Earlier this month, a Florida Senate committee approved the Parental Rights in Education bill, commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, in a blatant attempt to promote LGBTQ+ erasure. Introduced by Republican State Sen. Dennis Baxley, the bill would prohibit Florida school districts from encouraging discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in a non “age-appropriate” or “developmentally appropriate” way, as well as enable parents to take legal action against districts who refuse to comply. This bill will be detrimental to the health of LGBTQ+ students in Florida, shaming their identities and shrinking their support system.
For starters, the terms of this bill fail to define what a non “age-appropriate” discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity constitutes, opening the door for the bias of parents and judges to impact its enforcement.
Regardless, there shouldn’t be any subjectivity towards when it is appropriate for children to learn about sexuality and gender identity. If a child is old enough to learn that men and women can love each other, they can learn that everyone can love each other.
Though the idea of gender may seem more complicated to adults, the social construct of gender has not been as ingrained in children as it has been for us. Our understanding of stereotypical gender roles differ from one another. Children are blank slates, and by trying to shield them from reality, the supporters of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill are trying to maintain our heteronormative (the view of heterosexuality as the preferred sexual orientation) society’s biases against LGBTQ+ individuals.
The bill won’t stop children from identifying as LGBTQ+ either, so what are Florida politicians trying to prevent?
I didn’t even know that the word “bisexual” existed until I was 14; yet when I did learn it, it wasn’t in school or health class. Despite not being taught about it, I identified with the group immediately. The lack of education and outward support had a negative impact on my mental health, and many LGBTQ+ youth share similar stories. We are an extremely vulnerable segment of the population. The Trevor Project — a nonprofit organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ youth — reported in 2021 that 42% of LGBTQ+ youth “seriously considered attempting suicide” within the past year.
Preventing discussions about sexuality and gender will also send a message to LGBTQ+ youth that something is wrong with them and will possibly discourage teachers from supporting such students. Since school districts could face being sued for violating the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, teachers could face adverse consequences for any infractions. Even if a teacher does not support the bill, they should not be forced to choose between their livelihoods and their students’ well-being. Supportive instructors were highlights in my high school experience and they can have a great positive impact on students’ lives. It’s shameful that this bill would undermine them.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill also specifies that school districts would have to implement procedures for notifying parents of changes relevant to their student’s “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.” Essentially, information such as the student’s sexuality would have to be reported to their guardian(s). Another clause states that the information can be withheld upon reasonable suspicion of consequences like abuse, but there is ultimately no way for any district’s administration to predict the parents’ reaction. The Trevor Project also found that only about one in three LGBTQ+ youth marked their homes as “LGBTQ-affirming.” Forcing students into a situation where their parents are judgmental or even hostile towards them because of their sexuality or gender identity is awful. Children should get to decide if, when, and how they notify their parents of their identity.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis displayed support for the bill, stating that parents need “a seat at the table” concerning their child’s education. However, it is clear that DeSantis wants only a certain demographic of parents to benefit from this bill. No parent in the LGBTQ+ community would reasonably support it, and nor would most Democrat parents. According to a Gallup poll from Jun. 2021, 83% of Democrats support same-sex marriage, compared to only 55% of Republicans.
DeSantis is surely aware of this difference, suggesting his desire to enable Republican parents who are more likely to disapprove of the LGBTQ+ community to express their hatred through their children. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill was crafted to mold children into being just as ignorant and hateful as their Republican parents.
The bill’s advocates are seeking to push back against the social and political progress that LGBTQ+ individuals have made in America. They are attempting to suppress a group that needs to be supported. Evidently, the “Republican agenda” is more dangerous than the “gay agenda.”
Daniel Waters is an Opinion Intern for the 2022 winter quarter. He can be reached at email@example.com.