Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill stifles LGBTQ expression

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill stifles LGBTQ expression

On March 7, 2022, Florida’s state senate passed the Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) advocacy groups. On March 28, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law. The law’s most controversial clause is its prohibition of discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade classrooms. It also gives parents the right to sue for any breaches in the ban.

The “Don’t Say Gay” law isn’t the only piece of anti-LGBTQ legislation in the U.S. Recently, other states such as Texas, Utah and Georgia have been passing anti-transgender legislation infringing on the rights of trans students and athletes.

Katelyn Burns, the first ever openly transgender Capitol Hill journalist, identified major issues with “Don’t
Say Gay” and discussed how the law could potentially harm both students and families. Burns found parallels
between the “Don’t Say Gay” law and the 1988 legislative designation in Britain titled Section 28. “[Section 28] was a law that completely banned mentions of queer identities,” she said. “There was supposed to be no instruction at all about queer or trans people. But what ended up happening was that teachers would be nervous about the subject area, and when LGBTQ students would get bullied, administrators and teachers couldn’t respond to the bullying.”

Section 28 went out of effect in 2003, so the “Don’t Say Gay” bill’s appearance almost two decades later has been seen as an attempt to undo recent years of progress in LGBTQ equality and justice. “It’s part of a larger agenda,” Burns said. “[It’s as if] they’re trying to go back to a time before LGBTQ people were widely accepted.”

Proponents of the law state that topics surrounding sexuality should not be discussed in kindergarten through third grade because it’s an inappropriate topic for children; however, this raises the question of what elementary schoolers with queer family members can say about their families. Students with same-sex parents, for
example, would no longer be allowed to mention them in classroom settings. Burns, who has a daughter in kindergarten, explained this in deeper detail. “If you think back to kindergarten, how many of your assignments had to do with your family?” Burns said. “If my daughter lives in Florida, would she be allowed to even mention me in school when all the other students are doing assignments about their families?”

Sophomore Nina Rajwar also noted that this law prevents LGBTQ teachers from mentioning their personal lives. “Say you’re in a straight relationship and you say, ‘This is my husband,’’’ Rajwar said. “If you’re gay, you can’t say that or you’re going to lose your job.”

Senior Dante Morse, the president of Gunn’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA), found that legislation such as the “Don’t Say Gay” law reinforces a negative stereotype of the LGBTQ community to justify homophobia. “It’s a
microcosm of this greater problem that queer identities are somehow more inappropriate,” Morse said. “[It’s as if] being gay is somehow inherently sexual or not appropriate for children.”

Not only does this law perpetuate the notion that LGBTQ topics are not family-friendly, but Burns expressed that it also reinforces the idea that LGBTQ people should be ashamed and silenced. “It’s starting to affect the mental health of students even outside of Florida,” Burns said. “They [start to think,] ‘Geez the world hates me.’”

Morse reinforced this statement, describing how other queer people’s struggles affect them. “It’s really hard to
hear about other queer youth in those places that are dealing with [laws like that,]” Morse said.

Morse also observed that this law could open a gateway for future anti-LGBTQ laws. “Everything is all about precedent,” they said. “With this precedent set, it theoretically paves the way for more similar homophobic legislation. That makes a mark on America and the face of the queer community.”

Senior Aarush Banerjee believes that the censorship of LGBTQ topics in classrooms leaves the responsibility of
teaching them to unmoderated sources. “The intentional omission of education about LGBTQ topics leaves all
exposure to these topics to the hands of cultural media,” Banerjee said. “[It] can often portray LGBTQ topics from a place of confusion and emotional reaction as opposed to one of understanding and a genuine desire to provide support and information.”

Along with the prohibition of discussing sexual orientation and gender, the law also makes room for schools to potentially out students to their family members. According to the bill text, “The law requires that school districts adopt procedures for notifying parents if there is a change in their student’s services or monitoring related to a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.”

Burns argued that the law’s unclear wording serves another purpose. “It’s intentionally left undefined [and therefore] open to wide interpretations,” Burns said.

Banerjee noticed another potential harm to LGBTQ students. “The law does have it written in its text that support services must be revised and restricted to fit the regulation of content around sexuality and gender, meaning that LGBTQ students must be stripped of a support system,” they said.

With the already mounting social pressure felt by LGBTQ students, Rajwar believes that this bill will only add to the lack of discussion and clarity surrounding sexual identity. “When I was figuring out who I was, I had a lot
of friends who were LGBTQ, but I didn’t know what that meant,” she said. “I kept thinking, ‘Is there something
wrong with me?’ [I was] occupied with these thoughts of, ‘What is happening?’ and ‘Why am I different?’”

California’s state legislature is far from passing any such law, as Governor Gavin Newsom has released statements expressing opposition to “Don’t Say Gay.” Local politicians and LGBTQ advocates are still voicing their concerns and their support for the LGBTQ community in Florida.