Earlier this month, Florida lawmakers advanced a Gov. Ron DeSantis-backed bill that would discourage classroom discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity, prompting many to call it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Now, a new amendment to the so-called Parental Rights in Education bill would require schools to inform parents of their children’s sexual orientation within six weeks of learning the student isn’t straight. Schools that fail to comply would be subject to costly lawsuits from parents.
Even prior to the new amendment, LGBTQ+ youth advocates like the Trevor Project expressed concern about the feature of the bill that allowed for parents to sue school districts if staff failed to give them all information related to a student’s “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.” The group argued that such a feature “could effectively ‘out’ LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent” — a facet that would be dangerous for youths with abusive parents and/or family members. Now, outing LGBTQ+ kids and young people is literally required by the bill.
This latest development around Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill comes amid nationwide, ramped up efforts to target, punish, and essentially erase queer and trans youth altogether. Also on Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton declared that all forms of gender-affirming care for trans youth amount to child abuse under existing law and even threatened parents and doctors who try to support trans youth seeking health care with prosecution. His directive
Florida’s bill in particular reflects how schools have increasingly become the focus of politicians’ mounting anti-LGBTQ+ crusade. Notably, many of the books being banned from schools across the country by conservative local and state lawmakers explore queer identity. Ten states currently ban trans students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity, following an uptick in these bills in state legislatures throughout last year. These escalated attacks on trans students are part of the Republican Party’s growing focus on basically eradicating trans people from legal recognition and existence, as part of a newly announced 2022 party agenda put forward by Florida Sen. Rick Scott.
The new amendment to Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill is especially concerning because many LGBTQ+ youth have reported that schools are the only space where they feel safe. 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, and 98% said they could identify at least one school staff member who was supportive of them. We’ve long known that LGBTQ+ youth, and especially those of color, struggle with high rates of suicide and mental health struggles, and also face substantially greater risk of experiencing sexual abuse, homelessness, and poverty than their straight and cis peers. Being policed by state lawmakers like DeSantis and Paxton will likely only worsen these conditions for queer youth.