The Florida Senate Appropriations Committee passed The Parental Rights in Education Bill on February 28, advancing it to the Senate floor for a final vote. The piece of legislation, often called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its opposers, bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools. The legislation also allows for parents to take legal action against school districts that they believe are violating these rules.
Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis has voiced his approval for the bill, calling it “entirely inappropriate” for teachers to speak to students about gender identity.
LGBTQ+ organizations, politicians, parents, teachers, students, and celebrities across the country have expressed the issues with this legislation and its impacts on the children of Florida. “LGBTQ students and families deserve to see themselves reflected in the classroom,” said Amit Paley, CEO of LGBTQ+ mental health organization The Trevor Project, in an official statement on February 28. “What they don’t deserve is stigma and censorship from the government.”
Opposers of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill are worried about LGBTQ+ students’ safety.
Politicians have also expressed their support for LGBTQ+ youth in Florida. “I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are,” wrote President Biden via his official Twitter account on February 8. “I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”
College students in Florida who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community have expressed concern for the youth of their state under this bill. “I would tell the LGBTQ+ kids in Florida to stay safe and stay aware,” Tori, 18, an undergraduate student at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, tells Her Campus. She believes that this bill will force students of all ages to feel that their sexualities and gender identities are a taboo topic.
This bill may also diminish access to a comprehensive sex education for students of all gender identities and sexualities. This exacerbates an existing issue in Florida, as public schools in the state are currently not required to teach sex education, nor is curriculum required to be comprehensive, according to a state profile composed by Sex Ed for Social Change.
Legislative experts even wonder about whether or not this bill qualifies as constitutional. “Should the bill pass, it may serve to eliminate all forms of sexual orientation and gender identity discussions in schools, as educators might feel threatened by potential legal actions from parents,” Colleen A. Clark, trial lawyer and managing partner of Schmidt & Clark Law Practice, tells Her Campus. Clark says that “the bill should not withstand constitutional scrutiny” due to the fact that it “undermines children in Florida’s rights to gender expression and anti-discrimination.”
The bill could also negatively impact young LGBTQ+ people’s mental health.
Even discussion of this potential legislation has had negative effects on LGBTQ+ youth. A 2021 poll of 820 LGBTQ+ youth conducted by the Morning Consult found that two thirds of youth identifying as LGBTQ+ say that recent debates discussing rights regarding those of different gender identities and sexual orientations have negatively impacted their mental health.
Advocacy organizations across the country are concerned that the stigmatization of sexualities and genders outside of a heteronormative standard will leave children who identify with these labels to feel confusion, sadness, and shame. Equality Florida, a humanitarian group based in the southern state, fears that this bill will “isolate LGBTQ young people who are already at staggeringly higher risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation than their peers,” according to a statement released last month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concurs that lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals are at a heightened risk of mental health issues in general. In 2015, the CDC determined that nearly 30% of LGB (lesbian, gay, and bisexual) youth had attempted suicide at least once in the past calendar year.
“Florida’s leaders should be doing all they can to affirm and protect the children in their state. Instead, this bill sends LGBTQ+ youth the message that they’re unwanted, unrecognized, and even unspeakable,” Joel Mittleman, an assistant professor and researcher in the Department of Sociology at The University of Notre Dame, tells Her Campus. “I fear for the real harm that this bill and others like it will inflict on already vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth.”
The Florida Senate’s decision will determine whether the bill goes into effect.
School systems can step in to give their students a better chance at success and happiness. According to the CDC, safe and supportive school environments, as well as accepting families, are especially important for LGBTQ+ students’ happiness.
Students and teachers alike await the final decision of the Florida State Senate, which will have final say on this bill’s passing. In the meantime, LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations have recommended taking action by contacting lawmakers and asking that they oppose the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. An independent petition targeted at the Florida State House has also received over 10,000 signatures from those urging legislators to abolish this bill.
“The ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bill is a politically motivated, shameful effort to attack and endanger LGBTQ+ students,” said Cathryn M. Oakley, Senior Counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, in a February 24 statement. “The Florida Senate must vote this discriminatory piece of legislation down.”