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What is the "Don't Say Gay" Bill in Florida and Why It's Harmful

Op-ed

The "Don't Say Gay" Bill is a bill that was recently passed in the Florida House Committee. It essentially seeks to outlaw discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, which could cause detrimental effects to children and families in Florida.

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What is the "Don't Say Gay" Bill?

The Parental Rights in Education Bill, which has become more accurately known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill is an anti-LGBTQ+ legislature currently working its way through the Florida government. The actual bill seeks to stop discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in primary grades with the bill specifically stating:

A school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.

The bill also states in the next

A parent of a student may bring an action against a school district to obtain a declaratory judgement that a school district procedure or practice violates this paragraph and seek injunctive relief.

In short, this bill is not only attempting to outlaw discussions of sexuality and gender identity, but it's also allowing parents to sue schools if they discuss sexuality and gender in classrooms. Also, the vague language used in the bill would it incredibly hard to determine what manner of discussion is age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate, which will make it difficult to discuss gender and sexuality in higher grade levels too.

This bill has been put forth by Rep. Joe Harding claiming that it represents parental rights in education, but this is actually a regressive, modern-day "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" being applied to children in elementary schools. Not to mention, that this bill does not represent the parental rights of those who want their children to learn about sexuality and gender identity in schools. This is also incredibly harmful to LGBTQ+ families, who essentially won't be able to speak about their lives in schools, because of this bill. This bill isn't subtle in what it's doing, this bill is homophobia that the Florida government is trying to turn into law.

What Effects will it have?

The group that will be most affected by this bill are the children, especially since this bill directly targets children in elementary schools. This law is incredibly harmful towards children in schools with the effect on children being discussed in an article by the Miami Herald where Natasha L Poulopoulos, a pediatric psychologist, states:

Children unequivocally spend the majority of their days in school... Therefore, open and safe discussions regarding gender identity and sexual orientation at school will help protect numerous children from negative developmental, psychological, and physical outcomes...

Also, by targeting younger children, Florida lawmakers will be impeding their mental and social development because these are important ages as a child begins to understand gender and sexuality with Natasha L Poulopoulos also saying:

Children begin to develop their gender identity between the ages of 3 and 5...while gender consistency, or recognition that gender remains the same across situations, occurs between ages 4 and 7.

In other words, the exact age group that Florida politicians are targeting.

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This also shows how these lawmakers aren't listening to the mental health professionals who are saying how this bill will hurt the same young children that they claim they're trying to protect. However, this isn't the only information highlighting how harmful this will be for Florida's youth.

The Trevor Project's survey of LGBTQ Youth Mental Health in 2021 showed that in the past year 42% of LGBTQ youth considered attempting suicide. The "Don't Say Gay" law will only make it harder for these children by stigmatizing their identities, and creating a negative atmosphere around gender identity and sexual orientation. The survey also found that:

75% of LGBTQ youth had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity at least once in their life.

This law is, in effect, shaming anyone with an LGBTQ+ identity, which then makes children feel shame when exploring their identity. Not to mention, if the child comes from a household where their gender identity or sexuality hasn't been supported or has been rejected entirely, this law will take away any safe space they have in school where they feel comfortable discussing their gender identity or sexuality.

What Can Be Done To Help?

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Well, first and foremost, sign petitions and send letters to Florida lawmakers, so the Florida Judiciary Committee does NOT pass this bill. One really great site to help is Equality Florida where you can easily fill out your information and then send a message telling Florida lawmakers to oppose this bill. I have done it, and I assure you it only takes 2 minutes if that. Also, stay informed about the issue and be on the lookout for new ways to help. The Instagram account Impact has a link in its bio that lets you send a message to Florida lawmakers. Finally, if you live in Florida protest and participate in community efforts to help stop this bill.

Conclusion

This bill is unjust and is blatantly homophobic. Not only will it take away safe spaces in schools for LGBTQ+ children, but it will also further stigmatize LGBTQ+ identities and increase the amount of discrimination that a lot of LGBTQ+ youth faces. Therefore, please speak up, speak out, and learn about this issue. Inform your family and your friends, so we can try to stop this horrid, homophobic bill before it becomes law.

Sarah Lokenauth
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Sarah Diane Lokenauth is a high school junior and journalist from Atlanta, Georgia who draws inspiration from the world around her. She loves to write about the stories of the people around her and about interesting topics. Sarah also enjoys reading sci-fi, horror, ya, and fantasy fiction books. She also enjoys cooking, singing, drawing, and spending time with friends and family. You can follow her on Instagram @sarahdiane_writes where you can see some of her writing, and her blog at https://sarahdianelokenaut.wixsite.com/sarahdiane.