have any sort of sexual content in them. And he’s basically making this veiled statement to librarians: if you provide books that have some kind of sexual content to children, you could be charged with some kind of felony crime related to the dissemination of sexual content, pornographic content to children. 

WE: Was there any trigger to this letter from the Attorney General? Because it sounds like a lot of the movements that have been in the Lower 48 to, sort of, look more closely at books that are in libraries and, in some cases, ban books. I know that there’s a recent lawsuit by the ACLU against the Mat-Su School Board. Was anything prompting Taylor to send this letter? 

IS: So we don’t know of any specific thing that prompted it. But it is very clearly tied to this national movement of banning books. And I think it’s not a coincidence that this letter became public on the same day that the ACLU and the Northern Justice Project sued the Mat-Su School District for banning 56 books in that district. So I think that even though he’s not mentioning this national movement to ban books, that’s really what it’s related to.

WE: How are library officials responding to Taylor’s letter? Do they express any concerns about the letter kind of matching this national movement? 

IS: I think that for people, particularly librarians, who are dedicated to ensuring that children have access to all the books and content that they should have access to, they’re worried that this is an intimidation tactic. And I think that a lot of these books that have been banned, or there’s been an attempt to ban them in other parts of the country and in Alaska, they have to do with depicting the experiences of people of color, depicting experiences of sexual violence in some cases.

And for some kids, that’s really an opportunity for them to find out if they themselves have been exposed to experiences that they shouldn’t be exposed to, or in other cases, to see themselves in these stories where they may not be able to see themselves in other narratives that aren’t being challenged. So there’s a concern both about ensuring that kids can identify abuse when they experience it, and that kids can see themselves in the books that they’re able to access in the library.

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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