“Don’t Say Gay” Bill Advances
The teaching of LGBTQ subjects in Florida schools has become a focus of the state’s legislature, with “Don’t Say Gay” bills emerging in both the House and Senate.
Officially dubbed the Parental Rights in Education bill, the legislation would prevent Florida school districts from “[encouraging] classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” Other provisions in the bill would also make it easier to out LGBTQ students to their parents without students’ consent
Similar to the controversial Texas abortion law passed last year, the bill would allow parents to sue school systems for damages if teachers or other education professionals violate the statute. While the Senate bill is yet to pass a committee vote, the House bill passed a vote in the House Education & Employment Committee earlier this week. It is now in the hands of the House Judiciary Committee.
The House bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Harding, believes the measures are needed to “reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding upbringing and control of their children.” But state and national LGBTQ advocacy groups believe these “Don’t Say Gay” bills threaten LGBTQ youth.
“This Will Kill Kids”
“We have to create a learning environment where [LGBTQ youth] feel safe and healthy, or it’s not an effective learning environment,” the Zebra Coalition’s Heather Wilkie told ABC News. “When you have laws like this, that directly attack our kids for who they are, it prevents them from learning. It prevents them from being able to be healthy.”
“This would erase LGBTQ+ history and culture from lesson plans and it sends a chilling message to LGBTQ+ young people and communities,” added GLSEN executive director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers.
To Jacksonville attorney and Equality Florida development officer Jimmy Midyette, framing schools as an inappropriate venue for discussion of LGBTQ topics is “a bad message” to send to LGBTQ youth. “I think that is because that’s what or how some students come in. I mean, students there are gay and trans in every classroom in Duval County,” he told News4JAX. “They look to the adults to show the right behavior, and if adults can’t even confirm they’re feeling or what they are, that’s a bad message to send to young people of any age.”
Chasten Buttigieg, LGBTQ activist and husband of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, called out Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis specifically. “This will kill kids, [Ron DeSantis]. You are purposefully making your state a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in,” he said via Twitter.
The Effect Of LGBTQ-Affirming Spaces
Buttigieg also highlighted a national survey conducted by LGBTQ youth suicide prevention organization The Trevor Project that spelled out the heightened rates of suicidal ideation experienced by LGBTQ youth. According to that survey, 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. The number jumps above 50% for trans and nonbinary youth.
The survey also provided evidence that access to affirming spaces lowered rates of suicide attempts by LGBTQ youth. 50% of respondents stated that school provided LGBTQ-affirming spaces, while only 34% named their home as an affirming space. “The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year,” Sam Ames, The Trevor Project’s Advocacy and Government Affairs director, told the Washington Blade.
“This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” Ames added. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”
Midyette believes the bills represent another culture war volley meant to play to a political base in an election year. “Not to be cynical, but we do have this election year and a lot of legislators are running for re-election,” Midyette said. “And at times they want to pick on their political enemies in order to score points with their base, and I suppose that may be what’s happening here.”
Don’t Say Gay: Previously on Towleroad
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons