On March 28th, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the “Parental Rights in Education Act” into law. Informally dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill, it bans any teaching related to sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten to third grade. The bill reads, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” Some believe it to be a well-intentioned attempt to protect children from inappropriate subject material. This is incorrect.
The bill’s phrasing is purposely subjective in order for it to be manipulated to the greatest possible extent against LGBTQ+ identities. If the bill were taken in its actuality, teachers could choose not to use pronouns such as “she” and “he.” They could boycott material that depicts heterosexual relationships or references the gender binary. They could prohibit any mention of male and female, not allow children to say “mother” or “father,” refuse to acknowledge the difference between “boy” and “girl.”
But they won’t.
That would be blasphemy. It would give children an inaccurate view of the world. It would spark widespread outrage. Cisgender and heterosexual (cishet) identities are our cultural norm, and they are untouchable. We’ve deemed them worthy of respect, while queerness is scorned, erased, and condemned. In theory, this bill could omit any mention of heterosexuality, but it won’t. Instead, it’s weaponized against discussions of LGBTQ+ identities. The precedent that it sets will only ever be used against queer education. DeSantis stated during a press conference that teaching children “they can be whatever they want to be” is “inappropriate.” Anyone who claims that this bill is not an act of structural trans- and homophobia is in deep denial.
Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, tweeted that opponents of “the Anti-Grooming Bill” are “probably groomer[s]” or “at least don’t denounce grooming of 4-8 year old children.” This insinuates that the mere concept of queerness is inherently pedophilic, an argument that is absurd, tired, and overused. Florida lawmakers are using antiquated, untrue reasoning—homosexuality is not any more perverted or corruptive than heterosexuality is, and the double standard is stunningly illogical.
This bill does not protect children; it endangers them. Ignorance breeds hate, and anti-queer hate crimes are already at record highs. A 2018 FBI report revealed that 1 in 5 hate crimes stem from anti-LGBTQ+ bias. In 2019, the out LGBTQ community was estimated to be about 5% of the population, and yet we comprised 19% of hate crime victims. 2021 was the deadliest year for transgender people on record, with violence against them increasing by 34% to an all-time high. 57 transgender or nonbinary people were murdered for their gender identity in 2021, and yet these deaths are usually underreported—the actual fatality number is almost certainly higher. Even in death, these victims are still disrespected. 24 people listed in the Human Rights Campaign’s initial report were misgendered by the media or police.
The ignorance that the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill breeds will lead to even higher rates of suicide. According to a report from the CDC, 33% of LGBTQ+ youth are bullied in school, compared to 17% of cishet students. Queer youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide, according to the Trevor Project, with 42% of us seriously considering suicide in 2021 and 23% attempting, compared to 5% of cishet peers. All LGBTQ+ youth are at higher risk for suicidal ideation. The amount of queer people I know who have either attempted or seriously contemplated suicide is in the double digits. I’ve gone so far as planning it out myself.
The “Don’t Say Gay” Bill sets a dangerous example. Alabama, Ohio, Louisiana, and Texas have all now suggested similar legislation. State lawmakers have proposed 238 bills that limit the rights of LGBTQ+ people in 2022, and 670 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed since 2018. They condone restricting LGBTQ+ issues in educational curriculums, allowing discrimination against queer people on religious bases, and restricting transgender people’s right to healthcare. Queerness is not wrong, no matter how hard DeSantis may try to convince us it is. When LGBTQ+ children in Florida can’t explain how they feel because they’ve been deliberately restricted from learning any terminology other than “straight” or “male” and “female,” they will hate themselves. This law is a deliberate erasure of LGBTQ identity, and it fosters nothing but ignorance and violence.
Last week, the STA-NCS Government Cub chose to debate the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. When I got the email that announced their topic, I was horrified, as were my queer friends on the Close. We understand that Gov Club tries to choose relevant and controversial topics, but there is no nuance to this law. The Close’s choice to treat this issue as if DeSantis’ proposal is anything less than an attack on queer youth is appalling. The assembly voted 22-8 against the bill, but even the fact that it was deemed a multifaceted, debatable issue is unacceptable. It marks yet another assault on LGBTQ+ students here, joining a thousand other micro- and macro-aggressions: the STA dress code, gay jokes, misgendering and deadnaming, exclusion of queer students from dances and gossip, meals from Chick-fil-A, “hate the sin, love the sinner” mentality, NCS students throwing around “twink” and “fruity,” STA students using “fag” as a punchline, and, worst of all, being unable to correct my peers’ homophobic beliefs because the concept of sinfulness is just a fact to them.
Even as a child, I was queer; no aspect of my identity is unpalatable for children. The “Don’t Say Gay” Bill is a completely unacceptable topic of debate, and it must be treated as such. It needs to be condemned by every student on the Close.
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A Note from the Editors in Chief:
The opinions expressed in this article, as with any article, are of the author and author alone. The Exchanged is simply a means through which students can express their ideas without direct oversight from St. Albans or NCS, and its editors neither endorse nor condone the contents of any article. Our Mission Statement and Comment Policy are accessible via the 'About Us' tab.