Republican state representative Joe Haning introduced the bill Thursday, Feb. 24. Republican Senator Dennis Baxley introduced a similar bill Tuesday, Jan.18. Initially called the “Parental Rights in Education,” the “Don’t Say Gay” bill grants parents authority over conversations involving the sexuality or gender of their children.
Parents will have the right to sue teachers and the school for any discussions involving LGBTQ+ topics that are not considered “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”
Nonetheless, besides the claimed “positive” effect this bill is intended to have, it will only, in my opinion, discourage kids from accepting their sexuality. Class discussions about sex and gender identity is significant as our identity plays a big role in our life. Discussing openly about these issues will only assist students in figuring who they are and who or what they like.
Harding, who introduced this bill in the first place, said, “The bill is about defending the most awesome responsibility a person can have: being a parent.” However, Democratic Florida representative Anna Eskamani opposed the bill in an interview with CNN. Eskamani said, “This is an attempt to erase LGBTQ+ people from Florida schools and in a state that is so diverse as ours, we’ve made so many gains in embracing every type of family and this is a step backward purely for a politically motivated agenda.”
This bill will only continue the act of singling out of LGBTQ+ people. “Removing LGBTQ+ people and topics from public schools will only work to further shame a group of young people who already face disproportionate rates of discrimination, bullying, and suicide attempts,” Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project said. “LGBTQ+ students and families deserve to see themselves reflected in the classroom. What they don’t deserve is stigma and censorship from the government.”
Data from Trevor Project 2020 national survey proves that even today, before the bill’s passing, statistics for LGBTQ+ people are not great. A reported “42% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth. 72% of LGBTQ+ youth reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in the past two weeks, including more than 3 in 4 transgender and nonbinary youth and 62% of LGBTQ+ youth reported symptoms of major depressive episode in the past two weeks including more than 2 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth.”
However, the Trevor Project also reported that LGBTQ+ youth “who learned about LGBTQ+ issues or people in classes at school” had a 23% lower chance of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. It is clear that discussions in classrooms about one’s gender and sexuality saves lives. Having these discussions tells LGBTQ+ students that they are welcomed and accepted into who they are by their peers and teachers.
When asked about how this bill would impact him, speech and debate teacher, Mr. Levesque, who is a part of the LGBTQ+ community and a volunteer crisis counselor for the Trevor Project, said, “The first day of school, we always introduce ourselves. I like to show a photo of my family, including me, my husband and my dog. With this bill, I’m not sure if I can do that anymore.”
Mr. Levesque also thinks this bill is very dangerous because of how vague it is. “The broadness of the bill allows lawmakers and supporters to weaponize the bill for their advantage, impacting children who have the highest risk of harm and self-hate. You can’t debate somebody’s existence; it does not work that way. All this bill does is make something out of nothing.”
Sophomore Zoe Weissman, who is also part of the LGBTQ+ community, had a similar sentiment. “When I first came out, all those around me, including my family and friends, were supportive. However, not everyone is as fortunate as me. I know many people who have to hide who they are and all this bill will do is forcefully out people and actively suppress who they are. Again, I am very fortunate that this bill won’t directly impact me since I attend a private school, but I can’t say I am not scared for my queer friends who attend public schools.”
In response to all of this, students across multiple schools in Tampa, Orlando and Tallahassee staged school walkouts Thursday Mar. 3. They carried rainbow picket signs and shouted, “We say gay!” as they marched across the streets.
“Regardless of how you feel about LGBTQ+ people, I would just like to say that A, we exist, B, we have always existed throughout history and C, we are not going anywhere,” Mr. Levesque said.
Passing the bill will have a severely negative impact on young adults and will completely stigmatize learning and openly discussing the topic of sexualities. Despite the protests, the bill has already passed its final state House of Representatives committee on Monday. The future of LGBTQ+ students is now up to the Senate floor to decide.