A protest against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida. Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Times
By: Sophene Avedissian
In March 2022, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis passed the "Don't Say Gay" bill, its name branded by critics. The bill is set to “prohibit classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels.” The legislation further notes that such topics “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.”
Florida continues to receive national backlash for the passing of the bill. However, with several other states such as Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Kansan proposing laws with similar goals, the debates surrounding what age is appropriate for students to begin discussing topics relating to sexual orientation and gender identity will continue to spark conflict.
What Are Opponents and Proponents Saying?
Activists oppose the bill, claiming that such legislation will harm students who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community by not representing them in the classroom.
“Every LGBTQ young person deserves to attend a school that provides an inclusive, affirmative environment – not one that aims to erase their existence,” Amit Paley, CEO & Executive Director of The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focusing on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth, said in a statement.
Paley continued, “We know that LGBTQ youth already face higher risk for bullying, depression, and suicide – and this bill will only add to the stigma that fuels these disparities."
While opponents deem the bill as nothing but dangerous and harmful to LGBTQ+ youth, others believe that the legislation is crucial for giving parents their right to stay informed about what topics are being brought up in their child’s classroom.
“This bill says parents your right to raise your children does not end when they walk into a classroom. This bill recognizes that parents are not the enemy,” Republican Senator Danny Burgess explained. “The bill simply says that there should be an age limit on certain discussions, it’s not a new concept, nor is it radical.”
In response, opponents argue that students are already aware of topics surrounding gender identity and sexual orientation and that schools should be a safe space for all, especially LGBTQ+ youth.
"Instead of coming up with these vague bills, why are we not supporting the most inclusive, tolerant education and, and society that we can?" Democratic Senator Tina Polsky stated.
Are Other States Following Florida’s Lead?
In the past year, similar steps to prevent topics relating to sexual orientation and gender identity have been taken by other states.
In Georgia, the Common Humanity in Private Education Act was introduced recently. The act would prohibit private schools from teaching material that “shall promote, compel, or encourage classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not appropriate for the age and developmental stage of the student.”
Similarly, a Tennessee bill would prevent public K-12 schools from using educational materials that are meant to “promote, normalize, support, or address lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender issues or lifestyles.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill, along with other similar laws, will remain a controversial topic across the country. With a high chance of Governor DeSantis passing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, representatives at the national level may get a step closer to be forced to draw a line between what is considered censorship or protection.