Recently, the topic of what’s being taught in K-12 schools has been making national headlines. From topics such as “critical race theory” to book bans, lawmakers have turned the classroom into a political battleground. This has garnered attention from not just parents of K-12 children, but celebrities, social justice advocates, students, businesses, and more.
The most recent debate related to K-12 education revolves around discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. Florida’s House Bill 1557/Senate Bill 1834 — titled “Parental Rights in Education” — would restrict these discussions in kindergarten through third grade classrooms in all state public schools. If a violation of this bill occurred, parents would have the power to sue. Opposers have dubbed this the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Last week, Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature passed the bill. Now it’s expected to be signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), and will go into effect July 1.
The bill says: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
The bill also prohibits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in other grades unless they’re “age appropriate and developmentally appropriate.”
Those who support this bill argue that parents should discuss these matters with their children rather than teachers. Gov. DeSantis said the goal is for students to be able to go to school without this material being “injected into their school curriculum.”
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill has sparked opposition across the country, with many saying that it harmfully marginalizes people within the LGBTQ+ community. Many students in Florida have protested and participated in school walkouts. Their chants of “We say gay” have reverberated throughout the U.S. — celebrities, social media influencers, LGBTQ advocates, and even Disney have emerged as opponents to the bill.
In its earlier stages, the bill would’ve required schools to tell parents if a student came out as LGBTQ+ to a teacher. After a public uproar, this component of the bill was pulled last month.
While K-12 teachers are limited to some extent by their curricula on what to discuss in the classroom, the “Don’t Say Gay” law may have a chilling effect. Teachers may censor themselves on other “controversial” topics due to fear that angry parents will take legal action against them.
Another result of this bill — one that’s already in motion — is similar legislation in other states. According to PEN America, there are 15 bills that target speech about LGBTQ+ identities under consideration in nine states. For example, a Tennessee bill would block schools from using instructional materials that mention gay, bisexual, or transgender “issues or lifestyles” in any way. A bill in Kansas would make it a misdemeanor for a teacher to use materials that have any depiction of homosexuality — not just if it’s sexually explicit or celebratory content.
What do I have to say about this bill? It’s a total load of BS.
In a country where LGBTQ+ people and lifestyles are (albeit slowly) becoming more protected by law and recognized by the masses, why are these restrictions being enforced in our public schools? In a country where more and more people are identifying as a part of the LGBTQ+ community, why are children still being forcefully sheltered from these kinds of topics?
These bills aren’t supported by any sound science. In fact, they’re not about protecting children or empowering parents at all.
K-12 students have effectively become pawns for politicians to use in order to gain support from voters, and it’s working. Americans aren’t shy to debate about what’s being taught in classrooms.
When it comes to anti-LGBTQ+ education bills in particular, their power is rooted in the age-old conception that queer people are hyper-sexual and their lifestyles are inappropriate for children to be exposed to.
LGBTQ+ people aren’t inherently sexual. They’re no more sexual than any straight, cisgender person.
Our lifestyles aren’t inappropriate. We’re not dangerous. What’s dangerous is keeping children in the dark about a community of people that’s not going away any time soon.
Children are coming out at increasingly younger ages. LGBTQ+ kids may only have access to support and educational resources about their identities at school. Without these resources and support, they may be prone to isolation and mental health issues.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill is appalling. However, there is some hope.
Students at every age have First Amendment rights. Therefore, their free speech is protected. If a student discusses gender identity or sexual orientation and is told not to by their teacher, this violates their Constitutional protection. What does that mean for this bill?
Also, Title IX protects students against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Public schools that receive federal funding have to follow this law. So, what does that mean for this bill?
To be honest, I can’t say just yet. Once the bill passes, we’ll see what happens in the fallout. It’s disappointing that this kind of legislation is gaining traction in our nation, but this just shows that our work to support the LGBTQ+ community at the legislative level is far from done.