Story at a glance
- Florida’s House committee this week passed an updated version of its Parental Rights in Education bill, which would ban classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Activists, parents and lawmakers say such bills are harmful to students and warn of “entire chapters of textbooks being erased.”
- Florida is one of several states to propose anti-LGBTQ+ curriculum legislation.
Since Florida’s House committee passed the Parental Rights in Education bill — known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — in January, a national spotlight has turned on the state as it proposes banning school instruction on LGBTQ+ people and issues.
President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten condemned the bill as hateful and dangerous; actress Kerry Washington said she was “horrified by what’s happening;” and activists say the law would effectively “erase young LGBTQ students across Florida.”
Yet Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill is just one part of a nationwide trend. There are 15 similar bills moving through state legislatures that restrict how textbooks and curriculums teach LGBTQ+ topics, who can be hired and what teachers are allowed to say when it comes to gender identity and sexual orientation.
A House bill in Tennessee would ban textbook and instructional materials that “promote, normalize, support, or address lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) lifestyles” in K-12 schools. Another, in Kansas, seeks to amend the state’s obscenity law to make using classroom materials depicting “homosexuality” a Class B misdemeanor. Legislators in Indiana are working to bar educators from discussing in any context “sexual orientation,” “transgenderism” or “gender identity” without permission from parents.
Bills like these are “anti-people,” Barbara Simon, head of news and campaigns for the LGBTQ+ media advocacy group GLAAD, told Changing America.
“They divide schools and businesses when those should be safe spaces to learn and earn a living,” Simon said.
Florida’s House committee passed Thursday an updated version of its Parental Rights in Education bill, HB 1557, to specifically prohibit “classroom instruction” on sexual orientation or gender identity for kindergarten and third grade classes, as well as in older grades if deemed inappropriate for students. Parents could also sue schools if they believe the school violated these laws, under the House and accompanying Senate bill.
While Florida is currently a poster state for anti-LGBTQ+ curriculum laws, others are proposing and moving faster on farther-reaching bills. Oklahoma legislators have put five measures before its Congress that regulate how schools from K-12 to higher education teach LGBTQ+ issues. Two bills, SB 1142 and SB 1654, would prohibit librarians and teachers from distributing materials on or outright discussing “any form of non-procreative sex,” gender identity and “lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender issues.”
Another Oklahoma Senate bill would ban public schools from employing anyone who “promotes positions in the classroom or at any function of the public school that is in opposition to closely held religious beliefs of students.” And SB 1141 would bar requiring public university courses on “gender, sexual, or racial diversity, equality, or inclusion,” supplementing an already-passed House bill that is currently part of a federal lawsuit brought by the ACLU.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has signaled support for Florida’s bill, which the House could vote on as soon as next week. Speaking at a media event last week, DeSantis said he believed it was “entirely inappropriate” for teachers to talk to their students about their gender identity, claiming children are being told “don’t worry, don’t pick your gender yet.” The governor conceded that he doesn’t think this is happening “in large numbers.”
Simon said voters should be “wide awake to what’s going on here,” accusing conservative lawmakers like DeSantis of pushing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation to “score points for their own careers at the expense of citizens.” DeSantis has already launched a bid for reelection this year and has been discussed as a potential 2024 presidential candidate for Republicans.
Earlier this month, more than a hundred people gathered in Florida’s capital to debate the bill, where parents like Dan Van Trice spoke on how it could censor kids: “They take pictures of their family to school and they put them up on the bulletin board, and they talk about their families. Well, my kids won’t be able to participate in that,” ABC3 reports.
Others, like state Sen. Dennis Baxley (R), stressed that the bill gives parents more control of their children in school.
“These children belong to families. They are not wards of the state,” he said.
Still, advocates worry that the passage of legislation like “Don’t Say Gay” will come at the expense of LGBTQ+ youth in particular, who are already at greater risk of mental health issues, self-harm and suicide.
A recent report from the LGBTQ+ suicide prevention and crisis intervention group The Trevor Project found that LGBTQ+ youth who learned about LGBTQ+ people or issues in school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the last year.
Among middle and high school LGBTQ+ students, 19 percent who reported never learning about LGBTQ+ issues or people in school attempted suicide in the last year compared to 16 percent of students who had.
“We know that what happens in schools impacts mental health and suicide risk,” Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, told Changing America. “We know that youth learning about themselves, being able to see themselves reflected in their curriculum, being able to speak openly about who they are to their classmates and their teachers reduces suicide risk significantly.”
Ames said striking LGBTQ+ figures and stories from the classroom would mean stamping out swaths of American history.
“We are seeing entire chapters of textbooks being erased,” they said. “Do you not talk in a civics class about Pete Buttigieg? Do you not talk in a history class about Harvey Milk or Marsha P. Johnson? These are fundamental moments, not just in LGBTQ history, but in American history, that are being written out of existence.”
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