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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Florida Lawmakers Advance ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill for Schools

Republicans seem to think that banning LGBTQ discussions in schools will end gayness.

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Image for article titled Florida Lawmakers Advance ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill for Schools
Photo: Joe Raedle (Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Republican minions in the state legislature seem convinced that if no one is able to say the word “gay” aloud in schools, LGBTQ youth will simply cease to exist.

Early Tuesday, the Florida Senate Education Committee passed the Parental Rights in Education bill, more widely known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill because it would discourage classroom discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill would also allow parents to sue school districts if school personnel fail to give parents all information related to a student’s “mental, emotional or physical health or well-being”—a requirement that LGBTQ youth advocates like the Trevor Project fear could out kids and young people to potentially abusive parents and family members.

“We’ve seen instances of students being told by different folks in school, ‘Oh, don’t worry. Don’t pick your gender yet. Do all this other stuff.’ They won’t tell the parents about these discussions that are happening,” DeSantis said on Monday, in support of the bill. “That is entirely inappropriate. Schools need to be teaching kids to read, to write. They need to teach them science, history. We need more civics.”

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The insinuation here is that kids are too young to know whether they’re queer or trans, but somehow not too young to know that they’re straight and cis. And politicians like DeSantis who are bizarrely fixated on children and young people’s exploration of their sexualities are somehow the best authority figures to preside over all of this.

LGBTQ youth, and especially youth of color, struggle with alarmingly high rates of suicide and mental health struggles, all while being at substantially greater risk of experiencing sexual abuse, homelessness, and poverty than their straight and cis peers. But rather than help queer young people by providing the education, resources, and support that could affirm their existence and save their lives, these are the priorities conservative Florida lawmakers have chosen, instead.

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Of course, just as talking about sexual orientation and gender identity in school won’t magically make straight, cis kids become gay or trans, not talking about these experiences won’t magically make gay and trans kids stop being who they are, either. DeSantis and conservative lawmakers in Florida are really just trying to take away LGBTQ young people’s sole safe space, which, for many, is school.

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found only one-third of respondents considered their home to be LGBTQ-affirming, while 50% considered their school to be. While the majority of respondents said they regularly heard anti-LGBTQ remarks at their schools and a quarter had experienced physical harassment, 98% said they could identify at least one school staff member who was supportive—Florida’s bill would permit homophobic, transphobic parents to sue districts if these supportive staff members don’t disclose the LGBTQ-affirming support they give to students.

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Florida is hardly alone in this—states and individual school districts have been banning LGBTQ-inclusive sexual health education and important curriculum like LGBTQ history for years. On Monday, Texas Republican state House candidate and anti-mask activist Shelley Luther questioned why students can no longer openly mock trans people. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill is just the latest piece of an increasingly dangerous and ambitious anti-LGBTQ political agenda to make schools unsafe for queer and trans youth.