By Emma Reilly
Politicians in Florida — and elsewhere in the United States — are supporting injurious legislation and indulging in accusatory political rhetoric, much to the dismay of LGBTQ+ people and their allies.
Even more concerning than the isolated passage of the bill is its place within a wide-reaching, well-established political narrative that actively suppresses the voices of marginalized communities.
Officially titled the Parental Rights in Education bill, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” measure was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 28.
The “Don’t Say Gay” law bans kindergarten through third grade teachers from discussing LGBTQ+ issues — namely gender identity and sexual orientation — in their classrooms.
The law “could stifle conversations for children who need to work through their own gender or sexual-identity questions,” The Washington Post said.
Rather than protecting LGBTQ+ youth from “developmentally inappropriate” topics — as the law’s proponents claim it does — the “Don’t Say Gay” measure promotes a culture of isolation that will cause exponentially greater harm than conversations about identity ever could.
“LGBTQ+ advocates say this legislation is a continuation of an effort to paint LGBTQ+ people as ‘other,’ or even dangerous,” The Washington Post said.
Conversations in classrooms are not the only form of LGBTQ+ support banned by the law.
Under the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, parents must be notified when their child receives mental health services from their school. This condition makes it impossible for students who face hostility at home to work through their identity in a safe space.
Alarmingly, “studies have shown that LGBTQ+ youth already face higher health and suicide risks than their cisgender or straight peers,” NPR said.
By eliminating the potential for teachers to serve as resources for LGBTQ+ youth, the “Don’t Say Gay” law exacerbates a problem that is as serious as life and death for some students.
Parents can also sue their child’s school under the new legislation if they disagree with what is being taught there.
According to The Washington Post, this potentially encourages Florida schools to avoid seemingly controversial topics, lest they endure legal struggles and economic losses.
To avoid parental retribution, schools could shut down conversations that extend beyond the LGBTQ+ topics specifically targeted by the bill, causing its harmful impact to extend even further.
“Make no mistake — this is not an isolated action,” a White House spokesperson said to NBC. “Across the country, we’re seeing Republican leaders take actions to regulate what students can or cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and most troubling, who they can or cannot be.”
Concerningly, the law is part of an emerging political trend in which anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is disguised as a means of promoting parental control over early-childhood education.
Some politicians — including Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan — denounced the measure, but others are attempting to emulate it in their own states.
“Ohio’s House Bill 616 would ban discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity until fourth grade in all public and most private schools,” The Columbus Dispatch said.
Politicians in Texas are also striving to replicate Florida’s law. According to The Texas Tribune, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick supports the limitations the “Don’t Say Gay” measure places on conversations about LGBTQ+ issues in schools.
In addition to influencing the legislative pursuits of other states, the passage of the “Don’t Say Gay” law plays into a larger political strategy.
According to The Washington Post, Gov. DeSantis accused opponents of the law of encouraging the sexualization of children.
“That language fits into a broader Republican narrative of accusing opponents of supporting pedophilia,” The Washington Post said. “It was a main Republican line of questioning against…Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.”
According to The Washington Post, framing conversations about LGBTQ+ issues as an issue of parental control gets the broader public on board with banning them.
When lives are at stake, though, parents’ desire for influence over their children’s schools is irrelevant.
Students have the right to explore their own identity; they deserve access to necessary mental health resources regardless of their parents’ perspectives on LGBTQ+ issues.
Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law endangers LGBTQ+ youth and continues to marginalize them and their community. Furthermore, in a continuation of an extensive political ploy, the measure perpetuates a damaging narrative that shifts the focus away from kids’ experiences and toward parental power.