By Emily Hanson || Layout Assistant
On February 28th, 2022, the Parental Rights in Education Bill (better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill) passed its final Senate committee by a vote of 12-8, and it’s moving on to the Senate floor in Florida.
If you haven’t heard of this bill, I’m sorry to be the one to inform you of what it entails. The bill, in short, will entirely forbid any discussion of sexuality and gender identity in schools. In full, the legislation—which was initially introduced to the Florida House of Representatives in January— hopes to give parents of school-aged children more of a say over what their children are being taught. Students would also be able to take legal action against schools if LGBTQ+ issues continue to come up in classrooms. A proposed amendment to the bill would have required schools to inform parents of their child’s sexuality and gender identity within six weeks, regardless of the outcome, but luckily it was withdrawn.
Supporters of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, particularly Republican politicians and lawmakers, claim talks of gender identity in school environments are unnecessary. Joe Harding, for instance, claims that this will reinforce the fundamental right of parents to control their children and their upbringing. As reported by The Indian Express, even Florida governor Ron DeSantis pledged his support for “Don’t Say Gay”, stating that it’s “entirely inappropriate” for gender identity to be discussed between teachers and children.
My main question, and the most baffling part of this legislation, is why are students not allowed to possess individuality? Should we be encouraging students to question and hide their identity without a reliable authority figure to help them understand? To use a comprehensible example, I know I didn’t receive an abundance of trustworthy information on sexuality in middle school or high school, nor did it feel like a safe space to bring up these issues. I had a very straight, cisgender-oriented health class. Even with a school organization (like the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, GSA) to learn more from, help was only privy to those who knew to seek out the club, those who felt comfortable enough to attend, or those who already cared beforehand. If we prevent students who are curious about gender and sexuality from broaching the subject at all, they can’t truly understand their identities. Teachers and parents of these children should understand that what’s best for them is introducing the ideas properly and allowing kids to be themselves. If students are forced to come out and reveal their gender and sexuality in this environment, their safety would be directly violated.
Actually, silence in the education system is killing children. That sounds blunt, but is it?
Think about it this way. If an entire state passes a bill making the very utterance of the word “gay” taboo, would it not be censoring queer students and their beliefs entirely? Correct knowledge will be impossible to come by, and students will be left in the dark about the truth behind terminology. Also, from experience, I know that in the wake of silence, rumors begin. This will of course create discrimination against and harrassment of students. It’s textbook homophobia (in case you didn’t know: homophobia is irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or gay people) and honestly it’s textbook bullying (abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger/more powerful). It would be redundant of schools to endlessly denounce bullying the way they do if they plan to encourage bullying with willful ignorance at the same time.
All this is true without even mentioning the notion that bullying and misinformation are mentally damaging, particularly for teenagers. When children such as those in the LGBTQ+ community are not affirmed in their identities, not only do they lose sight of who they are, but their confusion is perpetuated and spread onto others. Thoughts of I am broken are not disputed, rather guaranteed and reaffirmed. So kids are mentally damaged, their self-esteem is effectively shot to zero, and adolescent suicide rates increase.
If we don’t want to ruin the lives of children (in a world where it should be obvious at this point that straight and cisgender aren’t the default), then how do we bring about the change, and prevent blatant discrimination like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill? My most effective suggestion is to support the people in your life who are considering a change in gender identity or sexuality. Learn more, and allow people around you to learn more. Tell lawmakers to oppose the bill. Find organizations, such as the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP), who turn ideas into actions and change policies to support LGBTQ+ families. And, wherever you can, promote conversations. Anyone and everyone can quell the silence and its destruction on our progress.
First-year Emily Hanson is a layout assistant. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.