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“Don’t Say Gay” (House Bill 1557)

By Talia Chen

Image via Orlando Sentinel.

On Feb. 17, a Florida committee advanced the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which restricts discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools. If passed, the bill will take effect starting July 1, 2022. More specifically, the bill prohibits “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels or in a specific manner”.

3. 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.” (Florida House of Representatives, 83-87)

Obviously this is a horrible idea. Part of making life safer for people who are LGBTQ+ is normalizing not being straight or cisgender so that queer doesn’t end up as something dehumanizing or ostracizing because that’s how we end up with hate crimes and aggressions. People dehumanize other people because they’re different, because they don’t understand that everyone’s still human and deserves basic respect, hence why discussing being queer with kids is necessary. The entire topic of being LGBTQ+ is absolutely not something that should be censored with kids because those kids may or may not be queer, and if they are, they will have no guidance or support if this bill is put into action.

A sponsor of the bill, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, defended that “this is not a hard concept … If a first-grader walked into school and they started talking about sex education, I think all of the people in this room would agree that’s not appropriate for a 6-year-old to learn about. Our bill is very reasonable. To the extent that it’s been controversial, it’s only because of the misreporting that has happened.” This logic is blatantly incorrect and homophobic because queer is in no way inappropriate. It’s just someone of a different gender they were assigned at birth and/or someone who’s sexual orientation isn’t hetero. This bill is dangerous because it insinuates that being queer is something abnormal that should be taboo. This isn’t just about sex education, it’s about someone liking girls or boys or both or neither, or maybe they’re not the gender they were assigned at birth. Since we’re on the topic, sex education should also be less taboo, especially curriculum about our bodies and how they change. It is more understandable that people don’t want their kids to learn the details about sexual intercourse and how it works until they’re more mature. However there is no argument for censoring discussions on being queer. Kids can handle the fact that queer is a thing, and it’s better if they are taught that at a young age. Members of the LGBTQ+ community shouldn’t have to go through such leaps of exploration to discover the gay community for themselves, they should know about it from the start. Being gay, or knowing about being gay is as inappropriate as knowing that your mom and your dad love each other.

Image via Orlando Sentinel.

Kids should be aware of homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality, et cetera, the same way we’re exposed to the prince saving the princess, the guy getting the girl and every other stereotypical relationship that reinforces heterosexuality as the “default”. People don’t realize how much the way we are raised affects our values and the way we treat other people. Have Florida legislators not noticed how straight society is? Ommitting instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity will make it so much worse for the next generation as they grow up and realize that other sexualities and genders not only exist but are common and part of people's identities as a whole. Preventing people from discussing being queer in the developmental years of their life is so obviously unadvisable because representation is so important in order for kids to shape up into decent human beings with respect for people of all backgrounds and identities.

The bill is astronomically vague, with no details as to what is deemed appropriate or who. The Department of Education? District school boards? That’s a lot of possible variation in how this bill will be implemented. The bill requires schools to notify parents of changes in their student’s physical, mental, and emotional health; “the procedures may not prohibit parents from accessing any of their student's education and health records created, maintained, or used by the school district.” The bill also requires districts to notify parents of healthcare services that parents can consent or decline. So yes, it will be the parent’s decision whether or not their kid needs any sort of counseling. They decide how their kid’s mental health can be treated - the kid has no legislative ability to make a choice. Essentially, the justification for the bill is that “the procedures must reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children by requiring school district personnel to encourage a student to discuss issues relating to his or her well-being with his or her parent or to facilitate discussion of the issue with the parent.” Parents have a fundamental right to raise their ids how they want, so the schools can’t prevent parents from their student records and information, or prevent them from getting involved in whatever is going on with the student.

Image via Miami Herald.

This part of the bill is more understandable, but still not good in the context of a potentially queer kid whose parents may not be supportive. Ideally, parents have good relationships with their kids and should be involved in whatever physical or mental health issues they are experiencing. However, we know that that is absolutely not a fact that will be consistent in every student’s case. There are so many instances in which parents don’t believe in mental health, or don’t believe that their child’s mental health is suffering. In this day and age, so many people in the LGBTQ+ community have been disowned in some shape or form, by a parent, a friend, another family member, the list goes on and on. It’s common knowledge that kids don’t always get along with their parents for a variety of reasons. The bill upholds that it “does not prohibit a school district from adopting procedures that permit school personnel to withhold such information from a parent if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect,” but that is also problematic because who is choosing this "reasonably prudent person"? What are the views and beliefs of this “reasonably prudent person”? Besides, kids still have problems and disagreements with their parents even if they're not being abused - it's not black and white. Part of the reason school counselors/therapists are somewhat helpful at my school is that the counselors can't tell your parents anything unless you're going to commit self harm (I think that’s how it works, I'm not super clear on the rules). Counselors are supposed to be trusted adults that kids can confide in, so it's pretty invasive for this bill to decree that the counselors now have to tell everything they know about a kid’s mental health to their parents. Why are we restricting resources for kids who may be queer? It’s understandable in cases where the child needs immediate professional help, but prioritizing transparency with parents over a child’s mental health can’t end well.

The bill also includes that “a parent of a student may bring an action against a school district to obtain a declaratory judgment that a school district procedure or practice violates this paragraph and seek injunctive relief. A court may award damages and shall award reasonable attorney fees and court costs to a parent who receives declaratory or injunctive relief.” Parents can sue if they think kids and teachers discussed being queer at school, so obviously teachers aren’t going to risk the repercussions of discussing being gay with their students, especially since the bill is vague about what’s deemed appropriate.

Image via Twitter.

The Florida senate education committee moved the bill forward on Tuesday but it still has to be approved by other senate committees and the state house. The Biden administration denounced it:

"Today, conservative politicians in Florida rejected those basic values by advancing legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most – LGBTQI+ students, who are already vulnerable to bullying and violence just for being themselves," the statement said. "But make no mistake – this is not an isolated action. Across the country, we’re seeing Republican leaders take actions to regulate what students can or cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and most troubling, who they can or cannot be."

Here’s some more food for thought. Just because the media is becoming more accepting doesn’t mean the rest of the world is. People always criticize the media for being too liberal and young people for being too liberal but it’s because we need it. Sure, something pro LGTBQ+ is printed on the newspaper but there are still so many things, possible legislature like this bill or just small things in our culture that reinforce gender roles and make it much harder to be anything that is not heterosexual or cis. The White House also pointed out that 2021 was a record-breaking year for anti-LGBTQ legislation, according to the Human Rights Campaign. More than 250 of these bills were introduced and at least 17 were even enacted into laws. Several states, including Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and South Dakota, have already introduced anti-LGBTQ legislation and its only the second month of 2022. There are similar laws in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Texas. This Florida legislation follows bills that restrict educators from teaching about oppression in the U.S. If the world is so liberal, why is this bill still thriving in committees? The bill’s not even subtle, it just says don’t talk about gay from K-3rd grade and after that the curriculum has to be deemed appropriate by an unspecified party. This bill is very much a bad idea and it’s incredibly disappointing that it’s still being considered.

Written by writer Talia Chen.

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