By Jaxson K.R (’25)
As many of you may know, the Florida legislature recently passed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. This bill directly states that “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.” It may seem relatively reasonable to some: 5 to 9 year olds probably wouldn’t be the most equipped to understand issues like gender or sexuality; especially considering adults struggle with these same concepts. But here’s why this is a much bigger violation of LGBTQ+ rights (and by extension, all students’ rights) than you think it is.
First of all, this law, designed to come into effect July 1st 2022, allows for parents to sue any potential violators of the bill’s “age appropriate” clause. But the phrase “age appropriate” is not defined within the confines of the bill. Even without the effects of this bill on the LGBTQ community, unsatisfied or so-called ‘concerned’ parents would be able to sue under any perceived infraction, whether or not this discriminatory policy was actually broken in the first place. In a state where any parent can sue a teacher or school over their perspective of an instruction or discussion they don’t like, and justify it under the law, teachers and administrators would teach carefully so as to not provoke outrage, and many controversial subjects not related to gay rights but still extremely necessary for students to understand will also be skirted around in fear of vengeful lawsuits. Even though the lawsuits themselves have zero legal basis (Tinker v. Des Moines School District ruled in 1969 that students’rights to ask questions about sexual identity are protected under the First Amendment), this still won’t stop prejeduced parents from filing doomed but tedious and costly suits against individual teachers simply trying to provide open discussion or a safe space for students to talk about issues that affect them.
This bill is a flagrant method to stifle and disenfranchise not only LGBTQ identity across the country and LGBTQ youth in Florida schools, but additionally a way to strongarm the gay community and their allies into silence over an informal yet destructive culture of self-censorship and hate.
We must also consider the fact that some children have abusive or negligent homes, and that their only outlet for questions they have about themselves is supportive teachers and/or school communities. Even if these questions aren’t limited to sexuality and gender identity, making issues that a few people happen to be bigoted against taboo in the classroom will encourage a continuation in America to make every healthy discussion taboo as well. Students have power and precedence throughout historical legal challenges: from Stonewall to the Vietnam war, we have played an integral part in speaking out against oppression and injustice in the world. And this is why a bill that will limit what we and our educators can speak out against is a critical assault on what is supposed to be “the Land of the Free,” something that these bill’s sponsors profess hypocritically on a consistent basis.
Not talking about an issue does not make it go away. But we as a country don’t seem to understand that.
We can’t talk about our tumultuous past with slavery and systemic racism. We can’t talk about hate crimes we committed towards Asian-American citizens during times of conflict with Japan and China. We certainly can’t talk about our usurpation and genocide of Native American land and our obsession with “Manifest Destiny.” The only way to move forward is to recognize the errors you’ve committed in the past and resolve them to do better in the future. But America right now is like a toddler faced with a plate full of broccoli: we’d rather just look away and pretend we don’t have to swallow what’s glaring right in front of our faces. We’d rather just look away and fantasize that there’s no broccoli in the first place. And this is what the Florida legislature and governor is doing: marginalizing LGBTQ youth and allies and pretending that we don’t have a voice, that we don’t have a right to have help. That we don’t have names.
Well, I can name every single one of you who voted for or supported this bill. And you should be ashamed of yourselves. Someday, society will finally get its act together and teach all of history; the good, the bad, the ugly, and yes, the gay. And when that history book flips back onto all of these legislators’ names, they will be remembered as the bigoted suppressors that they are. Because I can speak for millions of students around the country who feel that we are being constrained and erased by people who only think of their own interests and biases. But I assure you, we are here. We can speak. And we say gay.