Following his election in 2020, Joe Biden began acting to protect LGBTQ+ rights. On the first day of his administration, he passed the executive order “directing all federal agencies to recognize that existing federal bans on sex discrimination protect against LGBTQ discrimination as well.” (ACLU). In January of the same year, Biden repealed the transgender military ban enacted by the Trump administration. However, naturally, with more attention being given to LGBTQ+ equality, those opposed to this have shifted their focus to state legislation.
Being a high school student, I believe that I have been broadly exposed to the LGBTQ+ youth of today. One of my best friends first came out to me as bisexual, I have gay friends and classmates and teachers. Some kids I know choose to go by pronouns they/them or a variety of others. Being straight no longer is the ‘default’, and although I still see a lot of fear of the unknown in my community, especially among older generations, it is at least widely accepted that those in the LGBTQ+ community deserve the same rights and respect as others.
When I first heard about Florida’s ‘Parental Rights in Education’ bill also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill I was frightened. Too much like the dystopian novels we read in English class, I could not understand why laws were being passed to move us farther in the wrong direction. When researching this issue further, I came to learn that “2021 set a record for the most anti-LGBTQ bills passed during a legislative session, with over 100 anti-LGBTQ laws proposed in 35 states around the country”. (ACLU) Once again, it is another form of blissful ignorance. Because I am not affected by these bills directly, I was able to ignore them. But, being so closely integrated with this community, I am proud to call myself an ally. The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill will not only affect some of my closest peers and classmates, but will keep an entire generation uninformed and in grave danger.
The ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill’ officially passed in both the Florida House and Senate on March 8th, 2022. Governor DeSantis has also indicated his support for the bill and is expected to sign it. The bill limits lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity, stating that the lessons “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.” But, the vague language of the bill makes it likely to extend to higher grade levels. In addition, the bill will allow parents to sue schools or teachers which do not adhere to its policies.
The blatant truth of this bill is that it is another way to suppress the basic freedoms of the LGBTQ+ community. The idea that kids should be focusing on subjects like math, reading, and science instead of “family issues” is one that is deeply flawed. Students and educators alike know that learning does not occur inside a vacuum. Exposure to the LGBTQ+ community in my classroom is inevitable, just as exposure to the straight community is. We read books with gay couples, we learn about global politics and legislation concerning gay individuals, we collect data on LGBTQ+ issues. More than that, girls go with girls to the prom, men wear dresses to school, and a gay student is not considered or treated any differently than a straight one. Or at least they shouldn’t be.
Already, teens across America do not feel safe or comfortable expressing themselves in a school environment. Mental health issues are far more prevalent in LGBTQ+ youth, with “lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth considering suicide at nearly three times the rate of heterosexual youth” (Medical News Today). By further removing representation and inclusion of queer youth, the state is not protecting students, it is putting them at risk. It teaches kids that they should be ashamed of their gender identity or sexual orientation. It keeps them in the dark about important issues like gay sex education or the history of LGBTQ rights in America. It strips away one more opportunity for a safe environment that many queer youth are already lacking. The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is a poor attempt to erase the reality of an entire population. You can’t legislate someone out of existence. The one thing that supporters of the bill are also failing to address is that keeping LGBTQ+ discussions out of classrooms does not keep it out of all discussions. With social media and the internet, kids are already exposed to all kinds of information on the topic from an incredibly young age. By silencing it in the one place it can actually be introduced properly, the state is only continuing to allow dangerous and misleading information to spread through a vulnerable community.
On March 3rd, high schools all across Florida staged walkouts in protest of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. According to Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), “Over 21% of Generation Z identifies with the LGBTQ community. As for the majority of the remainder, we stand behind that 21%.” This bill and those similar to it can either be an opportunity for Gen Z to prove their willingness to fight for their rights, or it can be the first step in having them continually stripped away. In a world telling the youth of today who they should be, it is the responsibility of every youth, gay or straight, to make it clear that not only will gay people continue to exist… but they will continue to educate, evolve, and represent a diverse and beautiful community.
“This is politics at its worse, cynically using our students as pawns in political warfare.” -White House Spokesperson to ABC News
- “Understanding Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill” (Find Law)
- “In 2021, Our Fight for LGBTQ Rights Moved to the States” (ACLU)
- “‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill passes Florida Senate” (ABC News)
- “Activists slam ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill’s progress in Florida Legislature” (ABC News)
- “Florida Just Passed The “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. Here’s What It Means for Kids” (TIME Magazine)
- “What to Know About Sexual Orientation and Mental Health in Youth” (Medical News Today)
- “From book bans to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, LGBTQ kids feel ‘erased’ in the classroom” (NBC News)