‘Don’t Say Gay’ – The Bill Doing More Harm than Help?

February 1, 2022 Criminal Defense

A bill that has advanced through the Florida House of Representatives has recently faced significant backlash throughout its entire process. HB 1557, under the name Parental Rights in Education Bill, or more commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, has been led by a Republican committee and was officially signed into law by Governor DeSantis on March 28, 2022.

In short, the bill will limit the discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in the classroom. However, it is clear that it goes beyond that. Critics fear that the bill is meant to erase LGBTQ+ history from the classroom, potentially leaving lost students who are looking to navigate through gender, sexuality, and identity—completely in the dark.

One key part of the bill stems from the idea that parents are meant to have control over their children and be the ones in charge of making decisions regarding their upbringing. Being a parent is a daunting task; however, putting a young person’s complete identity in the hands of their parents could cause significant harm. More so than that, refusing to acknowledge an entire community of people in the classroom is hard to find in any way beneficial.

There are various reactions to the “Don’t Say Gay” Bills, and it is important to take a look at the specifics—along with the responses—to try and make sense of the new potential law in Florida, and how it can affect young students.

What Do the Bills Entail?

There were technically two bills originally under the “Don’t Say Gay” reference. The state legislature recognizes HB 1557 and SB 1834 as the two bills initially introduced to be passed in Florida.

Both HB 1557 and SB 1834 have the names Parental Rights in Education. Under the proposed bills, the school districts are now required to adopt procedures that act in accordance with provisions of the law, including informing parents what topics are being discussed within the classroom.

HB 1557 would provide specific requirements for the school districts and its personnel, along with the Department of Education to review and update specified materials. SB 1834 stated it’s aim is to would prohibit school districts from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a specified manner. The ban would make it so teachers are unable to discuss topics in the classroom that may be deemed “not age appropriate” or developmentally inappropriate for students.

In addition to the bills’ text, parents are given the right to sue if the rules are violated. They would have the ability to seek damages and reimbursement for attorney’s fees and court costs.

Advocacy organizations of the LGBTQ+ community claim that the new bills are reminiscent of the ‘no promo homo’ laws dating back to the 1990s. These past laws required teachers to use rhetoric that condemned homosexuality as both an unacceptable lifestyle and a criminal offense. Although the newly proposed bills do not expressly require these dangerous statements be made, they are attaching a negative connotation to homosexuality by sweeping discussions about it, as well as gender and identity, under the rug. The main difference between the past and newly proposed bills is that they have now added the mandate on parent and family involvement.

The House Education and Employment Committee moved the HB 1557 bill forward, where it was then sent to the Judiciary Committee, which also agreed in passing the harmful bill.

Statistics on LGBTQ+ Students in America

Now that the prospective bill has been signed into law, it is important to review the various statistics surrounding the young LGBTQ+ community to show the potential harm the new bill may impose across the state.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2021 was a record-breaking year for LGBTQ+ legislation. Out of the 250 bills that were introduced, at least 17 of them were made into law.

Unfortunately, Florida is not the only state moving backwards regarding LGBTQ+ rights. Several additional states, including Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and South Dakota have already started to introduce various anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in 2022.

Florida’s newly proposed bill is similar to the other states by trying to restrict schools from talking about the oppression of the LGBTQ+ community.

Data from the Trevor Project—a non-profit focused on suicide prevention among the LGBTQ+ youth, reveals that 42% of young LGBTQ+ members had seriously considered suicide within the last year. In addition, 94% of LGBTQ+ youth reported that their mental health was negatively impacted by recent politics. In cases where these young LGBTQ+ members had open access and safe spaces to affirm their identity and sexuality, they reported they were less likely to consider or attempt suicide.

The CDC has also provided data retrieved from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance results from 2019. The data shows that young LGBTQ+ students have a higher probability to suffer from mental health and suicide risks than other students. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ students are more likely to experience victimization, violence, and potential suicide. The disparity of transgender students has also risen from 2017 to 2019. The following are initial key findings from the study:

  • 29% of young transgender students have been injured or threatened with a weapon while being on school property, compared to 7% of cisgender youth; transgender students had a higher probability of being threatened or injured with a weapon on school grounds in 2019 than in 2017.
  • 16% of gay and lesbian students and 11% of bisexual students have been threatened or injured with a weapon while on school grounds, compared of 7% of straight students.
  • 43% of transgender students have been bullied while on school grounds compared to 18% of cisgender students; in 2019 transgender students were more likely to have been bullied on school grounds than in 2017.
  • 29% of gay or lesbian students and 31% of bisexual students have been bullied on school grounds, compared to 17% of straight students.
  • 29% of transgender students have attempted suicide, compared to 7% of cisgender students.
  • 21% of gay and lesbian students and 22% of bisexual students have attempted suicide, compared to 7% of straight students.

The entire document of results from YRBS can be found here.

The new bill can also come off as surprising with the horrific Pulse Nightclub shooting from 2016. After serving as ground zero for such an awful hate crime, residents and legislation in Florida had prioritized queer issues and rights, along with providing access to supportive resources for the LGBTQ+ community.

Responses to the Bills

There has been a storm of responses rolling in after the initial proposal of the bill, and even more so now that it has advanced and passed. As many things currently stand in the U.S., the response is split on two completely different ends of the spectrum.

One of the Republicans who introduced the bill, Joe Harding, was proud of the bill and stated that it is mainly about, “defending the most awesome responsibility a person can have: being a parent. The job can only be given to you by above.” Harding also said he hopes the bill will reinforce the fundamental right for parents with making decisions about control and how they choose to raise their children.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation’s partner, Chasten Buttigieg, is a well-known advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. After being informed of the bill and its progression, she condemned Ron DeSantis in a tweet with the following statement: “This will kill kids…You are purposefully making your state a harder place for LGBTQ+ kids to survive in.”

Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, executive director of the national LGBTQ+ youth advocacy group GLSEN, is afraid that with the passing of the new bills it would, “erase LGBTQ+ young history and culture from lesson plans and it sends a chilling message to the LGBTQ+ young people and communities.”

In response, Jon Harris Maurer of Equality Florida shared a video on Twitter of him providing the statement, “We’re parents, students, and teachers. We are your brothers and sisters. Conversations about us aren’t something dangerous that should be banned.”

The director of government affairs of the Trevor Project, Sam Ames, posted fears for the future of students on their site: “The bill will erase young LGBTQ+ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face.”

The Trevor Project has a direct response to DeSantis’ bill, which is published on their site: “The bill would effectively erase LGBTQ+ students and history by banning classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.”

Heather Wilkie of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Zebra Coalition said in determination, “We will fight. It’s so disheartening to think they would not be able to freely talk about themselves or learn anything about their history.”

Making Sense and Moving Forward

The overall concern from the new bills is that young students who identify themselves as LGBTQ+ would feel that their sexual orientation or gender identity is something they should hide or be ashamed of. As we have only just begun to see the U.S. loosen its rules on gay marriage, queer acceptance, and gender identity, it feels as if Florida has just proposed to take several steps backwards.

The new rules also bring up the question of what exactly the rights of a young person should be? Just because they are under 18, does that imply that their parents have sole control over everything they believe about themselves? Is there a new underlying issue of parents trying to control their child’s’ agency?

Just as all topics taught in school, it is meant to educate students. U.S. history has just as many dark spots as it does light, yet there is still the importance of educating the youth. Should it be any different with the topics of sexuality and gender? When reviewing the work by an author, a mathematician, a scientist, that happens to be apart of the LGBTQ+ community, are schools meant to leave it our simply because parents are afraid it will influence their own children? The reality of the situation stands—identity is something that only the person themselves is capable of realizing.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill has now been passed completely. With the large amount of public outcry against the bill, it will be interesting to see what will happen in the upcoming months and school year. While it is important for parents to feel like they have control over their children’s lives, there is always a line that can be crossed – and when it comes to young students across America, they deserve the right to a complete education about all different types of communities, including the LGBTQ+ community.

Keeping Up with the Updates about the Don’t Say Gay Bill

On Monday, February 7th, Gov. Ron DeSantis had a hearing in Miami, where in a video he voiced his support for the bill at a roundtable in Miami. He claimed that he didn’t approve of them “injecting these concepts about choosing a gender.” DeSantis went on to endorse the bill, claiming that they, “want parents to be able to have access to what’s going on in the classroom. And certainly, it is inappropriate to be hiding these things from parents.” This endorsement came right before the bill advanced through the Senate on the following Tuesday.

President Joe Biden has gone to social media to give his thoughts on the bill. In a tweet posted on Twitter, the U.S. President stated: “ I want every member of the LGBTQ+ community—especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill—to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”

Although DeSantis did not confirm whether he would sign the bill, his statement from Monday indicated that he is in favor of the bill’s passing.

A supporting statement from the White House condemns the potential “Don’t Say Gay” Bill, with the White House Press Secretary giving the following statement: “Every parent hopes that our leaders will ensure their children’s safety, protection, and freedom. Today, conservative politicians in Florida rejected those basic values by advancing legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most—the LGBTQ+ students, who are already vulnerable to bullying and violence just for being themselves.”

Just within this year, there have been 160 anti-LGBTGQ+ bills introduced or moved forward from the previous year for consideration. Out of the 160 proposed bills, 92 of them are anti-trans bills. These numerous bills—including ones in Florida—would prevent classroom discussions, ban current school policies, or target transgender students specifically by not allowing them to take part in school activities, such as sports.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed through the Senate Education Committee on a party lying vote. As of now, the big question remains: : What happens now that it is passed as a law? DeSantis’ endorsement of the bill could mean the LGBTQ+ community will unfortunately face even greater threats and discrimination moving forward.

On Thursday, February 24th, 2022, the controversial HB 1557 was passed through the House of Representatives. According to the chamber’s website, the Republican-backed bill passed 69-47, moving it on to the Florida Senate for a further discussion—or debate. If the law is to pass from the Senate, the regulations from the bill will go into effect for the 2022-2023 academic school year.

HB 1557 is meant to restrict the discussion or instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation from the grades kindergarten through third grade. It also bans any discussions that do not seem age or developmentally appropriate. Parents will be given the right to sue schools that decide to go against the law.

After the vote on Thursday, February 17th, Joe Harding proposed an additional amendment to the bill. The newest amendment was meant to require teachers and schools to inform parents of their child’s sexual orientation if it is anything but straight. There was a time limit of six weeks to do so within the bill. In the weekend prior to the passing of the bill though the House, protests were held against the new amendment due to its harsh and invasive context. Harding then withdrew the amendment on the Tuesday before the House question and answer session began.

After the vote on Thursday, both Democratic politicians and LGBTQ+ advocates responded in a frustrated uproar at the decision. Rep. Carlos G Smith tweeted, “As expected, the #DontSayGayBill just passed the Florida House, but SEVEN Republicans crossed party lines to vote against it. I want to thank [the Florida House Democrats] for their consistent allyship and also the gang of 7 who saw our humanity and rejected this terrible legislation.”

According to a study by University of Utah law professor Clifford Rosky, Florida is not the only state with laws that seek to control schools and their curriculum in this manner. There are as many as 20 states with anti-gay curriculum laws across the United States. Florida’s bill allowing parents to directly sue schools is a step further than many other states, which feels similar to the abortion law passed in Texas last year that allows private individuals to sue anyone involved with an abortion in the state.

The bill is closer to becoming a reality now that it has passed through the House of Representatives. The final two stops are the Senate floor and then to Ron DeSantis to be signed into law.

Ron DeSantis officially signed the bill on Monday, March 28th, 2022. This means that the regulations from the bill will go into effect on July 1st, which would mean this curriculum change would apply to the 2022-2023 academic school year.

Upon its passage, more critics voiced their disdain with the law, including The Walt Disney Company. A spokesperson gave a statement on the company website that they wished for the law’s repeal, or for it to be struck down in court. The statement read, “Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.”

In addition, Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke out after people claimed they were upset with Disney’s failure to speak out sooner regarding the bill. Chapek said he called Gov. Ron DeSantis to “express our disappointment and concern that if the legislation becomes law, it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, non-binary and transgender kids and families.” Chapek claimed DeSantis agreed to meet with him to discuss the company’s concerns, however it seems less important now that the bill has officially been passed.

Defiant towards critics, DeSantis said, “I don’t care what Hollywood says. I don’t care what big corporations say. Here I stand. I am not backing down.”

CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project, Amit Paley, said in a statement after the bill’s passing: “While I am saddened to see this harmful bill signed into law, I am inspired by the outpouring support of the LGBTQ students we have seen from parents, teachers, celebrities, and their peers. Social support is vital for suicide prevention, and I want to remind LGBTQ youth in Florida and across the country that you are not alone.”

All across Florida young students and parents have taken to the streets to protest the Don’t Say Gay bill. One viral video shows high school students in Weston, Florida, walking out of school in protest of the bill. The video shows students holding signs, chanting, and ultimately defending the LGBTQ+ community in despite of the bill.

Although it may seem like a difficult time for the LGBTQ+ community after the passing of the bill, it is important now more than ever to stand with the community and help show they are supported and loved by their state.

Resources for LGBTQ+ Students

If your child is a student among the LGBTQ+ community, or you yourself are a member of the community and are feeling lost and unsure of how to proceed, there are various resources that you can turn to in the state of Florida. Along with the several advocacy groups listed above, the following is a list of helpful resources in Florida:

  • The Center Orlando – Offers free online mental health services, free STI testing, and a chat space for youth.
  • Pride Center Florida – Safe space that celebrates and empowers the LGBTQ+ community in South Florida. Offers educational courses, women’s health initiatives, cultural events, and other activities for all ages.
  • Compass LGBT Community Center – Community aiming to engage, empower, and enrich the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. Offers LGBTQ+ youth social support, community service, cultural activities, and leadership opportunities.
  • Also Youth – Empowering LGBTQ+ youth and their allies while creating an inclusive community. They have ongoing events and offer counseling services.
  • Safe Schools South Florida – Organization aimed at creating a safer school environment where all students can thrive regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The offer youth empowerment, youth speaker training, scholarships, and work with the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) within schools.

Written by Karissa Key

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