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Editorial: Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill Will Hurt All Youth

by Madison Jarnot

On Tuesday, March 8, the Florida legislature passed the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, known officially as the “Parental Rights in Education” bill (H.B. 1557). The bill requires schools to “adopt procedures for notifying a student’s parent if there is a change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being and the school’s ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for the student.”

The bill specifically requires that school districts “reinforce” a parent’s ability to “control” their children by prohibiting “procedures or student support forms that require school district personnel to withhold from a parent information about his or her student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being … or that encourage or have the effect of encouraging a student to withhold from a parent such information.”

Although proponents of the bill say it gives parents the right to keep their children safe, it does the opposite. It actively harms children and limits their education, particularly LGBTQ students. 

In a December 2021 study in “The Lancet,” researchers argued that the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for LGBTQ children, as they already face a high rate of mental health problems because their sexual orientation and gender identity are “risk factors for victimization, trauma, discrimination, and abuse.” The study states that LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk for suicide, substance abuse issues, and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

As we near the second anniversary of the pandemic, vulnerable Florida children who are already suffering from severe mental health issues can now be outed to their parents if their teacher thinks they may be LGBTQ. 

The bill also bans any discussion about “sexual orientation or gender identity primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” With such vague provisions, any homophobic parent could reasonably argue that allowing students to discuss LGBTQ issues at all “is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” 

The entire bill is vague and barely enforceable. This is purposeful. Supporters of the bill can argue they’re not homophobic because they are just concerned about “students’ mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being” but conveniently neglect to explain whether sexual orientation or gender identity is a matter of mental, emotional, and physical health. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who’s expected to sign the bill, defended it during a press conference this week.

“It’s basically saying for our younger students, do you really want them being taught about sex?” Gov. DeSantis said. “And this is any sexual stuff. But I think clearly right now, we see a focus on transgenderism, telling kids they may be able to pick genders and all of that.”

“Transgenderism” is an offensive term that the LGBTQ-rights organization GLAAD says is “used by anti-transgender activists to dehumanize transgender people and reduce who they are to ‘a condition’ or a ‘dangerous ideology’ that threatens ‘free speech.’” 

This language is clear⁠—the bill doesn’t need to say it because its proponents will. It’s meant to stigmatize LGBTQ youth and keep them in the closet.

Obviously, this will put students’ physical safety at risk. The bill notes that school personnel won’t be required to report to the family if “a reasonably prudent person would believe that such disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect, as those terms are defined,” but we all know that won’t properly protect children. 

Fewer than one in 10 cases of abuse are investigated by social services. Statistically, many Florida teachers will report to abusive families unknowingly, endangering potentially hundreds of students. Five children die to child abuse every day.

This can even affect straight, cis students who seek advice about their lives from school personnel that they trust because their family is not safe. And it’s just a matter of time before rhetoric like this makes its way into the Pennsylvania legislature.

I grew up facing physical, verbal, and emotional attacks from my peers over my sexual orientation. When I complained to my former school district, I was always told that there was nothing they could do. 

When I was in eighth grade, one year before gay marriage was legalized in the U.S., a teacher shouted “what do you expect?” at me when I complained that another student destroyed a school project I was working on and called me a “f****t b***h.” I can’t even print the insult here. 

I can’t imagine what LGBTQ students in Florida will hear from their peers when they attend school today or what their teachers will say to them if they try to report harassment. I thought LGBTQ students’ rights would only grow since I left middle school. I was wrong.

Our children deserve better than H.B. 1557. 

More stories from volume 16, issue 2:
Pitt-Greensburg Utilizes County Crisis Hotline
How Do Honors Students Like the Program?
Russia Invades Ukraine: What Happens Now?
Pitt-Greensburg Hosts Inaugural Athletics Hall of Fame Ceremony
Side-by-Side: Chipotle or Moe’s?
Is Intermittent Fasting Worth It?
Will Wight: America’s Next Big Author?
Play Your Heart Out: “Lost Ark” Review
Play Your Heart Out: “CrossfireX” Multiplayer
Stream Your Heart Out: “Secrets of Playboy” Review

1 Comment on Editorial: Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill Will Hurt All Youth

  1. Informative, essential. The ending–the way the author draws from personal experience–is emotional and shows the human impact of such laws and policies.

    Liked by 1 person

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