By Olivia Montes
On Feb. 23, the Black Student Union and WAC Democrats released a joint statement via their respective Instagram accounts announcing their stand against Florida’s House Bill 1557 / Senate Bill 1834 “Don’t Say Gay Bill” and House Bill 7 / Senate Bill 148 “Stop WOKE Act.”
According to the statement, these bills — proposed this month by Rep. Joe Harding and sponsored by Rep. Bryan Avila respectively, according to Axios Tampa Bay — push for the passage of laws that would require the following: “teachers will become mandatory reporters on a student(s) sexual orientation” and “any topics involving LGBTQ+, racism, discrimination, bias, [and] racial equality will be removed and no longer integrated into the school year’s curriculum.”
According to BSU President and WAC Democrats Vice President junior Jonah Nicholson, upon hearing the passage of these bills in the Florida House of Representatives, they sought to “spread the word” of the existence of this legislation and others like them across the nation and the larger world.
“We are committed to cultivating an inclusive environment here and in the Chestertown community [and] we want to help in any way we can — and just raising awareness was really important,” Nicholson said. “[This] also helps with students here, getting to familiarize themselves with not just issues that are happening in Chestertown, but the issues that are happening all across the globe, as we can see certain political issues are happening right now that a lot of us are aware about.”
“So being able to help cultivate a place where we are aware of so many different issues, and there are so many different ways of tackling that or so many different ways of helping embrace work and raising awareness, is really important,” they said.
According to an infographic from the WAC Democrats’ Instagram account, the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” — which, if signed into law, will prohibit any classroom instruction regarding gender identity and/or sexual orientation in primary grade levels considered “not age…or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards” — is one of several anti-LGBTQIA+ state legislation introduced and/or passed in 2022. Other states include Arizona, Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and South Dakota.
Additionally, the “Stop WOKE Act,” if enacted, will “limit protected speech in workplaces with more than 15 employees and classrooms by censoring honest dialogue about systemic racism, gender, and race discrimination,” as well as “change Florida’s employment discrimination statutes to give employees the ability to file discrimination claims against an employer engaging in trainings or discussions about Black history, LGBTQ+ issues, and other concepts of injustice and discrimination,” according to the Humans Rights Campaign.
According to the statement, if these and other critical discussions regarding “the history of America, the people America has generationally impacted, and the intersectional identities of the people within and without America” are controlled and restricted under these laws, “it only allows racism, homophobia, and transphobia to spread.”
“[This also] further increases violence against BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people, as well as discourages the expression of any identities beyond cisgender, heterosexual, and white,” the statement said.
As of Feb. 26, both the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” and “Stop WOKE Act” were passed in the state House of Representatives on Feb. 24. Both acts are backed by Gov. Rob DeSantis, and are currently advancing to the state Senate, according to Axios Tampa Bay.
Nicholson said they strongly encourage individuals to sign the petition against these acts on freetosaygay.org and continue supporting those who will be affected by the potential passage of these bills.
“It’s just so important for students everywhere to know about this, just because this is happening in more than just Florida — and even if it’s happening in Florida, that there are people outside of that to hear about what’s happening, and they can carry those nasty attitudes and they can continue to commit those same atrocities against LGBTQ+ students and BIPOC students,” Nicholson said. “So if there’s any way we can help stop that and help raise awareness about that, we’ll do it. It’s just important for all of us to do that.”