Things That Matter

What Is the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill? Florida’s Attempt To Ban the Discussion on Gender and Sexuality in School

In Florida, the state legislature is in the process of advancing bill CS/CS/HB 1557, which has come to be called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill has attracted national attention for what some critics are saying is the “erasure” of LGBTQ+ issues and the potential endangerment of LGBTQ+ youth.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state legislator Joe Harding, seeks to strongly regulate how Florida schools handle the gender and sexual identity of their students.

First, the bill would prohibit schools from discussing gender or sexual identity in primary grades — kindergarten through the third grade — or “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” 

The bill would also prevent schools from putting procedures into place that might prevent parents from being notified about “specific information” about their children or that might “encourage” students to “withhold specified information from their parents.”

If parents believe that their kids’ schools are failing to comply with the bill, they could sue.

Critics are saying that the bill’s language is broad enough that it could cause parents to sue schools for the smallest perceived transgression. Adding that the bill both stigmatizes LGBTQ+ identities by making their discussion “taboo” and potentially endangers LGBTQ+ youth who don’t yet feel comfortable or safe discussing their sexual or gender identity with their parents. 

The White House has publicly condemned the bill, calling it “hateful” and that it is “designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most.”

“Every parent hopes that our leaders will ensure their children’s safety, protection, and freedom,” said the White House in a press release. “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 – LGBTQI+ students, who are already vulnerable to bullying and violence just for being themselves.”

In a house session debating the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Florida’s first LGBTQ+ Latino legislator Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, made an impassioned speech against the bill. “What the underlying language–about sexual orientation and gender identity prohibition, censoring, not saying and teaching about LGBTQ people–[does] is: It singles us out as a prohibited topic. As taboo. As dangerous,” he said.

But supporters of the bill say that it is a necessary step in keeping children safe from potential “indoctrination.”

“The Florida bill sides with parents—as it should,” wrote conservative author Dr. Jay Richards in an op-ed for The Heritage Foundation. “That’s why much of it is about transparency for parents. Parents can then decide when, if, and how their kids will be exposed to sexually explicit content and referred for therapy and medical treatment.”

Many LGBTQ+ and civil rights groups have organized to bring attention to the bill. Equality Florida, a LGBTQ+ rights organization, has created a form that lets constituents send in oppositions to the bill to their representatives. Access it here.

To donate to the cause of helping the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth, reach out to The Trevor Project here or contact a counselor here.

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