Julie Cotinaud

LGBTQIA+ Pride March courteously of anonymous photographer taken on June 7th, 2017 under Creative Commons License

“Don’t Say Gay Law” in Florida leads to discrimination of LGBTQIA+ students

On March 28th, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill into legislation.

The bill officially called the Parental Rights in Education, prohibits the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in primary school, and allows private citizens to sue schools or teachers that engage in these topics. It also requires school officials to ‘out’ a student’s sexual or gender identity to their parents within six weeks of discovering the student’s identity. This creates an unsafe space for students that identify as anything other than heterosexual and cisgender.

Supporters of the bill argue that it protects students and strengthens parental rights, allowing parents to mitigate what curriculum their children are taught. However, opponents declare that the bill is homophobic and hateful towards the Sunshine States’ LGBTQIA+ community. Many individuals view the bill as extremely homophobic, a “hateful” legislature made to further oppress the U.S.’s LGBTQIA+ community.

As state senator Ileana Garcia (R) said when asked about why she supported the bill as reported on the Hill, “Gay is not a permanent thing. LGBT is not a permanent thing”, expressing the homophobic nature of the bill itself by not recognizing the LGBTQIA+ community as a legitimate sexual orientation or identity.

A series of amendments pushed by Democratic Senators to change the bill into something less homophobic ultimately failed, with Senator Shevrin Jones (D), the body’s first openly gay member breaking down in tears while defending his amendment to the bill, which would have altered the bill’s language to ban classroom instruction intended to “change a students’ sexual orientation and gender identity”, according to the Hill.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill could also lead to an increase in suicides among queer youth. According to the Trevor Project, a non-profit focused on LGBTQIA+ youth suicide intervention and prevention, 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds. LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers, and Flordia’s bill could significantly increase these suicide rates.

The bill is especially controversial as it potentially violates the First Amendment in the United States Constitution by prohibiting educators’ freedom of speech, with constitutional experts arguing that the legislation will almost certainly be challenged on First Amendment grounds.

It has also caught the attention of LGBTQIA+ advocacy groups, international media, students, Hollywood actors, and even the White House, which condemned it as hateful and dangerous. As President Biden stated in a February 8th Twitter Post, “I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are,”.

Erasing the presence of the LGBTQIA+ community from schools implies that queer students should be ashamed of their gender identity and sexual orientation.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill (HB 1557/SB 1834) undermines existing protections for LGBTQIA+ students and faculty in schools, potentially putting them in danger. This bill forces LGBTQIA+ individuals back into the closet by policing identity, stopping kids from talking about their same-sex parents, and potentially causing LGBTQIA+ educators to lose their jobs.

This is a frightening allusion to the Lavender Scare, where President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Executive Order 10450 ordered the interrogation and systematic removal of all LGBTQIA+ individuals from the federal government.

The United States has made progress since the Lavender Scare of the 1950s, with more LGBTQIA+ representation in the government, and participants in school systems. With studies showing that 16% of Generation Z identify as LGBTQIA+, the rights and freedom of this community are threatened by the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Protect LGBTQIA+ youth and help stop the rise of suicide rates by telling Florida lawmakers to oppose the “Don’t Say Gay” bill (HB 1557 and SB 1834). As American citizens, each of us has the power to create change, and use our power to protect those who are defenseless. Rally behind the LGBTQIA+ community to help ensure freedom for all Americans to keep the rainbow flag flying high!

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