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A Teen's View on Florida's "Don't Say Gay Bill"

Op-ed

Florida is renowned for many things: the magic of Walt Disney World, the bizarre notoriety of “Florida Man”, and, most recently, the blatant homophobia of the “Don’t Say Gay Bill”. Sexuality, despite being so intrinsic to human nature, remains one of the most stigmatized things in America, second perhaps only to the bounds of feminism and a woman’s right to her own body. While this is hardly the first time the government has exerted its influence over a person’s (supposedly) inherent rights, it is the first time that it has directly affected children this young. Now, let’s unpack what this bill is and why it is nothing but detrimental to the future generations of Florida.

With “gay” being used as a derogatory term by kids in the school system, it’s no wonder that administrators have begun to fight against what is perceived as a harmful slur. Only, it’s not quite that simple: They are not asking people to stop their homophobia, they are asking people to stop their homosexuality.

The “Don’t Say Gay Bill” was not issued as a response to the bullying of queer youth yet instead as a means to repress them, seeking to permit any school official to talk with students about the potential realms of their sexuality or gender identity. If children are unable to safely express themselves or find a safe space to process their emotions, there are potentially catastrophic long-term effects of debilitating self-esteem issues and deplorable mental health.

It’s two in the afternoon, sunlight filtering through the cracked blinds and throwing its languid rays across the room. The heat having reached its peak for the day, it’s too hot to do anything else than stay inside and pray to the god of air conditioning to have mercy. Mom’s sprawled across the couch, a warm washcloth over her eyes and glass of wine in hand as cartoons play on the TV, the aggravatingly melodic bars heard over the tinny sound system.

You're watching cartoons, complacently content with the swirling colors as two girls come upon the screen. A bit of dialogue, but before you know it, the pretty girl with long purple hair kisses the woman with a blonde pixie cut. For two seconds you take this in, then the screen cuts black before immediately going into a commercial break. The newest children’s yogurt, a brand-new sugary concoction proudly displayed with orbiting chunks of chocolate. The glass shatters. The compress off her eyes, mom slowly sits up, hand engrained with shards of glass. With fear in her eyes, she asks you the inevitable: “Honey, what were you just watching? Were those… lesbians?” She can barely get out the words, skin broken and hand freely bleeding.

While obviously dramatized, this is the kind of future that conservatives think will scar our kids: healthy expressions of love shown in modern-day media without a political agenda. By telling children that this kind of love is not “normal” or “good”, we are telling them that they and their sexuality are not enough for the world.

They are being taught that no matter how well they do in school, what kind of a person they are, and what kind of positive impact they have on the world, it will never be enough and is irrelevant without a stereotypical straight marriage. Gay kids see straight couples showing affection all the time, be it on TV or in their own house, yet they are still queer; no amount of or lack of exposure to the straight or gay communities will make them change their sexualities. As such, it is our job to embrace them regardless of what gender they like or identify as and instead view them as children who are struggling to find out where they are in the world. If judgment is necessary, then do it on their merits and morals, not something as unchangeable as sexuality.

With states such as Florida having now deemed it more crucial to protect a weapon’s rights than that of a woman or schoolchild, the question is then raised as to whether it is truly the children’s best interests that are being fought for. With this mentality, if this bill was truly implemented for the good of the children, then, in theory, there would be countless others being issued to advance this mindset; limitations would be placed on the automated weapons used to kill dozens of students each year, high-risk students living in poverty would have accessible housing, state-sponsored aids would be in every school to make it an easier experience for those with health issues and mental impairments. Because, after all, it’s all for children.

There were ninety-three school shootings in America in 2021 alone, the highest rate for over twenty years. As such, children are being taught beginning at the time they are in preschool how to prepare for the potential of such a situation. The argument for many is that kids are too young to understand their sexuality.

To that, I raise how if a child is expected to comprehend how the difference between life and death may lie in their light-up Sketchers, they are old enough to understand that there’s a possibility that two men can be in love. However, an automated weapon, the only thing that should be in the closet in this situation, remains the only thing protected by law.

When failing to educate children about their sexuality, we are diminishing our chances of having a better future. We are failing to nurture inclusivity, failing to promote kindness, and failing to let there be love in the world. Instead of promoting acceptance, we are pushing forth a narrative, inadvertent or not, in which only straight people are valued.

Of course, not everyone wishes to have an inclusive future due to their own homophobic, xenophobic, or simply bigoted viewpoints, yet it is undeniable that people deserve protection; this bill is not protecting our children, it is harming them by repressing what is a part of them. And with all that children are already subjected to, bigotry towards their own sexuality should not join the list.

To all those out there reading this, please know that it is okay. You are seen. You are heard. You are valid. Your sexuality does not define what kind of a person you are; what matters is if you are kind and compassionate and care about the well-being of others, not if you’re attracted to someone of the same gender.

Florida and all the other homophobic states out there need to step up in terms of inclusivity, yet until that day, I will simply impart my life’s motto onto you: Be loud, be proud. If you feel like apologizing, don’t, because there’s only the need to apologize when there’s something to be sorry for. If you want to change this feeling, and want to see inclusivity come about in America, you have to realize that it all starts with you.

Each person, no matter how small or insignificant they think they are, can have such a large impact on this world; the only thing you have to do is start.

Isabella Kennedy

Isabella Kennedy is a rising high school junior intent on bringing awareness to causes often overshadowed by the contemporary media. Likening herself to a walking oxymoron, she finds her progressive beliefs a direct opposition to her religious upbringing yet is still keen on showing the correlation and lack thereof between the Catholic faith and divisive issues of modern-day morality. She enjoys public speaking, writing, coding, and learning about the business world.