OPINION: Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill represents a national attack on LGBTQIA+ acceptance in schools

Multiple people holding signs wave pride flags at night.
(Courtesy: Ted Eytan via Flickr)

On Feb. 8, Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill, commonly known as “Don’t Say Gay,” was approved by the State Senate’s Educational Committee — its first step toward becoming law. This bill has garnered significant national attention, and rightfully so. Proposed by Republican legislator Dennis Baxley, the “Parental Rights in Education” bill claims simply to allow parents to have a voice in their children’s education. 

In reality, the bill is a facade for restricting students’ privacy and access to information. It includes provisions that require school staff members to disclose a student’s sexuality or gender identity to their parents or guardian and prohibits a school district from “encourag[ing] 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.”

Although making it out of one committee by no means guarantees the bill’s overall passage — it still has to pass through two more committees, get approved by the state House and Senate, and be signed into law by the governor — LGBTQIA+ activists in Florida are assuming the worst. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has already voiced his support of “Don’t Say Gay,” commenting that it is “entirely inappropriate” for students to be learning about LGBTQIA+ identities in school. 

More importantly, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is not alone in its impact; it follows a dangerous national trend of proposed and implemented legislation attacking the existence of LGBTQIA+ students and families. Indeed, seven states have already proposed bills to regulate how sexuality and gender identity are discussed in textbooks and school curricula. 

These pieces of legislation are not only ignorant but downright damaging. Previous studies have shown that LGBTQIA+ youth are at a much higher risk for suicide compared to their cisgender-heterosexual counterparts, largely as a result of a lack of acceptance from family members and school communities. But learning about LGBTQIA+ history and identities in school can help combat this; in fact, a 2021 study from The Trevor Project found that students who have seen LGBTQIA+ history and identities represented in their school curriculum are 23 percent less likely to attempt suicide. 

Representation of LGBTQIA+ issues in schools can not only reduce bullying but allow queer and transgender students to feel internally affirmed and understood. Instead, pieces of legislation like this one are depriving LGBTQIA+ students of much-needed representation, exposing them to further bullying and the risk of suicide. 

Along with these proposed bills “regulating” educational conversation and lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity, many states in the U.S. have passed laws banning young transgender athletes from participating in school-sponsored sports. Recently, in October 2021, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the most restrictive ban on transgender childrens’ participation in sports, declaring that students may participate only in K-12 sports teams aligned with the sex assigned on their birth certificate. Florida passed a similar policy in June, banning transgender women in particular from playing on women’s sports teams in the state’s public high schools and colleges. 

These bans on participation in sports also negatively impact the mental health of LGBTQIA+ students. Sports increase psychological, social, and physical well-being among all students, and transgender students in particular have reported that sports teams and other extracurricular groups are places where they are able to find the most acceptance. In simultaneously rolling back the educational representation of LGBTQIA+ students and restricting their participation in athletics, state governments are completely disregarding the mental well-being of transgender students, as they are time and time again denied access to empowering communities. 

For people at the 5Cs — an environment that is relatively more inclusive for LGBTQIA+ students — it could perhaps be easy to underestimate the prevalence of homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination throughout the country. It is essential that we acknowledge life outside of this “liberal bubble” and continue to advocate for a world where LGBTQIA+ students can lead happy and fulfilling lives without the burden of discrimination. Consider signing Equality Florida’s petition in opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, donating to mutual aid funds for trans and other queer individuals, or finding ways to support the LGBTQIA+ community at the 5Cs, like attending events and training at the Queer Resource Center. In a moment where the floodgates have reopened for anti-LGBTQIA+ policies and attitudes, it has never been more important to fight back. 

 

Gwen Tucker SC ’25 is from Evanston, Illinois. She is passionate about community organizing, Jewish identity, and showing everyone pictures of her foster dogs. 

Facebook Comments