A Florida bill that would restrict classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity and encourage parents to sue schools or teachers who engage in such discussions is making its way through the state House and Senate.
LGBTQ advocates are calling it a “Don’t Say Gay” bill because they are concerned that if it becomes law, it will effectively prohibit all lessons on LGBTQ oppression, history, and discussions about LGBTQ identities.
“This would remove LGBTQ+ history and culture from classrooms, sending a chilling message to LGBTQ+ youth and communities,” said Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, executive director of the national LGBTQ youth advocacy group GLSEN.
Activists say that erasing LGBTQ presence from schools may imply to students that their gender identity or sexual orientation is something to be ashamed of or hidden.
“We have to create a learning environment where they feel safe and healthy, or it won’t be an effective learning environment,” said Heather Wilkie of the Zebra Coalition, a Central Florida LGBTQ advocacy organization.
“When you have laws like this that directly attack our children for who they are, it prevents them from learning,” she explained. “It makes it impossible for them to be healthy.”
According to HB 1557 and SB 1834, a school district “may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”
The House Education & Employment Committee has moved the bill forward, handing it off to the Judiciary Committee.
It goes on to say that parents who break this rule can sue for monetary damages as well as reimbursement for attorney fees and court costs.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Harding, hopes it will “reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding upbringing and control of their children,” according to the bill’s text.
Chasten Buttigieg, a civil rights activist and the husband of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, blasted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state legislature for their efforts.
LGBTQ advocacy groups say the bills are similar to the “no promo homo” laws of the 1990s, which prohibited educators from discussing queer topics in schools, but with an emphasis on parental and family involvement.
“These mandates are harmful because they risk unintentionally outing LGBTQ+ young people to families who do not affirm their children’s identities,” Willingham-Jaggers said.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2021 was a record-breaking year for anti-LGBTQ legislation. More than 250 of these bills were introduced, with at least 17 becoming law.
Several states have already introduced anti-LGBTQ legislation in 2022, including Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and South Dakota.
This Florida bill is similar to others that prohibit educators from teaching about oppression in the United States.
Wilkie stated that in recent years, queer issues and access to supportive resources have been prioritized in the fight against anti-LGBTQ attacks, with a heightened effort since the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016. LGBTQ youth in the state have been struggling, with a higher risk of suicidal ideation, depression, and anxiety, but Wilkie says advocacy groups will continue to fight these bills.
“We’re going to fight,” she said. “It’s disheartening to think that they won’t be able to freely discuss themselves or learn anything about their history.”